THE FACELESS FEW: In campaigning gov's absence, inner circle runs Wisconsin...badly

John Torinus used to be the business editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a respected voice in Wisconsin's business community. For some years he's been CEO of Wisconsin-based Serigraph Corp., an innovative business that was way ahead of the curve in health care reform for its employees.

Torinus is a reasonably conservative fellow and one smart cookie. So political insiders and business leaders across the state should sit up and take notice, because, increasingly, Torinus is calling out the Walker administration and its leader, for gaps in leadership. Widening gaps.

You don't have to agree with everything Torinus says to glean his growing concern. The latest Torinus take on Walker's badly wanting style of governance is viewable at his personal blog here: http://johntorinus.com/good-government/who-is-running-the-good-ship-wisc...  -- and it contains this damning passage:

It’s reality that our governor is giving our state part time attention as he tackles a run for the White House, which means that the executive affairs of state devolve to his staff and to his cabinet. But, in Wisconsin in recent months, all indications point to the Walker cabinet being relatively inconsequential... .

The root cause of the budget crisis is the inability or refusal of the governor’s team to deal with health cost inflation. Medicaid increases and bloated costs for covering state employees are wiping out much of the positive revenue surges from a much-improved economy.

Under-managing these programs almost guarantees a budget “crisis” every two years.

And it is the semi-annual crisis that gives the governor’s team and legislative leaders the platform to make drastic moves, like whacking the university, trimming K-12, jacking public park fees and cutting their state support, and killing Stewardship [the state's natural public lands acquisition program].

So, adding it all up, if the cabinet is not at the center of policy in the capitol, and the governor is dancing a presidential tango, who is running the government?

The Torinus answer: a handful of faceless bureaucrats, led or not-so led by the governor's chief of staff, Eric Shutt, constituting Walker's inner office at the Capitol. These staffers don't get out much, says Torinus, which is why they are so woefully, unwittingly but perhaps comfortably in discord with the people of Wisconsin and even many Republican legislators.

Torinus says good managers in the business and political world keep their eyes wide open, staying tuned to the ebb and flow of interests and issues among customers or clients -- in this case, the residents and taxpayers of Wisconsin. "Their goal is to avoid crisis management, which has become the order of the day in Wisconsin," Torinus writes, adding:

There is an irony to all this. During his very recent campaign for a second term, Gov. Walker said his primary focus after election would be governing Wisconsin, because that would be the best credential if he were to run for the presidency.

How’s that working out for us?

It's working out this way: The Walker administration is clunking along with a largely starry-eyed and very distracted boss, and the result is a huge budget mess. Team Walker's solution is to lay waste to important public programs in an effort to patch fiscal problems that will occur over and over again until a comprehensive approach that meets citizens at least half way is again on the table. If it ever will be.

I'm even less sanguine than Torinus in considering whether Walker's full-time presence at the governor's desk would fix much if any of this. He's a very ideological politician, driven by powerful out-of-state interests funding him and other state Republicans, and he's demonstrated a reckless, brute-force approach to governing even when he is paying attention.

So, for whatever reasons (believe me or believe Torinus) right now and for the next three years at least, it's "Eyes Wide Shut" at the governor's office.

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