Boots & Sabers

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Owen

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1012, 30 Mar 24

Two forgotten stories deserve attention

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week.

In the latter half of last year, two unsavory and revelatory stories about Gov. Tony Evers were reported and made headlines throughout Wisconsin. Here we are at the end of March and the headlines have faded and Evers continues to act with impunity, having suffered no consequences for his shady behavior.

 

The first story was broken by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in August of last year. They revealed that Evers’ longtime Chief of Staff, Maggie Gau, was living with one of her subordinates. Later reporting revealed that that subordinate was Evers’ communications director, Britt Cudaback.

 

While the initial story is outrageous enough, further reporting revealed it to be even worse than first thought. Cudaback was appointed as a deputy in 2019 for $62,000 per year. She was promoted to report directly to Gau in 2020 and her annual salary was increased to $100,006. In 2023, her pay was increased again to $112,008. Her 80% increase in pay came in just four years during the same period she was living with her boss.

 

Furthermore, during that period, Evers admitted that no formal performance reviews were administered and there is no documentation that shows that there was a competitive and inclusive hiring process for the position and compensation that Cudaback holds. Evers vigorously defended the practice.

 

Such relationships between a supervisor and a subordinate are strictly prohibited throughout the private sector and the rest of government because they are inherently discriminatory and coercive, but Evers accepts and applauds them. It has been seven months since that story broke and, as far as we know, nothing has changed.

 

The second story that further revealed Evers’ deceptive and unethical behavior was broken by Wisconsin Right Now in November of last year. Through a series of open records requests, Evers’ office accidentally let it slip that the governor had been using a secret email alias for years. Tony Evers had stolen the name of Hall of Fame Milwaukee Braves pitcher Warren Spahn to conduct public business with other government officials and people outside of government.

Wisconsin’s Open Records Act is very strong and very explicit. The key to it is that the public has an explicit right to know what their government is doing. If a government official is conducting the people’s business, the public has a right to see it with a few very narrow exceptions. If the public official if using a private email account, chat platform, social media, paper documents, or any other medium on or off government property or technology, the people have a right to see it. Yes, that also includes if the government official is using a fake name in an attempt to hide what he is doing from the public.

Cudaback (still in the job three months after the previous story was revealed), defended the practice of a government official using a fake name as “common.” It would be troubling enough if that statement were true, but it still does not mean that the governor’s use of a fake name excludes those communications from public scrutiny. Furthermore, Evers’ fake email was on a Wisconsin. gov domain, which makes it subject to mandatory retention rules.

 

The governor’s office admitted to more than 17,000 emails written to and from Evers’ fake email address between 2018 and 2023. That equals about eight emails per day for six years. That is a tremendous amount of communication that the governor is hiding.

 

In early December, both Wisconsin Right Now and the Republican Party of Wisconsin filed open records requests for the 17,000 emails as is their right under Wisconsin law. Despite a legal and moral responsibility to hand over the emails, to date, Tony Evers has refused to do so. Our governor is flagrantly breaking the law by his refusal to allow the people to scrutinize the business he is purportedly doing on their behalf.

 

The fact that both stories flared and disappeared tells us something about the state of politics in Wisconsin. First, the combination of both stories tell us that Tony Evers is unscrupulous, immoral, and has a Trump-sized ego in which he believes he does not have to conform to strictures of law and morality to which we other mere mortal must adhere.

 

Second, the fact that the stories evaporated and Evers has not suffered any consequences reveals that Wisconsin no longer has a Fourth Estate that will hold the powerful accountable. In that sense, Evers is right to just ignore the controversies and continue to do whatever the hell he wants. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is worse for it.

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1012, 30 March 2024

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