October 21, 2014

Timing of latest John Doe records release raises questions

Mary Burke, Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Mary Burke, Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

The Milwaukee County executive’s office released another wave of documents Tuesday, seized during a John Doe investigation that resulted in the convictions of six people tied to Governor Scott Walker when he was in charge of that office. The timing of the release of 16,000 documents from the case is raising questions though, coming just two weeks before Walker faces a tough reelection fight against Democrat Mary Burke.

Walker released a statement Tuesday morning, saying “Clearly, the highly partisan Milwaukee County E​xecutive​, who has given $63,000 to ​my opponent​,​ released four​-​year​-​old emails two weeks before the election to distract voters from​ my opponent’s failed record. This case was closed nearly two years ago. Voters see through the political motives of my opponents to stop our successful reforms​ ​which are moving Wisconsin forward.”

The records released Tuesday are just some of the massive number of documents seized during the John Doe investigation, which was looking into allegations that workers in Walker’s office when he was Milwaukee County executive were doing campaign work on taxpayer time. The governor was never charged with any wrongdoing, but members of his staff and associates were convicted under the probe.

Current Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s office said he was not directly involved in the decision to release the records Tuesday, relying on corporation counsel to review and release them instead. Milwaukee County attorney Paul Bargren said in a statement that no outside influences determined when the information was going to be released, noting that “work has been underway full time by a group of four to six reviewers under my supervision since June 30. The material had to be reviewed carefully, and at the same time, there was substantial public interest in the material….As material was ready for release, I chose to make it available rather than hold on to it.”

The release came just hours after Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke put out a new campaign targeting Walker over the John Doe investigation. Speaking with reporters before casting an in-person absentee ballot Tuesday in Madison, Burke said there were no discussions with the county executive about the release of the documents on the same day. Burke said “the timing wasn’t determined based on that…the timing is about that people, when they go to the polls, need to consider Governor Walker’s entire record.”

Governor Walker says Obama visit could be a ‘liability’ for Mary Burke (AUDIO)

Gov. Scott Walker (WRN file photo)

Gov. Scott Walker (WRN file photo)

Governor Scott Walker has doubts about the benefits a visit to Wisconsin by President Obama would have for his Democratic challenger.

Democrat Mary Burke’s campaign has said they are working having the president campaign for her in Wisconsin during the week before the election, although no date or location have been mentioned yet. Burke has already had First Lady of the U.S. Michelle Obama in the state twice to campaign for her.

During a stop in Weston on Monday, Governor Scott Walker questioned whether a visit by President Obama would help Burke at all, given the polarized opinion many in the state have about the costs of Obamacare and other programs being pushed the Obama administration. Walker said “I think there’s a reason his popularity is way down, and I don’t think it’s going to be a boon for them.”

AUDIO: Gov. Scott Walker responds to possible presidential visit (:42)

As for whether he’s hoping to match the star power of a presidential visit, Walker declined to name any outside help that might join him on the campaign trail. “I believe this election is not about celebrities, it’s about me talking to directly to the voters, and so I’m not looking to match that,” Walker said, adding that “in fact, I think President Obama coming in for my opponent is a liability.”

Burke for Wisconsin communications director Joe Zepecki responded to Walker’s comments in a statement:

“We’re excited to have the President visit before the Election and hope to announce details of his visit soon. Certainly doesn’t surprise us that a career politician desperate to distract from his failure to create the jobs he promised would resort to such silliness. The simple fact is that under Governor Walker, Wisconsin is dead last in the midwest in terms of private sector job creation, has a ballooning $1.8 billion structural deficit and a lagging economy. Governor Walker’s top down approach is not working, it is time for a new direction with Mary Burke.”

WSAU’s Larry Lee contributed to this report.

Attorney General Van Hollen drops effort to restore Voter ID requirement before election

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

The state Department of Justice is no longer pursuing an effort to restore a Wisconsin law that requires voters to show a government-issued photo identification to obtain a ballot, before the November 4th election.

After the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order putting the law back on hold earlier this month, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen had said he would explore alternatives to address the high court’s concerns so the requirement could be reinstated for the November 4 elections. Van Hollen did not indicate he hoped to accomplish that goal.

On Monday, DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said they now do not expect to have the law restored before the election, although she declined to say what alternatives the agency had explored. In an email, Brueck said that the fact that the requirement will not be in effect is “unfortunate as it is a constitutional piece of common sense legislation that is overwhelmingly supported by the people of Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin’s voter ID law has been the subject of a long legal battle since it was first enacted by Republicans in 2011. It was only in effect for a single primary election in early 2012, before a Dane County judge put it on hold. Further state and federal court challenges have kept it tied up since then, until an appeals court ordered it put back in effect in early September. State and local election officials had been working to educate voters about the requirement, prior to the Supreme Court’s order earlier this month putting the law on hold again.

A federal appeals court earlier this month did rule that the law is constitutional. The case is currently being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Early voting gets underway in Wisconsin

File photo

File photo

Voters who have already made up their minds about who they will be voting for on November 4 can start casting their ballots. Early voting got underway in Wisconsin on Monday, allowing voters to cast in-person absentee ballots at their local municipal clerk’s office for the next two weeks.

Clerks can offer voting hours between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, although office hours are likely to vary widely around the state. A recent change in state law prevents clerks from offering weekend hours for voting. State election officials suggest checking with your local clerk before heading out to vote early.

State Government Accountability Board executive director Kevin Kennedy says long lines are expected at municipal clerks’ office around the state. He notes that “One in six ballots cast in November 2012 were early votes in clerks’ offices, and we expect to see similar numbers in 2014.”

Voters have already been able to request absentee ballots by mail for several weeks. As of Friday, the state Government Accountability Board says 69,028 ballots had been issued to absentee voters. The deadline to submit a request for a ballot by mail is Thursday, October 30. Ballots must be postmarked no later than Election Day and must be received by the clerk by no later than 4 p.m. on the Friday after the election.

Early voting will end at the end of the business day on October 31.

Wisconsin wolf hunt already ending in one area

File photo: DNR

File photo: DNR

Just days after it started, the state’s wolf hunting season is already ending in portions of northeastern Wisconsin. The Department of Natural Resources says that Zone 2 of the hunt will close at noon on Saturday, October 18.

The decision comes after 12 wolves were reported as killed by hunters and trappers in the area. Zone 2 includes all of Vilas and Oneida counties, and large portions of Marinette, Oconto, Forest, and Lincoln counties. The DNR had set a season quota of 15 wolves for the area.

Five other zones still remain open in the state. As of midday Friday, 28 of the 150 wolves available for harvest had been taken. That’s almost 19 percent of the season’s quota and, if the pace keeps up, it could mean an early end to the hunt. The season is scheduled to run through mid-February, but the state will shut zones down as hunters approach the harvest quota in each area.