October 22, 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.”

Mary Burke votes early in Madison

PHOTO; WRN

PHOTO; WRN

Mary Burke cast her vote Tuesday in Wisconsin’s closely contested governor’s race. The Democrat cast her early absentee ballot at the Madison clerk’s office – and there were plenty of media on hand as she did. Burke said she wants to make voters aware of the option. “It is to increase awareness of early voting, that there is that opportunity,” she said. The early voting got underway Monday at clerks offices across the state.

In a race that’s all about turnout, Burke said she’s not overly focused on specific numbers of early votes versus those cast on Election Day November 4th. “I look at the turnout overall by November 4th, and certainly need to have good turnout.” she said.

The race is generating support from big names: First Lady Michelle Obama has campaigned twice for Burke, former President Bill Clinton will be in Milwaukee on Friday, and a visit from President Obama is possible in the week prior to the election. “People wouldn’t be here unless they thought I had great chance of winning,” Burke said.

Burke expects turnout to be greater than in the 2010 race for governor, but probably not as large as in the 2012 recall. Republican Governor Scott Walker – who plans to vote on Election Day – has had only one campaign visit from a big name supporter so far – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

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.

Senator Tammy Baldwin doesn’t see need for Ebola travel restrictions

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin says Congress needs to debate a policy towards ISIS. “I certainly believe that there is a role that the Congress of the United States should have already played, but we still have opportunities to have a full debate on what the nature of that engagement will be,” the Wisconsin Democrat said in Madison Monday.

Baldwin said the Obama administration is relying on a pair of resolutions on use of force that were passed by Congress more than a decade ago – which are “ill-suited” to the current problems in Iraq and Syria. “I do believe that there’s a role for debate, and have concerns that if we don’t have that, this could end up being an open-ended military engagement. Baldwin said “Iraq has to be able to stand up and fight for itself” and if it can’t, no international coalition will be able to do that for the Iraqis.

Baldwin also doesn’t see the need to ban travel to West Africa in response to the Ebola epidemic there. “I agree with the scientific community that says that it would be unwise, in terms of our ability to contain the epidemic in the three west African countries where it originated,” Baldwin said.

Wisconsin Republicans, Senator Ron Johnson and Representative Reid Ribble, where among the politicians who voiced support for such a ban.

“The measures that have been taken to increase screening at entry points in the United States where we receive passengers that might have been in west Africa are the right way to go,” said Baldwin.

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.