State Government and Political Roundup: Former Walker aide to be sentenced January 22Wisconsin News
-- Governor Scott Walker’s election campaign says it condemns the actions taken by Walker’s former Milwaukee County aide Tim Russell.
MILWAUKEE - Governor Scott Walker’s election campaign says it condemns the actions taken by Walker’s former Milwaukee County aide Tim Russell. The 49-year-old Russell pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of embezzling $21,000 from an annual event at the County Zoo which saluted Wisconsin veterans.
Walker’s camp said Russell quote, “took advantage of all the volunteers who worked so hard to honor military members.” Russell agreed to a plea deal which would send him to prison for two-and-a-half-years, and put him under extended supervision for another two-and-a-half years. But the judge does not have to accept those terms when he sentences Russell on January 22nd. Russell was scheduled to go on trial Monday, and his attorney Parker Mathers said quote, “a lot of good people will not have to testify for the defense.” He did not explain what he meant by that. Russell was one of five ex-Walker aides and associates charged in a Milwaukee County John Doe probe which continues. Graeme Zielinski of the state Democratic Party said Russell’s conviction calls Walker’s hiring and promotion policies into question – especially after Russell was fired from the state’s housing agency in 1993 for improperly billing over 11-hundred-dollars for hotel stays. His latest charges also accused Russell of taking over three-thousand-dollars in campaign funds from two Milwaukee County Board candidates. He allegedly used the money for exotic vacations, plus a meeting in Atlanta with former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain.
A political battle over mining is being renewed at the State Capitol. The Senate Select Committee on Mining held a hearing on the issue yesterday. Chairman Tim Cullen of Janesville says his fellow Democrats will push for an industry-friendly bill that does more to protect the environment. And they’ll try to advance their ideas as far as possible before the GOP regains the majority in the Senate in January. Cullen said the panel would spell out its alternative package on December sixth. Meanwhile, Republicans on the mining panel want to try again to pass the same mining incentives that were approved in the Assembly last March, but fell just short of passing in the Senate. That bill would have exempted iron ore mining firms from a number of environmental protections, while limiting the public’s ability to challenge mining proposals. Leaders of northern Wisconsin communities pleaded to lawmakers yesterday to guarantee environmental protections. Tim Sullivan of Milwaukee – a former mining equipment executive who heads the Wisconsin Mining Association – said the state Assembly bill needs to be changed. He would not be specific about the changes, but he questioned whether the state would go against federal mining regulations. Sullivan also said it would take at least five years for a mining company to start pulling out minerals, even with the faster time limits proposed for companies to get state permits. Gogebic Taconite was considering a new iron ore mine near Hurley that would have created thousands of jobs in a region with high unemployment. The firm pulled out after the March legislation was killed. But Governor Scott Walker said this week that Gogebic might come back if the Assembly version is passed.
While Governor Scott Walker was touting his business agenda on the road yesterday, his critics delivered petitions to his office demanding that Wisconsin keep same-day voter registration at the polls. The liberal group One Wisconsin Now led a drive that resulted in 15,000 signatures being delivered. That was after the Republican governor told Republicans in California that his home state should drop same-day registration because it burdens mostly retired poll workers. Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now said the same-day system is popular, and dumping it would disenfranchise voters. And despite what Republicans say, Ross insists there’s no evidence that it’s being abused. Ross said the only fraud quote, “is partisans manipulating the process to achieve political goals.” Some Republicans have claimed for years that same-day registration benefits Democrats. Over 50,000 people registered on Election Day in Milwaukee, a city which helped Democratic President Barack Obama win a second term. Earlier this week, Walker said the fuss over same-day registration was overblown, and dumping it is not one of his top priorities. If Wisconsin does drop same-day registration, the federal government would require a “motor voter” system that would let people register where they get the driver’s licenses and public benefits.
The State Capitol Rotunda will be lit up for the holidays this morning, after Governor Scott Walker lights up the building’s official tree. The 37-foot balsam fir was provided by Meyer’s Castle Tree Farm of Medford – and it’s decorated with hand-made ornaments from Wisconsin school children. Fourth-graders from Medford and nearby Stetsonville were invited to sing at the tree-lighting ceremony, which is scheduled to begin shortly after eight a.m.