Wisconsin Public Service Commission Chair Phil Montgomery got his job the old-fashioned way: As a veteran Republican state legislator, he knew the right people and made the right moves to gain a lucrative position.
How lucrative? When Gov. Scott Walker appointed his longtime legislative ally to the PSC chairmanship in 2011, it paid $120,000 a year.
Clearly, Montgomery knows a thing or two about how the game is played.
When he got a chance, Montgomery played it on behalf of former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford. Montgomery worked with Walker to reward their former legislative colleague with a plum position at the PSC.
How much of a plum? The job that Montgomery helped Suder get pays $94,000 a year.
Now Suder’s in trouble.
The scandal surrounding the attempt by Republicans to provide $500,000 in public funds to the so-called “United Sportsmen” organization has blown up on Suder, who appears to have been a prime mover in arranging a “training” grant designed to secure a major payout for the politically connected group.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the United Sportsmen operation “had little experience doing the kind of training called for in the grant." Yet, according to the paper, “The measure Suder inserted into the state budget with the help of other Republicans was so narrowly tailored that it was all but certain to go to United Sportsmen's foundation, which has a former chief of staff to Suder on its board of directors.”
Democratic legislators say Suder’s involvement in the scheme disqualifies him as a candidate for the PSC job. “His apparent attempt to deceive state taxpayers, withhold critical information from his fellow legislators, and the ethical questions raised by his attempt to divert millions of tax dollars to the questionable group United Sportsmen make him wholly unqualified to serve,” argue state Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson and Democratic Sens. Dave Hansen, Nikiya Harris and Bob Wirch.
Montgomery says he stands by his decision to help Suder secure a sinecure as the administrator for the PSC’s Division of Water, Compliance and Consumer Affairs. Why? Montgomery claims it has something to do with Suder’s legislative record.
But Suder’s legislative record is now associated with one of the highest-profile political scandals in recent state history.
Montgomery’s appointment to head the PSC smacked of cronyism. The selection of Suder smacks of even more cronyism.
Instead of making a bad situation worse by trying to make a case for Suder, Montgomery and Walker should accept that this selection is no longer defensible.
The Suder appointment should be withdrawn.
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