If we are lucky the final story has now been told regarding the shameful caucus scandal at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Legislative figures from both political parties made headlines as they were caught having used their offices to raise money for partisan campaigns on taxpayer time. The legal twists and turns would prove to be one of the more stunning events to play out at the Capitol.
Sherry Schultz, a former aide to onetime Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor and was fined $100, as part of a plea deal.
With this news the long drama of the caucus scandal comes to an end. But it should not be forgotten. While Sherry Schultz was not an elected official her name along with the importance of why she made headlines should be recalled by the current staff that serve in legislative offices, and the ones who will start working in the statehouse in the new session come January. Only by recognizing the limits of what is allowed, and what is legal will prevent the old problems from finding a new way to start.
I suspect some, if this is the first glance at this story, will assume that the lowest person always is the one to get tagged while the real power players walk away. While Schultz worked for Jensen, and he was able to skirt the full ramifications of his law-breaking with seemingly endless legal manuevers, many who were implicated in the scandal paid a price of public embarrassment, or loss of holding public office. (This blog remains consistent about the need for jail time, and financial penalties as a result of breaking the law, and abusing the public trust, regardless of which political party was the culprit under the dome.)
I hold to a very high standard those who work at the Capitol. Be they elected officials or staff there is no doubt voters place responsibility and their faith on the shoulders of those who work at the statehouse. It is a bond that then requires those who receive a state paycheck to act with honor.
When that trust is broken, as with Schultz, not only is the law violated, but the trust of the voter is shattered. When that faith from the voters is replaced with doubt and cynicism our political institutions suffer.
What has bothered me over the past decade is the cavalier attitude that too often is seen by those who got caught breaking the law. There seems to be no repentance, or shame for what they were caught doing. The old song and dance of ‘everyone else was doing it’ hardly works for 6-year-olds, and never looks reasonable coming from a state worker doing political work on state time. It just looked silly when Jensen tried that line of ‘reasoning’ before a Dane County jury. (Schultz and Jensen were found guilty by a jury of felony misconduct in office in 2006, but their convictions were thrown out by an appeals court the following year over an improper jury instruction.)
To my knowledge never once has Schultz acknowledged the corrosive effect her actions had on the political process. That to me is almost as bad as the actual crimes that were committed.
If she stood up and made a heart-felt statement of how this action harmed the system I would feel that she at least understands the gravity of what has happened.
Then the final story on this sad chapter in our state could be placed to bed with a more tidy ending.