I was surprised to read the list of names to sit on the board for the Tommy Thompson Center on Public Leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos sponsored the bill that created the center. Once it was law he nominated himself to the board. He then placed, among others, Scott Jensen, a former Republican state representative and Assembly Speaker who ran afoul of the law while in office to the board.
Many people will recall the statehouse scandal which impacted both legislative houses, and their top leaders. It was eye-opening for many people across the state who never before had such insight into the way politics was played in Madison. It was also eye-opening for many in the state to witness the wheels of justice move so slow due to seemingly unlimited funds along with the best lawyers in the state working on behalf of Jensen. Over those years Wisconsinites came to better understand how politics was a full-time job at the statehouse, but also how money and influence effects justice.
Scott Jensen was found guilty of three felonies and one misdemeanor on March 11, 2006 for directing legislative staffers to campaign on state time. Jensen was ordered to spend 15 months in jail after Judge Ebert said that the actions of the former lawmaker were “common thievery elevated to a higher plane”. Jensen appealed that jury decision.
In November 2006 Judge Steve Ebert released a ruling in that never-ending case to allow for restitution to the state. The money ordered to be paid was for dollars spent on salaries for Capital staffers to do illegal campaign work on state time. Jensen was ordered to pay back over $190,000. At that time former State Representative Steve Foti was ordered to refund nearly $58,000. Sherry Schultz, who was an aide and key player in the corruption scandal, was ordered to repay almost $58,000.
On December 20, 2010, the three felony charges were dropped and Jensen agreed to pay back his legal fees to the state of Wisconsin. Jensen pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor ethics charge.
What I found most damaging to the state during that long process was how it undermined the integrity of our state’s political process. Voters place faith in the people they cast a ballot for, and then expect responsible elected officials to abide by the laws. But throughout the many years which the scandal matter meandered throughout the legal system there was never a heart-felt statement to the people of this state showing any remorse for the actions Jensen took while in office. It was nothing more than utter contempt for the process of law and order.
So it is easy to understand why there should be a stunned reaction that Jensen has now been appointed as a board member to a UW center which has as its mission the facilitating of research and leadership training.
There are countless Wisconsin Republicans who could have been named to the center’s board. Countless skilled, intelligent, ethical, and decent men and women. People who understand that virtue was a foundation the Founding Fathers stressed continually when shaping our nation. A value that certainly is at the heart of what creates a leader–the very type of leaders which the center wishes to be known for in the decades to come.
I have been hard-edged with both Democrats and Republicans who misused their position and power (and taxpayer’s monies) for both illegal and unethical campaign activities in the Wisconsin Statehouse. I have argued that the responsibility voters entrust to a candidate at the time of election is a treasured bond that requires elected officials to act with honor while in office. When that trust is broken, as with Jensen, 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 suffers.
Should it not be the mission of the Tommy Thompson Center On Public Leadership to make our politics a higher and more noble calling?