Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Capital Sex Scandal

Strange but true: Star member of Gov. Walker’s cabinet is accused of an affair that led to attempted murder.

By - Sep 12th, 2012 11:50 am
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It’s a story that’s been covered by the Wisconsin State Journal and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But not by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

On August 22, Madison resident Andrew D. Spear was charged with attempted murder for allegedly pouring gasoline on his wife Mary Spear and then igniting the gas with a lighter. “You’re gonna die in here and nobody will never know,” he told her, according to the legal complaint. “They’ll never find your body.”

Lit Match

Photo by John Liu.

The murder attempt was triggered by Andrew Spear’s belief that his wife was having an affair with her boss, state Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith, according to the complaint. Mary Spear serves as chief legal counsel for the department.

According to the complaint, Andrew Spear got access to his wife’s emails with her boss and accused her of having an affair. Mary Spear denied this and told police that Dennis Smith is “a longtime friend of hers.” But she also told police she later told her husband “she was sorry she had lied to him.”

Smith eventually released a statement saying “I categorically and unequivocally deny that I have ever had a relationship with Mary Spear beyond friendship.” Smith is married and has four children.

Smith is one of the stars of the Walker administration. He was a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and had previously served under President George W. Bush as director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations.

His appointment as head of Wisconsin’s health department was criticized by Democrats.  “Unfortunately, Walker has picked someone to head a department he appears to want to dismantle rather than administer,” said Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison).

Reviewing Smith’s record, Shawn Doherty of The Capital Times put it this way: “What emerges from a quick survey of some of these dozens of articles and interviews is an articulate and fervent critic of the very programs he is now in charge of running.”

Roys said Wisconsin seniors could be in danger of losing state help for prescription drugs with Smith in charge. When Smith worked for Bush, the federal Health and Human Services Department announced Wisconsin’s popular SeniorCare prescription drug program was likely to be killed. But Democratic U.S. Senator Herb Kohl added a provision to a bill that kept the program in place.

For Heritage, Smith wrote a piece urging states to drop out of Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care for the poor, elderly and disabled.  If Walker and Smith were able to achieve this is Wisconsin, it would have a particular sting in Milwaukee County, which has a high population of poor and disabled people.

Smith is also well-known nationally as a state official who can be depended on to criticize Obamacare. He has been point man for Walker in resisting Obamacare in Wisconsin.

Smith hired Mary Spear as chief legal counsel last January, at a salary of $120,304. In his statement denying the affair, Smith said he and Mary Spear “have known each other since grade school, growing up in the same small town in rural Illinois. We were in the same class throughout those years, sharing similar interests in government and politics…Our mothers taught in grade school together and were close friends. Her father was my favorite high school teacher. After high school, our lives took separate paths.”

Mary Spear had a background serving private health insurance groups in Texas, for companies like PFL Life Insurance Company and Western Fidelity Insurance Company. She also wrote letters to the newspapers fairly frequently, often lauding her husband.

“My husband has worked hard all of his life, having been cast from his home at 18, struggling with 40 hour-plus per week jobs while attending college, relocating to Houston from Illinois in search of better opportunities for him and his new wife. He managed our finances, put us on a budget, saved for our daughter’s education and our retirement,” she wrote to the Dallas Morning News.

“In 1991, he opened a marketing company, which grew from a one-man shop to employ 15 people. He gave jobs to people who had never worked in an office, who had been living on welfare and who had been trained by community social programs. He paid business, sales and personal taxes. When he sold the company in 2001, he had provided for our family for life.”

In another letter to the newspaper about the importance of family, Mary Spears called her husband (by then retired) “the best of them all. He blusters and would have people think him a tough entrepreneur, but he’s really the owner of the world’s most compassionate heart. He cares for the yards of our two retired neighbors, checks in on the neighbors’ pets and takes on their small household fix-ups. He is the rock that grounds me, righting my world, if only for a time, long enough for me to get a grip on myself and blunder through whatever is the problem du jour. I wouldn’t be here if not for his love for me and mine for him.”

Little more than a year after writing such praise, Mary was being brutalized by her husband for an alleged affair.  The complaint charging her husband is a gruesome document, describing his repeated attacks on Mary and his attempt to commit suicide. He ultimately helped put out the fire he started after dousing Mary with flames, and later told her, “I can’t kill you. I hate you, but I love you. I can’t kill you.”

On Friday, Mary Spear filed for divorce from her husband, calling their marriage “irretrievably broken.”

The Journal Sentinel buried a tiny story about the murder attempt by a husband who thought his wife was having an affair, but doesn’t mention Dennis Smith.  The story is actually by the Associated Press, which may have made the decision to leave Smith out of the story, or it was trimmed by JS editors. Either way, the newspaper chose not to pursue the story.

These kind of stories are always judgement calls by the editors. In the case of Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, the JS pursued him aggressively until Flynn admitted having an affair (though I’m told editor Marty Kaiser reluctantly gave the okay for the story). Yet a year earlier, when it came out that Milwaukee lobbyist Bill Broydrick’s cell phone number was among those on the list of DC Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the JS chose not to report this. Broydrick has top clients in both Wisconsin and nationally, and could have conceivably been doing favors for politicians. WTMJ TV chose to report the story (this was back before the newspaper and its radio and TV stations began working cooperatively on stories).

The result of the JS decision in the Mary Spear situation is that everyone in Madison is talking about a story that almost no one in Milwaukee knows about. Brian Brophy, attorney for Andrew Spear, is blaming the affair for his client’s behavior. “Obviously, his wife’s affair may have led to some bad behavior,” Brophy has said. Brophy’s request to subpoena Mary Spear and question her about the alleged affair during the preliminary hearing was denied.

In short, it’s likely Brophy will emphasize this story if there is a trial, which could bring more publicity. Criminal complaints and legal hearings have always been fair game for the press. Odds are you haven’t heard the last of this story.

4 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Capital Sex Scandal”

  1. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Good grief. That’s quite a story.

    As much as I dislike the Walker Administration, i couldn’t care less if someone has an affair. Unless they’re being hypocritical about it :-)

  2. Bob T says:

    I also don’t care if they were having an affair and it would seem to me that the person with the possible credibility problem is the one who poured gasoline on his wife and lit her on fire! That part of the story is very newsworthy, but as far as the alleged affair goes, I only would see the need to say that the crazy husband did it because he thought she was having an affair and leave it at that, what is newsworthy about who she was supposedly having this affair with?

    As far as the other cases they mention, I think its funny that they didn’t cover the one about the lobbyist and the madam, now that’s something very sleazy and also illegal, to me that is news.

  3. roz says:

    the affair doesn’t seem very important–throwing gasoline on his wife does. is there ever a good reason to do that.

  4. Begonia says:

    I think the Journal-Sentinel made the right call on this. Frankly I’m shocked that any paper would publish the name of a victim of a domestic abuse situation like this.

    I also would disagree that “everyone in Madison is talking about” this story. I live in Madison, but I hadn’t seen any coverage of it on the Isthmus’ website (The Daily Page) or the Cap Times website, which are my two main sources of news in Madison.

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