The Contrarian

The “Ethical Baggage” of Duey Stroebel

Republican legislator is the last person to lecture Evers’ appointee Craig Thompson on ethics.

By - Jan 11th, 2019 10:06 am
Duey Stroebel. Photo from the State of Wisconsin Blue Book 2013-14.

Duey Stroebel. Photo from the State of Wisconsin Blue Book 2013-14.

During the 2013-15 session of the Legislature Governor Scott Walker signed legislation strengthening the rights of residential landlords. Favored by registered industry lobbyists (the Apartment Association of South Central Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Builders Association), the measure was introduced by Duey Stroebel, himself an owner of residential property.

So it was rich when Senator Stroebel alleged “ethical baggage” in a statement opposing the nomination of Craig Thompson as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

To quote from Senator Stroebel:

Thompson was the head of the Transportation Development Association (TDA), a Madison-based special interest group…[that stands] to benefit from having a close ally at the helm of one of the largest state agencies… Thompson has advocated for more transportation spending and raising taxes to do it…Thompson served as the public face of a coordinated attack on Governor Scott Walker’s commitment to not raise the gas tax…

[T]he DOT manages a large amount of money and resources…Where that money goes and how it will be spent is largely in the hands of the secretary once the legislature signs off on a budget.

It is unwise to put someone paid by road builders and local governments to lobby for their agenda at the head of the agency that manages the contracts, regulations and guidelines impacting road builders and local governments.

In Senator Stroebel’s view, this means Thompson is “burdened with ethical baggage.” The senator adds that Governor Evers has “taint[ed] the debate over transportation and public infrastructure by injecting [an] ethically charged political appointment into the discussion.”

Stroebel acknowledges that Thompson is an “expert” in transportation. Curiously, he somehow finds it troubling that Evers might appoint someone who agrees with his position on the need for new revenue.

When Senator Stroebel cites ethical concerns in leading the opposition to Thompson, keep in mind his words in 2013 when asked if there was a conflict in sponsoring a bill that would benefit his real estate investments:

There is no conflict of interest in a legislator participating in and guiding legislation that may affect his or her private sector business when the policy is a statewide policy that affects everyone in the field equally. It is a good thing to have citizen legislators who have real world knowledge and experience on the issues, rather than career politicians relying on lobbyists for information, making policy decisions.

Stroebel’s statement yesterday cited not a single instance of unethical behavior on Thompson’s part. Nor did he cite an iota of evidence that Thompson has a personal interest in the finances of any TDA member.

By Stroebel’s new standard, the circumstances surrounding his sponsorship of the pro-landlord bill were egregious. Unethical even.

As it happens, I agree with the Stroebel of 2013. As long as there is full public disclosure — and there was in that instance — my bias is to leave it up to voters to use the ballot box for deciding what is and isn’t “ethical.”

It is noteworthy that Senator Stroebel nowhere challenges the accuracy of policy arguments and statements advanced by Thompson. Noteworthy, but not surprising. In the three years that I have been following the transportation issue I can cite not a single instance where Thompson or TDA have provided me with information that was not independently documented by such nonpartisan sources as the Legislative Fiscal Bureau or the former Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (now Wisconsin Policy Forum).

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