Walker E-Mails Make Christie Look Bad, Not Walker
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is getting the Chris Christie treatment this week. He doesn't deserve it. Although Walker's case does show why his Republican gubernatorial counterpart in New Jersey deserves all the skepticism he's generated and more.
More than 25,000 e-mails from a former Walker aide were released after a criminal investigation into Walker's tenure as Milwaukee county executive. The aide was one of six convicted of performing political business on county time.
Walker's political opponents are no doubt hoping the revelations will put his presidential ambitions on ice. Some of the e-mails are ugly. Unless there is more to them than news reports have thus far disclosed, however, Walker's opponents will -- and should be -- disappointed.
Politics is an all-encompassing profession. Successful politicians and their senior staff members work long hours, including nights and weekends, to advance their careers. Because career success is linked to the real-world success of governance, some overlap of political and governmental agendas is inevitable, even unavoidable. You needn't excuse the conduct of Walker staff who crossed the legal line to acknowledge that the line is sometimes far from obvious.
The release of the e-mails should help disperse ethical clouds over the Wisconsin governor. Yes, there was some blurring of government and political duties, including county employees spending too much time on their boss's gubernatorial campaign. But there was nothing egregious on Walker's part -- just politics as usual.
If the e-mail dump suggests Walker deserves the benefit of the doubt, it suggests just the opposite about Christie. Politics runs on abundant communication. Walker's county staff and campaign staff held a daily conference call to coordinate activities and communicated constantly. Walker's particular level of integration of campaigning and governing may not have been ideal, but such close coordination is typical of a politician who holds office while also running for office.
It's precisely the integrated flow of communications evident in the Walker e-mails that makes Christie's protestations about the George Washington Bridge scandal so difficult to credit. Christie claims he was out of the loop while his staff engaged in political retribution in his behalf. That defense has never made sense, and not only because the form of retribution -- blocking traffic on the nation's busiest bridge -- was extreme, bizarre and obviously dangerous to the public.
The Walker e-mails fail to shock because they expose routine political behavior. Politics as usual is only bad if the politics are bad. It looks like Walker passes that test. It looks like Christie doesn't.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter at @fdwilkinson.)