A critic describes Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Mike Huebsch as "two peas in a pod" — a convenient truth, considering the fact that Huebsch is the second-most-powerful politician in the state, second only to Walker. As Department of Administration secretary, Huebsch is regarded as the primary architect of Walker's budget revamp, which aimed to strip public employee unions of their collective-bargaining rights, among other things, according to a profile of Huebsch in Sunday's La Crosse Tribune
|Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch listen as Gov. Scott Walker explains his plan to curb the state's $3.6 billion deficit on Feb. 11. (AP Photo)
The Wisconsin newspaper recounts the firestorm that has raged in the Badger State since Huebsch resigned his 94th District Assembly seat four months ago to join freshman Gov. Walker's Cabinet.
Illustrating the depth of the angst are the facts that 14 Democratic senators fled the state in an attempt to thwart the budget bill, and recall efforts are mounting not only against many of them but also several Republicans who supported Walker.
To this day, Huebsch insists that changes under the budget bill, which eventually passed and Walker signed in law but has become mired in legal challenges, were long overdue and desperately needed to staunch the bleeding under the state's estimated two-year $3.6 billion budget deficit in the near term and to control finances in the long term.
Despite the deluge of protesters who flooded the Capitol in February, the budget overhaul never was about the public employees or a negative reflection on their work, Huebsch told the Tribune. "This is not just two years, but for the long haul," said Huebsch, who is a former speaker of the state Assembly and who has a photo of President Ronald Reagan on a wall near his desk.
The acronym for the department Huebsch heads is DOA, which he quips that some people say stands for "Department of All" because it has oversight of the budget and affects all other departments.
Joe Heim, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, told the Tribune: "It's widely acknowledged that the job is the second-most-powerful job in the state of Wisconsin. It touches virtually all agencies of government."
One of Walker's and Huebsch's toughest critics, former state legislator John Medinger of La Crosse, begs to differ, telling the Tribune, "In this transition they've lost their focus on jobs and are heavy on ideology," Medinger said. "They don't like unions. And if you destroy the unions, you are really destroying the Democratic Party. I think they've overreached."
On the other hand, Medinger acknowledges the strength in their bond. "You have to have a DOA secretary that you know and trust," Medinger said. "Walker and Huebsch are two peas in a pod. They are brothers, in everything but blood."
Echoing the need for trust is Kenneth Lindner, a former University of Wisconsin-La Crosse chancellor who was DOA secretary under Gov. Lee Dreyfus from 1979 to 1983. "I really believe for a governor to be successful you have to have a very strong secretary of administration so that he can exercise some discipline among the other departments," Lindner told the Tribune.
Walker, who has known Huebsch since they worked together in the state Legislature, said Huebsch's role is vital in building a strong relationship with lawmakers. "He is well-respected and has the qualities and the ability to get along with folks," Walker said.
As for Huebsch, he acknowledges the difficulties that sprang from controversy and demonstrations in the weeks after the bill was announced Feb. 11.
"I've made mistakes in the transition in learning how to be an executive," he told the Tribune. "But I feel like I'm starting to get my feet underneath me."
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