In a recent interview with the Cap Times, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, noted he was able to find an event featuring Gov. Scott Walker in Minocqua because there were so many state patrol vehicles nearby.
A look into the state patrol force tasked with guarding state "dignitaries" shows that Walker indeed enjoys more security than his predecessors.
Peg Schmitt, spokeswoman for the department of transportation, which oversees the state patrol, said the unit responsible for providing security for the governor, lieutenant governor and visiting dignitaries has doubled its staff since Walker took office, from five to ten.
Schmitt said the staffing change was made effective March 13, 2011, a month into the protests at the Capitol over Walker’s plan to gut public employee union rights.
Did the changes cost any money?
"The positions were not newly created positions, but reallocated from within State Patrol to Dignitary Protection duties," she said.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson declined to provide details on how the governor makes use of the increased security or how the number of security personnel differs based on venue or event.
Former Gov. Martin Schreiber, who was in office for 18 months from 1977 to 1979, recalls that he was accompanied by a state trooper who provided security and chauffeured him to job-related events.
"I had a state patrolman who was the security officer and driver," he says. "And those responsibilities were shared by two people."
But Schreiber would also get security for personal trips as governor.
"My parents lived in Milwaukee and I would be coming to Milwaukee to have dinner with them and the security would come," he says.
Occasionally, he recalls, a perceived threat would merit additional security. He remembers being accompanied by state patrol officers during a parade in Monroe after the police determined the governor was being stalked by a group of people campaigning for the release of a convicted rapist.
David Blaska, a conservative blogger and former spokesman for Gov. Tommy Thompson, says Thompson was always accompanied by armed security. He reasons that Walker has increased security to address a threat that is unique to his governorship.
"Tommy never faced the constant harassment this governor does, up to and including midnight encampments of obscenity-shouting thugs on his front lawn in a residential area of his unfenced home," he says.
Former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton says Walker’s increased security is consistent with what she views as Walker’s tendency to view peaceful protesters as a threat.
“When you consider the constitutional risk that (the Walker administration) was willing to take (to shut down Capitol protests), it’s consistent,” she says.
But even if Walker was not such a polarizing figure, his decision to maintain two separate residences (the official residence in Maple Bluff and his home in Wauwatosa) is likely partially responsible for the additional security. Other governors have generally only lived in the Maple Bluff mansion.
What’s the situation for the lieutenant governor? It’s hard to determine. In response to an open records request last year, the office of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch provided me a copy of her daily schedule, which referenced security but redacted specific information. What was provided suggested that Kleefisch is occasionally accompanied by security, depending on the nature of the event.
Lawton says that Wisconsin lieutenant governors do not have round-the-clock security. During her time in office, says Lawton, she rarely felt she needed it.
What really bothered her, however, was that in her first term, she didn’t even get a driver. Lawton thus had to drive herself or get a staffer.
"Too often it was student interns who are lovely, but difficult in terms of scheduling and not necessarily always safe," she says. "So I just said to the governor, 'I can’t live with this any longer.'"
From that point on, Lawton was driven to official events by a Capitol Police officer.
Lawton says that she advised Kleefisch, who commutes to the Capitol from her hometown of Oconomowoc, to make sure she was afforded a driver.
"I said, 'You can’t afford to lose that work time,'" she says. "It was going to be ridiculous if she were going to be driving herself back and forth."