Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, left, and Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald could have made the flawed Foxconn deal better, but they failed to do so. Now they have rightly garnered a "pants-on-fire" rating from PolitiFact for trying to blame someone else for the Foxconn mess.

When the Foxconn fiasco was in its earliest stages, it was already clear to The Capital Times that the arrangement between former Gov. Scott Walker and the scandal-plagued Taiwanese corporation was “a travesty.” In 2017 we explained, “No matter what final form the agreement takes, it can and should be opposed by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. There are no partisan nor ideological ‘sides’ in this debate. The division is between those who want to create jobs in a smart and responsible way that yields long-term benefits and those who propose to throw money at corporations that play states and nations against one another.”

It was evident to any honest observer that the company’s promise to develop a manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin that would ultimately employ as many as 13,000 workers represented an absurd and unobtainable promise by a foreign corporation that wanted to get on the good side of Donald Trump before the president started imposing tariffs.

Only a major fool would have promised to support the Foxconn fantasy with a promise of perhaps $3 billion, perhaps $4.5 billion, in tax dollars to secure the project.

Scott Walker was a major fool.

When the details of the boondoggle began to be revealed in 2017, we explained: “The Foxconn deal represents the worst form of crony capitalism — an agreement to transfer billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to a foreign corporation. It locks Wisconsin into a semi-permanent relationship with a rogue organization that has an international reputation for treating workers poorly, harming the environment, and failing to follow through on agreements.”

Walker's ineptitude became obvious. That’s one of the reasons why he was defeated for re-election last fall.

But the blame was never entirely on Walker.

In August of 2017, we wrote an editorial headlined: “Legislature needs to fix Scott Walker's flawed Foxconn deal.” Noting former state Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller’s observation that “the governor has been suckered once again,” we argued, “Now, it falls to the Legislature to address the fundamental flaws in the deal Walker has cut with Foxconn. The power of the purse gives legislators the authority to check and balance Walker’s deal making, and they have a responsibility to do just that.”

Instead of stepping up for sound economic development and fiscal responsibility, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, lined up with Walker. They joined the governor in approving an arrangement that lacked meaningful guarantees and oversight.

Like Walker, Vos and Fitzgerald were ready to pose for pictures with the president and visiting executives, but they refused to perform even the most basic watchdog duties.

The Foxconn executives were not fools. They recognized that, under the deal they had entered into, they could get away with rearranging, and even abandoning, commitments. And, ever since Vos and Fitzgerald marched their respective legislative chambers onto the Foxconn playing field, the corporation has been in a constant process of moving the goalposts.

Last week, Reuters reported that Foxconn was reassessing its plans to manufacture LCD display panel screens in Wisconsin. Then the company signaled that it was still interested in developing an assembly facility. And tech-industry observers warned that the unsettled circumstance was likely to continue.

No one should have been surprised to learn that the company was at least reviewing options for backing out of the commitment to manufacture the LCD display panel screens. As Reuters explained, “Foxconn can make more money by manufacturing the panels in East Asia, assembling them in Mexico and then importing to the United States.” Beyond that, LCD profit margins are down and technological developments are already threatening to shrink the market.

Nor should anyone be surprised that, after the Reuters report was published at a particularly inconvenient moment for a company that is very interested in ongoing negotiations about tariffs and trade, Foxconn would go into damage-control mode and tell the Trump administration that it would still build something in the 2020 election battleground state of Wisconsin. Foxconn will keep trying to stay on Trump’s good side as long as it can.

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What was surprising was the attempt by Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald to blame newly elected Gov. Tony Evers for chaos that extends — at least in part — from their dereliction of duty. The Republican legislators reacted to the initial Reuters report by announcing: "The company is reacting to the wave of economic uncertainty that the new governor has brought with his administration. Governor Evers has an anti-jobs agenda and pledged to do away with a successful business incentive for manufacturing and agriculture."

PolitiFact tagged Vos and Fitzgerald as “pants-on-fire” liars for that one.

There is no “wave of uncertainty,” Evers is not anti-jobs. The governor is trying to manage the mess he inherited from Walker.

The “pants-on-fire” label is amusing. But it does not begin to call Vos and Fitzgerald out for the damage they have done to Wisconsin. They were negligent. They failed the taxpayers. Then, when things went awry, they tried to put the blame on an honorable official who is doing his best to salvage something from a mess that others created.

Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald are contemptible liars. Their continued presence in state government shames Wisconsin.

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