Former Democratic Sen. Jeff Plale, who voted against his party during a lame duck session on state contracts last month, has joined the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Plale will earn $90,000 a year as the administrator of the Division of State Facilities, according to the Department of Administration.
In an e-mail sent to department staff members Wednesday, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch praised Plale for his public policy experience, which included about a decade on the State Building Commission while he was serving in the state Legislature.
Critics speculated a Walker administration job was payback for his opposition to union contract legislation in December.
"Instead of seeking out the best and brightest, this governor is busy creating a country club for cronies," Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said. "When he says ‘open for business' and then appoints people like Plale, he's obviously saying that he doesn't draw the line at the world's oldest profession."
But Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said Plale was selected because of his experience with state building programs.
"Jeff personally knows the DOA staff, understands the details of the capital budget, and worked extensively with the state's building programs in the past," Werwie said.
Plale and former Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker voted against their fellow Democrats during an extraordinary session on union contracts in December, causing the agreements to fail. Former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's administration had finished negotiations on nearly 20 contracts covering 39,000 state workers, but the agreements were a hot issue for Walker. He demanded lawmakers stop work on them.
Plale said that vote had nothing to do with his new job.
"People are adding two and two and coming up with seven," he said. "It isn't true."
He said he and Walker have known each other since they were 19-year-old college students, and that he'd expressed an interest in working for the governor months ago.
Plale, a conservative Democrat from South Milwaukee, was unseated in a primary challenge from Sen. Chris Larson in September.
State Journal reporter Clay Barbour contributed to this report.