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Lobbyist's son to return to old job in Walker administration

Lobbyist's son to return to old job in Walker administration

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The son of a prominent lobbyist is being demoted following controversy over his selection as a high-paid supervisor in the Walker administration.

Gov. Walker on Tuesday announced he was sending Brian Deschane back to the Department of Regulation and Licensing and his $64,728-a-year job as bureau director of board services.

The Department of Commerce recently hired Deschane, 27, as its new administrator of environmental and regulatory services — an $81,500 a year job that supervises 76 employees and oversees storage tank regulations and environmental cleanups.

Deschane never graduated college and according to his resume, had no discernible experience in the field. Yet, according to documents provided to the State Journal Tuesday, he was chosen over a former DRL secretary to replace a 25-year state employee with a degree in chemical engineering and a resume that included extensive management and regulatory experience. The disparity has led critics to conclude that Deschane's hiring was political payback. 

His father, Jerry Deschane, is a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association — a group that donated or helped funnel more than $100,000 to the governor's campaigns the past two years. 

The Walker administration and Jerry Deschane have both denied any quid pro quo took place. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said that when the governor "learned of the details of this agency staffing decision, he directed his administration to move in another direction." Werwie said Commerce would be naming an acting division administrator.

The move was made, at least in part, to quiet critics who have seized on the hiring of the seemingly under-qualified Deschane as proof that Walker is using political patronage to pay back supporters. 

Both positions Deschane was hired for are political posts. Such appointments serve at the pleasure of the governor and bypass the level of scrutiny reserved for civil service positions.

Walker wants to increase the number of such political appointees, converting 37 positions from civil service to "unclassified" or appointed posts. Currently, the governor and agency heads can appoint 70 such positions, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The proposal is part of the governor's plan to limit public sector collective bargaining, now stuck in the courts. 

"Hirings like this show a lack of respect for other hard-working state employees," said Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona. "And it certainly raises questions about the wisdom of giving the Walker administration the ability to do more of the same."

The practice has long been controversial. Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum faced criticism over questionable appointments. More recently, Gov. Jim Doyle caught heat for giving lucrative jobs to Terry Craney, former president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and former Madison Mayor Sue Bauman, both major supporters.

Deschane's resume consists mainly of political positions with Republicans and jobs with organizations closely tied to his father. 

He worked for less than a year as the deputy director of operations for the Wisconsin Business Council and as a project manager for the Wisconsin Builders Association. In those positions, his job seemed to focus on monitoring legislation and educating members about regulations and their impact on their industries.

He also worked for Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., serving as its regional political manager and membership services representative. According to his resume, Deschane also worked in the offices of former Republican state Sens. Cathy Stepp, R-Sturtevant, and Dave Zien, R-Eau Claire.

According to court records, Deschane also has two drunken driving convictions.

At the recommendation of Walker chief of staff Keith Gilkes, DRL Secretary David Ross appointed Deschane in January as bureau director of board services. A month later, Commerce Secretary Paul Jadin hired him at the recommendation of DRL Deputy Secretary John Scocos.

According to documents provided Tuesday, former DRL Secretary Oscar Herrera, had also expressed interest in the position. Herrera has a Ph.D, and 20 years of state experience. He currently serves as the director of the state's Petroleum Environmental Cleanup Fund Award program, which manages and distributes $10 million annually for cleanup of contaminated sites. 

The job was previously held by Bernice A Mattsson, now a Commerce bureau director. Mattsson graduated from UW-Madison in 1984, with a degree in chemical engineering. She had worked for Commerce and the Department of Industry, Labor, and Human Relations, for more than 25 years.

"That is a very important job, one with serious ramifications," said Pat McCutcheon, a retired Department of Natural Resources supervisor. "If you don't know what your employees are talking about, how can you possibly supervise them? He was way over his head in that job."

Werwie said Deschane was hired because of his experience with the Business Council and Wisconsin Builders Association, and the work he did at Regulation and Licensing.


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