Gov.-elect Scott Walker is determined to bring major changes to Madison — seemingly even before he takes office next year.
Walker, a Republican, has asked Gov. Jim Doyle's administration to immediately stop some of its key policy initiatives, signaling that he wants to block the Democratic administration from any last-minute political maneuvering that could hamstring him later.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Department of Administration Secretary Daniel Schooff, Walker urged the current administration to freeze implementation of the federal health care law — an issue Doyle is especially passionate about — and suspend contract negotiations with state employees. Walker also requested that the administration stop making permanent hires, start revamping the Charter Street power plant, and delay any new rules for agencies until after he takes office Jan. 3.
"I am confident we can find common ground on my five requests and continue to work towards an orderly transition," Walker wrote.
Schooff fired back a brief response Thursday, saying Walker needs to learn more about what he's requesting.
"With respect to the specific items you mention, obviously you have not had the opportunity to be briefed on these items," he wrote.
For example, Schooff said that the health care exchanges Walker mentioned require legislation and won't go into effect until 2013 at the earliest, and that the Charter Street plant already has natural gas and biofuel capabilities. He added an offer to brief Walker on these "still stands."
"I am aware that there are those who would attempt to pit incoming and outgoing administrations against each other," he wrote. "As you know, Governor Doyle and this administration have worked hard to avoid this."
Walker's move is the latest sign that the Republican governor-elect intends to quickly implement his agenda, and overhaul Doyle's legacy in the process. Doyle, a Democrat, has been governor for eight years and will remain governor until Jan. 2.
Some political observers saw the move as more presumptuous than proactive.
"I can't remember a case that has been this extreme," said Charles Franklin, a UW-Madison political science professor. "Normally you wait your turn, when you are (sworn) in."
Franklin added that Walker is probably also trying to deal with Wisconsin's budget, which is facing a $3 billion gap.
Still, Joe Heim, a political science professor at UW-La Crosse, agreed Walker was being "premature."
"He's essentially asking the governor to cede certain governor's responsibilities to Walker early," Heim said.
But when talking to reporters Thursday night, Walker said, "We're not picking a fight. We're making a very legitimate request."
In the letter, Walker restated his vow that one of his first acts as governor will be to authorize Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to join other states in a lawsuit over the federal health care law, and asked the administration to freeze its implementation, including the establishment of health care exchanges, until after he takes office.
Walker also wrote that he sees "no reason" to finalize any permanent hires during the last two months of the Doyle administration.
"In the past, it has been common practice for political appointees to use this time to "bump down" into permanent civil service positions," his letter reads. "I believe these appointees should be required to go through the same application process as any other civil servants and my Administration will review any new permanent hires during the next two months so they can be considered for termination during the probationary period."
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, applauded Walker's letter.
"It's time now for the current Administration to join with Republicans, led by Scott Walker, to look out for the best interest of the taxpayers."
And Bill McCoshen, former chief of staff for former Gov. Tommy Thompson, said the letter was probably a “preemptive strike” inspired by the state committing to spend all $810 million of its federal stimulus cash on a proposed Milwaukee-to-Madison train line days before the election.
Doyle has since said he would leave the train's fate in Walker's hands.
But former Governor Marty Schreiber, a Democrat, said he couldn't remember a governor-elect ever asking a sitting governor to change any policies at his request.
"I have not seen that happen," Schreiber said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.