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Stephen Fitzgerald
Stephen Fitzgerald, the father of Wisconsin’s two most powerful state lawmakers, was just picked to lead the Wisconsin State Patrol.

It doesn’t pass the smell test.

The father of Wisconsin’s two most powerful state lawmakers was just picked to lead the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, with Gov. Scott Walker’s blessing, announced the appointment of Stephen Fitzgerald, 68, to the position Tuesday that will pay Fitzgerald $105,678 a year and boost his public pension just as he presumably nears retirement.

Fitzgerald’s eye-rolling appointment also follows his defeat in the fall election for Dodge County sheriff by a 2-to-1 margin. So he’s been seeking employment and just bounced back big time by landing a law-enforcement gem.

Yes, Fitzgerald’s resume includes time as a police officer in Chicago and Hustisford and more than a decade as Dodge County sheriff. He left that post in 2002 when former President George W. Bush appointed Fitzgerald U.S. marshal in the Western District of Wisconsin, where he oversaw security for federal courts.

The issue isn’t that Fitzgerald lacks applicable experience. The issue is public trust in state government. Citizens expect their leaders to pick the best candidates for top state positions — not the best connected or closest relatives of top lawmakers.

At a minimum, this pick looks bad and will cause lingering suspicion as the state budget plays out. That’s because Fitzgerald’s two sons are Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.

No matter Stephen Fitzgerald’s qualifications, his appointment looks like a goodwill offering from Gov. Scott Walker to the top two lawmakers Walker will need on board with his budget and policy agendas. We hope we’re wrong.

But even if we are, the pick could unnecessarily inject distrust into a host of state decisions. For example, will the Fitzgerald brothers running the Legislature support the smart idea of merging the State Patrol and Capitol Police to save money and improve response times — something that’s been floated in the past — if it also meant it could cost their dad his job?

Walker and Gottlieb insist Fitzgerald was the best candidate among several impressive finalists. Maybe. But favoritism seems more likely.

 

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