By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — As Gov. Scott Walker fights for his political life, some of the most devastating attacks against him are coming not from his Democratic rivals but rather a recent transportation secretary and other former top officials in his administration.
Mark Gottlieb, who oversaw the Wisconsin Department of Transportation from 2011 to 2017, is one of three former former cabinet secretaries who have criticized the two-term Republican incumbent publicly. Gottlieb has contended that Walker simply isn’t telling the truth about the state’s previous transportation budgets.
As for the other two, former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall has written in a tell-all book that he was driven to the brink of suicide by the way Walker and others treated him. And former Financial Services Secretary Peter Bildsten has said Walker was beholden to special interests and consumed by his political standing.
Gottlieb’s public spat with Walker has been mostly about comments the governor has made about the state’s transportation policies since Gottlieb left office in 2017. Gottlieb, who was a Republican leader in the state Assembly before joining Walker’s administration, has described Walker’s remarks as “not truthful” and “increasingly inaccurate.”
Gottlieb was the chairman of a task force that, convened at Walker’s behest, recommended in 2013 that state officials consider gas-tax increases to help pay for roads. That stance put Gottlieb and his fellow committee members at odds with the governor, who has adamantly opposed attempts to increase the gas tax.
Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany derided Gottlieb as a “status-quo secretary in a reform-minded administration.”
But Walker, when recently asked about Gottlieb, said “he served us well” and helped the state $600 million on the reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee.
“He has his opinion now; he’s in a different world than before,” Walker said.
Even former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, long a supporter of Walker, has distanced himself from the governor on the issue of prison overcrowding. Thompson said he regrets that the prison population increased when he was governor, even as Walker looks at building yet another prison.
The criticism comes as polls show Walker is in a tight race with his Democratic rival, Tony Evers. Walker is seeking a third term after beating back a recall attempt in 2012 and a failed presidential bid in 2016. The race is being closely watched as a sign of GOP strength in Wisconsin after President Donald Trump put the state in the Republican column for the first time since 1984.
For now, Walker is shrugging off the attacks, saying he doesn’t think they will be a political liability.
“I don’t put yes people around me,” Walker told The Associated Press. “I put people who give me a variety of different views and opinions.”
Evers is rushing to capitalize on the feuding. He has already released two digital ads featuring Wall and Bildsten blasting Walker.
Wall was fired from his job as head of the Corrections Department for asking that a public document be destroyed. He is the most outspoken of the three. His recently released book accuses Walker of mismanaging the state’s juvenile prisons, which have been under a federal investigation for more than three years.
“People need to pay attention to what former administration people are saying,” Wall said. “My purpose in writing the book is not grinding an ax but to tell the truth. … There was a pattern of mistakes and dishonesty going on with this administration you should know about.”
As for Bildsten, he was once such a supporter of Walker’s that he once joked that he planned to have Walker’s promise to create 250,000 jobs tattooed on his shoulder. But Bildsten left in 2015 amid what he said was a big shift away from policies aimed at dong what’s best for the state in favor of an emphasis of doing what’s best for Walker politically.
“I became very frustrated with the influence of special interests,” Bildsten said, adding that he plans to vote for Evers.
Bildsten, who is semi-retired, said he’s voting for Evers.