Wisconsin Politics Gets Stranger and Stranger
By Doug Cunningham, Special to Stateline
Wisconsin politics gets stranger and stranger. In the latest bizarre twist, the Democratic majority leader of the state Senate has unmasked himself as the mastermind of a move that ended the gubernatorial campaign of a fellow Democratic state senator.
State Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D-Madison) has revealed he was the political puppet master who pulled the strings behind a challenge that forced fellow Democratic state Senator Gary George of Milwaukee off the Democratic gubernatorial primary ballot.
George was forced to withdraw amid allegations that his nominating petitions contained forged signatures.
Chvala's disclosure surprised few insiders. When Daniel McMurray, a 21 year-old University of Wisconsin - Madison student came out of nowhere to file a complaint with the State Elections Board challenging George's nominating petitions, political pros and the media suspected someone else was behind the effort. The Elections Board took George off the ballot after finding many of his petition signatures were forged or otherwise invalid.
Chvala now confirms he was the one behind it. He's also asking the state Ethics Board to investigate George for allegedly using state workers and resources for personal gain.
"Senator George unfortunately portrays himself as a reform candidate when in fact he has been engaged in some pretty awful tactics over the years in his office," Chvala said, "And it seemed to me it was time for that to be exposed."
Chvala said George's campaign wasn't sabotaged, or "set up" as George has claimed. Chvala said he just learned there were forged signatures on George's petitions and decided to act.
When McMurray publicly filed the complaint with the State Elections Board he wouldn't say who put him up to it or who financed the $175 an hour handwriting expert employed to examine the petitions.
There was speculation that Congressman Tom Barrett's (D) campaign for governor was involved. Barrett is from Milwaukee and theoretically stands to gain votes in the September primary with George off the ballot.
Chvala said he acted on his own.
"None of the candidates for governor had anything to do with it," Chvala said. "Nor did I discuss this with any of them."
Several attempts to reach George for comment were unsuccessful.
The latest weirdness is merely the most recent chapter in a volatile and strange political year in Wisconsin.
It has included an on-going criminal probe into political corruption that so far has led to the indictment of State Senator Brian Burke on 18 felony counts. It also included a Milwaukee County pension scandal resulting in the recall of a Democratic county executive and his replacement by a Republican, the gubernatorial candidacy of former Governor Tommy Thompson's brother Ed running as a Libertarian.
And finally it featured a Republican Elvis impersonator who spent ten years in the state Assembly challenging Republican Gov. Scott McCallum in the GOP primary.
Chvala himself is still under investigation by Milwaukee Prosecutor E. Michael McCann in a probe of alleged illegal use of state resources for partisan campaigning and improper fundraising.