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Wisconsin's Doyle Administration: Dangerously Above the Law

Governor James Doyle of Wisconsin and his Attorney General, Peg Lautenschlager, share a little problem: apparently, they consider themselves above the law. Governor Doyle is responsible for a state-run Web site that encourages people to defy Federal laws regarding prescription medications. A Wisconsin government Web page provides links to Canadian pharmacies that can ship medications to US citizens, contrary to US regulations. There have been 80,000 hits at the Wisconsin site in the few days since it began linking to certain Canadian pharmacies. Governor Doyle says he's doing that to help people save money, and I can understand that. I personally question the wisdom of many of the tight regulations the Federal government imposes. But importing prescription drugs is still illegal. Our elected officials have an obligation to uphold the law of the land, and to use legal means to work for change when they disagree with the law. If the law were forcing him to commit some great moral offense like executing an innocent person, perhaps a personal act of defiance might be considered proper, though it may also require resignation and facing of consequences. But in this case, it's a move calculated to gain popularity by saving people a few bucks. Robin Hood is not the role we need our Governor to play. Doyle has no legitimate basis for encouraging thousands of citizens to violate the law.

Peg Lautenschlager is another story. She was arrested on Feb. 25 for drunken driving. The top law enforcement figure in the state was caught drunk driving. Drunk driving (it's called OWI here: "operating while intoxicated") is a big problem in Wisconsin. It kills a lot of people, shatters a lot of lives, and demands a heavy hand. It's something we cannot tolerate among our highest officials, especially those in charge of law enforcement.

The day after the arrest, Attorney General Lautenschlager "came clean" at a press conference, and tearfully told the world that she had done something terrible and shameful, something really inexcusable for the top law enforcer in the state, and that she was willing "to accept full responsibility" for her misdeed. Now there's a change of pace, I thought to myself. Finally, a politician willing to accept full responsibility for a serious violation of public trust. And so, I expected the next sentence or two announce her resignation from the office she had betrayed. Wrong! She said nothing about resigning, and went on to say how this experience would help her grow and better understand the seriousness of drunk driving, and then walked away without answering questions, simply concluding with the statement that she now needed "to get back to work." The next day, she explained that she was NOT going to resign.

Since when does "full responsibility" mean "no consequences"? In fact, in a Feb. 27 press conference, Lautenschlager had the contemptible audacity to say that her OWI arrest could be a positive development. She said that this experience could help her have more "empathy" for those with alcohol problems. Ah, that's really sweet. Her betrayal of the public's trust has a positive side, and we should be happy for that. But we could be a lot happier if she would accept full responsibility and just step down instead of further embarrassing the state.

Disrespect for the law can be a serious problem when it's your neighbor, your boss, or your local county clerk. But when it's the Governor and the Attorney General, it can be disaster for a state. It's time to reign in this administration--already tainted with the ethics problems from shady casino deals that gave Doyle's campaign big bucks while costing the state millions. Peg Lautenschlager has got to step down, and the State Legislature, with vocal public support, needs to work a lot harder to control a Governor who thinks he's above the law.

Jeff Lindsay, Feb. 28, 2004

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