Sen. Rick Gudex Reveals Himself As a Politician, Not a Leader

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It seems there are plenty of politicians in the state legislature in Madison these days, but lacking are leaders willing to take on the challenge to solve difficult problems. Nowhere is the need for leadership greater than on our state’s woeful rate of job creation and the rampant cronyism, corruption and incompetence at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

In this crucible, Sen. Rick Gudex is revealing himself not as a leader but as a politician, seeking to limit his political exposure while passing up opportunities to take a strong stand for reform.

Republicans, despite warnings about scandals and the lack of accountability and transparency in other states who similarly privatized economic development, voted to eliminate the state Department of Commerce in favor of Gov. Walker’s privatized WEDC. In response to the long string of scandals, Gudex, who currently serves on the board of WEDC, is now authoring legislation to remove himself and other legislators from their oversight positions in what is a transparent attempt to limit his own political liability.

Updated research by One Wisconsin Institute analyzes four years of failure by the quasi-private jobs agency. The report details ties between WEDC award recipients and Walker campaign donors, as well as businesses whose owners, directors or employees contributed to the campaign of Scott Walker receiving over sixty percent of dollars awarded by the jobs agency.

Key findings of the One Wisconsin Institute report, “WEDC: Four Years of Failure”, include:

  • Gov. Walker received more than $2.1 million in campaign contributions from individuals with ties to WEDC award recipients, who in turn received more than 60 percent of the state’s economic development awards
  • WEDC economic development dollars are not resulting in promised job creation
  • The majority of awards made by WEDC have not included any job creation or retention goals
  • The agency has awarded funds to outsourcers and promotes outsourcers as “success” stories on its website

After four years, the data is clear and the verdict on Walker’s flagship jobs agency is in; it has been a complete failure on meeting promised job creation goals. It’s only success appears to be in directing awards to Scott Walker’s campaign donors.

Yet instead of demanding common sense reforms like not sending tax dollars to companies that outsource Wisconsin jobs, legislators like Rick Gudex are proposing to cut and run.

Making matters worse, Gudex has also refused to support legislation introduced by Sen. Dave Hansen and others to halt the practice of taxpayer funded assistance going to businesses that outsource Wisconsin jobs. The legislation, Senate Bill 211 and Assembly Bill 304, would bar outsourcers of jobs from being eligible for any state tax credits, grants or other assistance for five years after they shipped Wisconsin jobs out of state or out of the country.

Just because the corruption, cronyism and incompetence of WEDC is embarrassing to Scott Walker on the presidential campaign trail doesn’t mean state legislators should ignore what’s occurred and not try to fix it. Sen. Gudex and his fellow Republicans need to remember they’re supposed to be working for us, not covering Scott Walker’s backside, and resist the temptation to allow partisanship to overcome common sense.

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Scot Ross served as Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now & the Institute from 2007 to 2019.