Are Republicans Playing Politics With Legislative Staffers?

By: Zac Schultz
By: Zac Schultz

Assembly Republicans have enacted new rules that dramatically cut the number of staffers Democrats are allowed to have, at the same time allowing Republicans to add staffers.

That has Democrats crying foul.

"Representative Berceau's office," Traci Peloquin has been answering phones at the Capitol for 18 years. Only now she's doing it for free.

Peloquin is volunteering for her old boss, Democratic Representative Terese Berceau. She was let go when Berceau was forced to cut back to one staffer.

"It was allegedly a money saving maneuver," says Berceau.

As the Assembly Speaker, Representative John Gard is in charge of the Assembly budget. He gets to decide how many staffers Representatives can hire. Party leaders like Gard get five.

In the past, Representatives started with one staffer and got another part time assistant based on seniority. Gard changed that last fall when he announced everyone would have to cut back to one staffer–except for party leaders, those on the joint finance committee or committee chairs.

"We did it based on workload instead of seniority," says Gard.

Gard called it a cost savings move. Democrats called it something else. "I think it's really a sad abuse of power," says Berceau.

All the committee's are chaired by Republicans. Democrats were forced to fire 13 staffers, while the change gave Republicans an extra two.

To make it worse, Speaker Gard created additional committees this year. There are now a record high 45 Assembly Committees.

Democrats say it's a waste–designed only to get Republicans more staffers. Speaker Gard says it helps create a more focused and involved Assembly.

"By dividing out some of the workload I think it has brought more people into the mainstream of actually fixing some of the policy problems we have in Wisconsin," says Gard.

"That's malarkey," says Democratic Minority Leader Jim Kreuser. "The Senate gets by with 16 committees, the U.S. Congress gets by with 23 committees and we have to have 40? I mean, C'mon."

"I don't buy it because we don't need 4 committees to deal with natural resources issues," says Berceau.

Berceau says contrary to Gard's claim, the move will make it harder for her stay on top of legislative issues now that she's dealing with the 3,000 constituent contacts Peloquin handled each year.

As for Peloquin, it's not the way she wanted to leave the Capitol. "It's very frustrating. It seems as if I'm not valued. The skills, the abilities, the experience I have are completely worthless because I work for a Democrat."

Democrats say the new staffing structure is made worse in that not all the committees are necessary. They point out that 9 committees met fewer than 8 times over the past two years, including one committee that never met at all.

Kreuser says that doesn't merit an extra staffer.

Speaker Gard says he is looking at eliminating 2 or 3 unnecessary committees.

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