Monday, December 03, 2007

Rick Baxter and Walberg Staff Changes

I first wrote about Rick Baxter nearly a year ago as then-Congressman-elect Walberg was setting up his office. Baxter, who had represented a state House district in Jackson County until losing re-election to former Jackson mayor and current Representative Martin Griffin, had just been named as Walberg's district director. (Around the same time, he also became the head of the Jackson County Republican Party.)

Baxter, Walberg, and Joe Wicks (Walberg's chief of staff) have a long history together. Baxter volunteered for Walberg's state House campaigns while a student at Lenawee Christian High School, and Joe Wicks helped run Baxter's first state House campaign and was Baxter's own chief of staff until leaving to help Walberg.

So it really was kind of strange this fall when Baxter decided to quit.
Rick Baxter, formerly district director for U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said Friday he resigned his position with the congressman's Jackson office on Oct. 16 to work in the family business.

Baxter now is the business development director for Jackson-based Baxter Machine & Tool Inc.
Back to the family business? The article goes on to explain that it had absolutely nothing to do with Mark Schauer entering the race, and that it was just an "interesting coincidence."

Right. Because a young, motivated, rising Republican would never jump off a sinking ship to save his own political career. Obviously that's not why he left.

Now, I don't know whether the family business was the real reason that he quit or not. But here's the strange thing-- apparently, the rest of Walberg's staff doesn't know either.

I usually don't post much on rumors, but this was very interesting. From an e-mail I received not too long ago:
As far as Baxter's leaving, that is a lot more complicated. His leaving is very hush, hush and most of the general staff have no idea why he left. The little bit I know is that there were some bad feelings between Baxter and Wicks and Walberg himself. The best I have put together is that Baxter was "too honest" about his analysis of Walberg's public speeches and told Walberg exactly how he felt. Baxter would tell both Wicks and Walberg what he disagreed with as far as messages coming out of DC, press releases, their bad press relationships, and things Walberg would say in public. I know Walberg didn't like to be corrected and Wicks said it was Baxter not respecting Wick's or Walberg's positions. Now how that came to Baxter leaving and if that was the main reason I don't know. Both District and DC staff really don't know why he left. They just got an email from Baxter one day that said he had resigned and they haven't seen him since. I'm sure it does Walberg no good to down talk Baxter, due to his strong ties to Jackson and his connect to Jackson money, and it does Baxter no good (especially if he has future political plans) to down talk Walberg who is loved by the conservative voters in and around Jackson. But something pushed him to leave.
At the request of the source, I can't give you the name of the person who sent me that. Unfortunately, there's not an easy way for me to verify any of that... for some reason, I don't have a lot of friends in the Michigan GOP who would tell me about this sort of thing. So, take that as you will.

So, Baxter, Walberg, and Wicks may have had a personal clash, and now Baxter's out. How does that change the way Walberg's office is run?

First, it's worth noting that Rick Baxter was an important figure in Walberg's office. As district director, he was present at many of Walberg's events and was the only highly-publicized hire while Walberg was organizing his office. Serving as the chairman of the Jackson GOP at the same time probably helped to strengthen Walberg's ties with the party establishment, who had overwhelmingly supported Joe Schwarz in the 2006 primary. And, of course, as I've written before, Jackson County is very important to winning the district.

Losing that presence will probably hurt Walberg some. But there's perhaps a greater impact. As Walberg Watch readers noted last January, some of Walberg's staff in the district was hired by Rick Baxter and had worked with him before. Jill Larder (field representative, then casework/awards) and Mary Ann Duffy (constituent relations) each worked for Baxter in the past. What kind of impact did Baxter's sudden departure have on them? It's certainly worth asking about.

It's especially worth asking about in light of Baxter's replacement, Ryan Boeskool. He had been the field representative for Eaton and Jackson Counties. From the same source above, he has a decidedly different managing style than that of Rick Baxter, and is apparently not all that popular with the district staff. As the source claims, Boeskool will "openly berate employees in front of their co-workers," including Keith Brown, the Lenawee and Hillsdale field representative. Brown is the oldest and most experienced person on staff, having worked as Nick Smith's district director. Boeskool sounds like a nice fellow, eh? Apparently the incident with Brown led to some real bad feelings with the staff.

Now, some of you are probably thinking to yourself, "Fitzy, this is all very interesting, but a lot of it is coming from one source! How do we know this isn't all made up?" I asked the same thing, and I can't give you a good answer, except to say that if the person who sent me this e-mail made it all up, s/he made a lot of details and did a good job of it. It's consistent with what I know of Walberg, Wicks, and Baxter, and sounds plausible enough for me to write about it. Plus, I'm the trusting sort.

If you want, the source also makes a prediction:
This isn't public yet, but another staffer for Walberg is leaving next month [this month; I got the e-mail in November]. Tony Reinhard who is their DC scheduler and who also worked on the 2006 campaign is leaving before the end of the year.
Tony is not leaving on good terms and is being forced out. They are giving him this time only so he can find another job and so they can say he is just leaving for a "better opportunity."
So, let's see what happens. I'm kind of curious.

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Source = Chris Simmons?
Sounds like Baxter has a conscience. The Jackson GOP did support Schwarz and the only reason Walberg beat Schwarz in the primary is not enough people voted. Walberg is the beneficiary of voter apathy and very low voter turnout. Had more people come out to vote, Joe would still be there. Walberge out spent Reiner 20-1 (with CFG funds) and just edged her out.

Walberg claimed Schwarz's election was a fluke, but Walberg's primary win was even more of a fluke in my opinion.

From the source it sounds like Walberg is a small-minded dictator and I can't blame Baxter for jumping ship and doing it quietly. He knows what's coming down the pike and the Walberg record cannot stand up to any credible challenger.

Thanks for posting this, it's very telling about Walberg's internal persona.
For the record, the Jackson GOP did not support Schwarz. There were some key members who were in the Schwarz camp, but the organization as a whole did not vote to endorse Schwarz.

Very interesting post. Let's not lose sigt of the fact that Baxter needed a job because he was not re-elected. Former legislators are notoriously bad managers and being a district director is as much about managing staff as it is about representing your legislator. Also, Baxter took a pay cut to work for Wally. How would you like to have a big pay cut and report to your former employee (Joe Wicks)after losing your own election?

That said, being a district director is a great way to launch yourself back into public office and for that reason, Baxter's decision is interesting.
Another theory... Baxter for State Senate
Why would Chris Simmons leak this? That is silly.

So is the idea Baxter has a conscience. Baxter worked for Walberg's election and gave Wicks an immediate job when Walberg lost in 2004. He was joined at the hip to Walberg and his operation. It was not his concience that got in the way, it was Walberg's manical, ego-centered ways. I'd more readily believe Walberg has "issues" with being questioned and I also think Baxter is strong-willed enough to speak up when he has an opinion. Walberg was probably not used to that from a subordinate (employees, women, etc.) and saw to it that Baxter left.

The third comment, that is starting to make sense. The leaders in the Jackson GOP were nearly split down the middle for Schwarz and Walberg. The GOP in Jackson is very conservative, very much out of the main-stream of Jackson County. Several endorsed Schwarz and several endorsed Walberg, but to think there was any organizational consensus there is wrong. But, Baxter is probably going to make a ton of money working for his father. He probably committed himself to helping Walberg for a while, but the money calls and he still needs to pay off a huge campaign debt from his state house campaigns.

And, the final theory, Baxter for Senate? That is assuming Baxter thinks Walberg will lose to Schauer, opening Schauer's seat early. This theory makes a bit of sense. If Baxter thought Walberg was a lock to win in 2008, he'd stay, build connections for a 2010 senate run, and stay in the loop. But, if he thinks Schauer is going to win, he is better off getting out now and distancing himself from the mess at Camp Walberg.
Keith Brown is one hell of a man. If he is butting heads with Walberg's staff, that says a lot about Tim Walberg.
I think there's something to this source's statements. Very close to what I have heard from my sources.

I think this is all in preparation for a State Senate bid by Baxter. He wants to have enough time to "buffer" himself from Wally's office.

Wicks and Walberg have histories of being unapologetic ideologues. Practical political considerations rarely come into play. When they do, they come out as paranoia (e.g. the "we're fundraising to keep Schwarz from initiating a rematch" comment).

Trouble is when you're that paranoid, someone is trying to get you, but your paranoia (and panic) often leads one to fulfill their worst fears--namely, being out of office.
Anonymous said...
Keith Brown is one hell of a man. If he is butting heads with Walberg's staff, that says a lot about Tim Walberg.

December 4, 2007 10:43 PM

Absolutely. I had the privelige of working for KB in Nick Smith's office. He is a salt of the earth, honest to goodness, decent human being. He could agree to disagree with you and still buy you a cup of coffee. To think of someone treating KB so disrespectfully is sickening.

I don't know that I would go so far as to say Baxter has a conscience. I dropped in to visit Keith one day - Baxter saw me and literally ran to his office and refused to come out the entire time I was there. My experiences with Walberg's staff were nauseating at best - Marla Braun talks to you like you're an idiot, whoever the man-child intern they had from Hillsdale College needed to learn some manners, and everyone else basically ignores you.

Believe me, I am no fan of Schauer. However, I won't tolerate the condescending, disrespectful treatment I've received from Walberg's staff.
I know first hand what kind of person Baxter is. He's a trickster and a weasel. He fought during his campaign for the sanctity of marriage, but than recently committed adultery on with his secretary at work (Who is also married), while is standing in as chief operating officer for Baxter machine. He gets away with not having to worry about paying for his obligations (like support for his four children with two different wives) by allowing his family to pay him under the table and reports low wages.
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