Wis. gov.'s top aide resigns, will advise campaign

September 30, 2011 - 6:20 PM

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's chief of staff said Friday he would resign and return to his political consulting business as the administration he helped guide through this year's tumultuous wrangling over union rights prepares to fight expected efforts to recall the first-term governor.

Keith Gilkes, the third top Walker aide to announce their resignation in recent months, said he'll leave the $112,000-per-year chief of staff job Oct. 8. As Gilkes, 34, discussed the announcement's timing, he noted promised efforts to recall the Republican governor over his push to strip away almost all public employee collective bargain rights.

"As we see activity on the Democrats' part, on the public-sector employees' part, talking about running campaigns against the governor, we want to ensure our message is being heard," Gilkes told The Associated Press. "We want to make sure we're prepared for anything they may attempt against the governor whether now, a year from now or three years from now."

A message left with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin was not immediately returned.

Democrats angered by Walker's union rights legislation and other conservative agenda items have threatened to launch a recall effort against Walker in January, after he's been in office for the minimum 12 months required by state law.

Earlier this year, Wisconsin's 14 Democratic state senators fled the state in an ultimately futile attempt to avoid a vote on the collective bargaining, and the controversy generated widespread attention and protests at the state Capitol in Madison. Two Republican state senators were recalled this summer for supporting the measure.

Walker made no mention of a recall or future elections in a statement he issued praising Gilkes' service, but a few hours after the announcement, the governor posted on Twitter: "Keith Gilkes is coming aboard as the chief advisor to r campaign. We r gearing up 2 get out message that It is Working in WI."

Gilkes said he was ready to help Walker with any campaign that comes up. He initially said his one-man business, The Champion Group LLC, would work to help Republicans and conservatives get elected, but later acknowledged his focus would be solely on Walker's campaign.

Walker said Gilkes will be replaced by deputy chief of staff Eric Schutt, a former UnitedHealth Group lobbyist who also has served as the chief of staff to two other Republican state lawmakers.

Gilkes, of Prairie du Chien, said his resignation was unrelated to a secret Milwaukee County investigation stemming from questions about whether Walker aides took part in political activity on taxpayer time when Walker was county executive.

"No other factors had any bearings in my decision. It was just a desire on my part to return to my business," Gilkes said.

Few details have emerged about the ongoing secret investigation. Cullen Werwie, one of Walker's spokesmen, has been granted immunity in the probe. FBI agents earlier this month raided the home of another Walker aide, Cynthia Archer.

Archer and Tom Nardelli, Walker's former county chief of staff, each walked away from their state jobs in recent months. Both worked three years in Walker's county executive office and both joined him in Madison after the November election.

Nardelli stepped down from his job as administrator for the state Division of Environmental and Regulatory Services in July. The following month Archer left her position as deputy Department of Administration Secretary. She moved to a job at the Department of Children and Family Services but hasn't started because she has been on paid medical leave.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.