Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Tony Blando was a Terrible Choice to be Senator Ron Johnson's New Chief of Staff

In case you didn't notice, Sen. Ron Johnson had his worst week since moving to Washington last week. His antics during the Foreign Relations committee Benghazi hearings transformed him from being a back-bencher no one had heard of into the subject of snickering and ridicule around the Beltway.

In the past we've pointed to Johnson's inability to surround himself with a knowledgeable staff for a lot of the problems that have befallen his tenure in the Senate and this post will be no exception. We're admittedly little late to this story, but it's still worth commenting on. Apparently, sometime in early December, Johnson made his then-state director Tony Blando his new Chief of Staff, replacing then-acting Chief of Staff Ken McKay who had filled the gap since Johnson's first Chief of Staff, Don Kent, departed in early October. (Got all that?)

This is an incredibly bad decision.

Being a Senate Chief of Staff requires a fairly extensive skill set that can only be acquired on Capitol Hill. It's a gig that demands strong connections to other Senate offices, solid relationships with leaders in the House, vast reservoirs of goodwill among the press corps, reliable ties to important parts of the federal bureaucracy and a finger on the pulse of K Street. The only way to earn these kinds of credentials is by being in Washington. That's why when one examines the resumes of most Senate Chiefs of Staff one often find decades of Capitol Hill experience.

Blando has zero Washington experience. None. In fact, he's only had a little over 2 years of total political experience, most of which has been spent as Johnson's state director. That's not an unimportant job, but it will do him little good in Washington where no one knows him. The only qualification Blando really has to be in charge of a Senate office is the trust of the Senator. This is usually a good thing, but in Senator Johnson's case it's actually counterproductive. Here's why.

As the Benghazi hearings demonstrated, Ron Johnson's political instincts suck. Right now, the most important function any of his staff members can offer their employer is to say "no" -- and no person is in a better position to offer this kind of harsh counsel that a chief of staff. Blando is probably not going to be that guy for several reasons. The first is his overall political inexperience. The second is that he and Johnson are on the same page ideologically and are likely to of the same mind as to which fights Johnson should enter (and Johnson clearly hasn't learned which fights to pick yet). Lastly, but certainly not least importantly, most Senate Chiefs of Staffs are able to operate with a certain degree of swagger, confident that should they ever run foul with their current employer, they will be able to quickly find a job in another office or at a lobbying firm. Blando doesn't have that kind of job insurance.

This last point is extremely important. Senators have raging egos that are feed by Washington's legions of sycophants. The unique kind of "job security" that Chiefs of Staff enjoy allow them to tell their bosses "no" without the threat of derailing their careers. Blando won't enjoy that kind protection. In fact, Blando's power in the Senate is almost entirely dependent on keeping one person, Ron Johnson, happy. That power dynamic is a recipe for creating a Yes Man, which is not the kind of staffer the GOP leadership likely wants aiding a Senator whose political instincts suck.

Further complicating Blando's promotion is the fact that, by all accounts, he has a friendly personal relationship with Johnson, one that developed prior to both men's entrance into the political arena. That will make Blando difficult to fire if or when such an action becomes warranted or necessary. Both men will be returning to Oshkosh when their Excellent Washington Adventure concludes and if folks in DC thought it was awkward running into unemployed old co-workers at the Safeway in Georgetown, just try doing the same at the Pick'n'Save on Murdock Avenue in Oshkosh.

The bottom line is that Blando will likely be Johnson's Chief of Staff for the remainder of the Senator's term in office. His promotion concludes a transition period in Johnson's office that has lasted about a year and one that marks the conclusion of Johnson's slow descent into a full-blown bunker mentality. Johnson simply does not trust anyone in Washington and this is making it almost impossible for him to have any hope of doing his job. The people he does trust, who all seem to have come along for the ride from Oshkosh, have not proven to be up to the task. Worst of all, Johnson doesn't seem to have made this connection yet.

That means more episodes like the Benghazi hearings are just over the horizon.


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Dr. Jake Jacobs said...

"Blando has zero Washington experience. None. In fact, he's only had a little over 2 years of total political experience," YES!!! Senator Johnson has a Chief of Staff who has ZERO DC experience! Washington DC is destroying our Constitutional Republic & the last thing "WE the People" need is another "Experienced" DC man who sucks up to the vested interests and does not have the courage to speak Truth into Senator Johnson's life and agenda. Mr. Blando is a man of integrity and principled convictions who will not hesitate to speak truthfully and guide directly into Ron Johnson's life and agenda.... We need LESS DC and more Wisconsin limited government MOXIE. Tony Blando has exactly what to takes to help our GREAT Senator!

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