A University of Wisconsin-Platteville engineering student anticipating a new seat on the UW System's Board of Regents was renounced at the eleventh hour by Gov. Scott Walker, who withdrew the young man's appointment after finding out he had signed a petition as an 18-year-old freshman calling for the governor's recall.
Joshua Inglett, who finished his sophomore year last month, said an aide to Walker asked him Wednesday evening whether he had signed the recall petition. He told him he had, and within hours another Walker aide left him a voice mail that made it clear to Inglett he wouldn't get the position.
Inglett said he'd spent months trying to get the two-year appointment and was frustrated that his signing the petition sank it at the last moment. What bothered him more was that he felt he was being portrayed as someone who wasn't forthcoming when he said he had answered everything he was asked.
"I felt like my character had been attacked," he said.
"They had four months to look this up and Google search me," he said. "I looked it up online yesterday. It took me 15 seconds."
Asked on Thursday whether Inglett's characterization of what happened was accurate, Walker said, "I wasn't involved in that directly. I'd just say in the interest of not pulling him through the details on this, we withdrew the nomination and we'll be submitting another name."
Asked if he routinely checked potential appointees against the database of petition signers, Walker said, "I don't do anything in that regard."
State law calls for the governor to appoint members of the regents with the consent of the Senate. It does not explicitly say the positions are nonpartisan, but states "no sectarian or partisan tests or any tests based upon race, religion, national origin, or sex shall ever be allowed or exercised in the appointment of the employees of the system."
The regents' own policy calls for members to "adhere to high standards of ethical conduct and to comply fully with laws relating to conduct of public officials and boards," including "avoidance of any conflict of interest and adherence to the standard conduct for public officials, as set forth in the Code of Ethics."
In his letter of application for the Board of Regents seat, Inglett told the governor's appointment director that he had a sincere interest in serving as a student representative on the board.
"I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to offer my skills and energy as a student leader and community builder," Inglett wrote. "The chance to serve and stimulate society by developing in students heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, is an opportunity not taken lightly, and (one) I would fulfill with an open mind and listening ear."
In addition to his engineering physics major, Inglett is pursuing a double minor in mathematics and business administration. He was a resident assistant for the Melcher Hall dormitory this year, and worked until January for Media Technology Services on campus as equipment coordinator, trouble-shooting technology issues in classrooms.
Inglett also is a member of the campus honor society, the CEO Club and the Pioneer Launch Lab for young entrepreneurs. He is the founder of two businesses: JP Travel LLC, which "provides inexpensive travel packages to large groups," and Inglett Enterprises, which produces OEM computers and develops and tests proprietary software, according to the résumé he submitted to the governor's office.
Inglett's father is the pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church-ELCA in Portage.
Walker told reporters he was pulling the appointment but refused to say why.
"We've got plenty of other good candidates and we're not going to get into specifics about it," Walker said. "We've made a decision to withdraw the name in our office and we'll be submitting another name to the Board of Regents."
Inglett said he applied for the appointment early this year and had two rounds of interviews with aides to the governor. The second interview was with Walker's appointments director, Eric Esser, and Walker's deputy chief of staff, Rich Zipperer, and they asked him what he admired about Walker. Inglett said he told them he liked his position on entitlement reform.
The three also discussed the difficult political times the state has been through in recent years, Inglett said.
"I told them about my mother being a teacher and there were hard times in our house," Inglett said.
He told a reporter Thursday that he had signed the recall petition as he exited a department store in a sign of support for his mother. He said it was a spur-of-the-moment decision that he didn't immediately remember when asked about it this week.
Walker aide Michael Brickman called Inglett on Wednesday evening and asked if he'd signed the petition. Inglett said he couldn't remember; he called his father, who reminded him he had. He called Brickman back a few minutes later to tell him he had.
Zipperer then left him a voice mail telling him they needed to talk, according to Inglett. They spoke Thursday morning and Zipperer, a former state senator, told Inglett the governor did not believe Inglett could get confirmed by the state Senate.
"This issue is minuscule compared to the issues facing the Board of Regents," Inglett said. "We should get this over with so they can get to the issues of the day."
A wide range of people came to Inglett's defense on Thursday.
"If the governor wants to show he's being partisan, at least do your research before you appoint the kid," said Annelise Roti Roti, who just finished her freshman year studying mechanical engineering at UW-Platteville.
"It's bad politics," Roti Roti said. "The student regent is meant to be a simple representative of students on the board. I don't think it should be a partisan decision."
UW-Platteville had announced Inglett's appointment to the Board of Regents on its website this week. The announcement remained on the site Thursday.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who served as a student regent under Gov. Tommy Thompson, said he had an exhaustive background check before he was nominated. Vos said he always asked job candidates if there is anything that they haven't told him that they think he should know.
But Vos said he believed the fault lay not with the background check by Walker's office but with Inglett if the student had not disclosed signing the petition. He said the governor has to have confidence in all his appointees.
"He should have been honest and said, 'I signed the recall petition and I'm proud of it' or 'I signed it and I made a mistake,'" Vos said of Inglett. "This is not like you're serving on some minor board."
By 2 p.m. Thursday, Republican Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center and Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton had sent Walker separate letters asking him to reconsider his decision.
"It makes it sound like the governor is keeping a blacklist in his office," Erpenbach said at a news conference. "It's McCarthyism."
"No governor should have the litmus test (of) 'did you sign or didn't you sign?'" he said.
Walker dismissed criticism from Democrats who characterized his decision as political retribution.
"They would be ignoring the reality of what the situation's been, which is that we've appointed people from all types of political and ideological persuasions in the past," he said.
Walker named Inglett on Monday to the two year-term on the board to represent traditional students; the board also has a nontraditional student member.
In announcing the nomination, Walker said Inglett would represent the voice of students on the UW System's 26 campuses, including 13 four-year campuses and 13 two-year campuses.
"I'm pleased to appoint Joshua to the UW System Board of Regents," Walker said. "The student's perspective is especially vital to the effectiveness of the Board of Regents, and I know he will serve the UW System and his fellow students well."
UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields defended Inglett on Thursday.
"This is a fine young man and it was an honor to be considered and get to this point," Shields said. "Nothing that has happened to date would cause me to think less highly of him.
"Joshua is someone we are extraordinarily proud of, a great student majoring in a difficult major and achieving at a high level."
Serving as a resident assistant for 30 to 40 students requires leadership and interpersonal skills, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Shields said.
"My biggest concern is what this does to him. He's a great young man."Wisconsin WaveWisconsin WaveWisconsin Wave