A highly anticipated debate this Tuesday between Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) and challenger Tammy Duckworth lived up to hype with fiery exchanges, polar-opposite philosophies, and an engaged audience. But it was the revelation by Walsh about an audit and a lawsuit against Duckworth, which alleges ethics violations during her time as the head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA), that was the bombshell of the evening.
Duckworth has used her time at the IDVA as a pristine example of her leadership. Walsh’s assertion that an audit, conducted while Duckworth was the executive director there, found rampant waste and irresponsibility seriously undermines a pillar of her campaign.
But even more stunning–and no one was more unnerved than Duckworth herself–was Walsh’s questioning of her involvement as a defendant in a lawsuit that alleges she used her position of power at IDVA to fire a whistleblower and threaten to fire another for reporting illegal campaign activities at the Anna VA facility.
The pending case, originally dismissed on a technicality in Federal Court in August 2009, was refiled against Duckworth and her associate Patricia Simms in the Union County Illinois Circuit Court. The current suit names Duckworth, personally, as the defendant, alleging that during her time at IDVA two employees, Christine Butler and Denise Goins, suffered humiliation and emotional distress and a pattern of harassment from their superior, Patricia Simms, as well as unwarranted poor employee performance reviews that resulted in no pay raise in 2007.
Butler alleges that the “unacceptable” performance reviews were in fact retaliation for previous letters she sent to Springfield regarding the mismanagement of the facility under Simms. In addition, in April 2007 Butler sent a letter to Duckworth alleging that Simms had allowed a non-resident to enter the Anna Veterans Home and pass out campaign literature to residents and employees for certain candidates for public office. This would be a violation of ethical rules regarding campaigning on state property in Illinois (5 ILCS 430/5-35).
The complaint states that Duckworth visited the facility to meet with Butler and Goins regarding their concerns, and in a private meeting with Butler, Duckworth “without legitimate cause… and in violation of the progressive discipline policy and other procedures of IDVA… discharged Butler immediately.”
Butler states in the complaint that, in contrast with Duckworth’s claim that Butler was fired for being “insubordinate” to Simms, it was in fact retaliation for reporting the matters described in the complaint.
In other words, fire the whistleblower.
Following the termination of Butler, Duckworth proceeded to meet with Goins in a meeting where she told her, “If you do your job and keep your mouth shut and concentrate on job duties, you will keep your job.”
At the debate on Tuesday, Duckworth dismissed the allegations as false, but Walsh persisted, saying, “Yes or No Tammy? Are you currently being sued by two employees of the VA?”
Duckworth refused to answer the question and attempted to change the subject, saying, “you see, this is what Joe Walsh does… distract from the real issues.” She then proceeded to do exactly what she accused Walsh of by throwing out a past claim about him. As the crowd became agitated, the moderator rushed to Duckworth’s aid, saying, “if she doesn’t want to answer…”
Despite managing to duck the question at the debate, at the press conference afterwards, Duckworth relented:
Let me tell you this, when you are the head of an agency, especially one with a thousand employees, it is common to get sued in the name of the agency, especially when someone is suing the supervisor and then they name you as the head of the agency. Uh, personally, I think that if this complaint is Mr. Walsh’s best reason for being re-elected to congress, then I feel very good about my chances.
Duckworth would love to play off the lawsuit as “common,” but allegations of whistleblower retaliation are anything but–and deserve both her response and a detailed explanation to the constituents she would represent. Duckworth thinks she’s above answering these questions, as she proved on Tuesday night in front of nearly 1,000 constituents.
She may be overwhelmed; earlier this week, Breitbart News reported on Duckworth’s extremist connections, including relationships with leaders of the Communist Party USA and a recommendation from far left-wing socialist publication In These Times for a position in Obama’s cabinet.
Voters may never get answers from Duckworth in time; the hearing for the lawsuit will not occur until after the November election, currently scheduled for December 17, 2012. What they can do is assess her based on what she has presented: a candidate providing no real solutions, who continues to rely on her war hero status as a double amputee Iraq war veteran, offering only a campaign based on dissembling, obfuscation, and covering up her radical leftist ties and questionable ethics.