Is Scott Walker becoming a Democrat?
Gov. Scott Walker. | Gage Skidmore/AP

So it seems recently that Wisconsin’s notoriously right-wing governor, facing an election for a third term in November, is suddenly not just tacking to the middle but embracing long-held Democratic progressive positions, attempting to signal to voters to forget the harm he has done in eight years and welcome the newly bending middle-aged wunderkind.

Meanwhile he is expressing panic to fellow Republicans that the Democratic win  in once assured Republican senate District 10 ought to serve as a “wake up call.” Could he be waking up as a Democrat?

The shift began in September when Walker signed a new budget restoring $600 million to K-12 schools, weirdly hoping the public would not notice, as upstate school administrators estimate, that in eight years he had crippled these schools with reductions of $1.2 billion.

Insiders were not much impressed with a replacement of only half of what he had removed. But Walker clearly thinks the voters will be taken in by that and by his freeze on University of Wisconsin system tuition.

But ask the insiders again. They note how he insists that only schools that heeded his Act 10 – elimination of union bargaining rights – would get the largesse and he meanwhile was forcing a more right-wing look on the operations and hiring practices of UW. Administrators there told me they feel the pressure in every hire.

Meanwhile that budget also punished owners of hybrid cars,  doubling the yearly fee to $150 despite their efforts to reduce pollution on the highways, where he also cut transportation requests and pulled back on existing highway plans.

He also increased the property tax and income limits for statewide voucher schools, including looser definition of  disabled children, and lifted rules that prevented parents of children already in private schools to simply shop for a way to lower their tuition costs, as many are clearly doing.

Obviously for those who studied the budget, stuff like this was plenty to feed the right wing gullet while pretending to help the more progressive voters. Already the GOP legislators were working on things they wanted to add:  loosen mining regulations; new rules for the handling of tissue from abortions; and allowing people to carry guns without any training or state permits.

So now, on the eve of his “state of the state” address (wish list) for 2018, he’s adding other long-term Democratic ideas such as more money for rural schools, which has a strange history. The GOP legislature balked at including this in the last budget and many school districts told Walker they didn’t want more money at the expense of the rural schools. So he was just announcing something the school districts had long wanted.

It hit a height of silliness January 19 when Walker tried to warm up a crowd of school leaders at a convention by outlining “his” plans for rural schools. Following him on the program to present an award was state schools superintendent Tony Evers, who couldn’t resist noting that Walker was agreeing to proposals he had made months earlier.

(Evers right now is the poll leader in a field of 18 Democrats working to win the right in an August 14 primary to oppose Walker.)

Two days later came this from Walker, a lifelong foe and nasty stump critic of Obamacare: He is now asking for $200 million in state and federal money to bolster the ACA health exchange and keep premiums down. He also wants permanent continuation of SeniorCare, a prescription drug program he once tried to cut back.

For many it was a shocking reversal from the conservative,  completely unthinkable if he weren’t worried how eight years of his rule looks to the electorate in November. But fear not, Republicans. Other items in his “state of state” will clearly be red meat, including work requirements for food stamps and drug screening for public housing.

His sudden Democratic overtures on Obamacare did stir memories., however. For instance, Walker eliminated detailed proposals under previous governor Jim Doyle to create the state’s own health care exchange with dozens of participating health providers attuned to the needs of each region of the state. Instead he insisted that consumers had to use the federal government’s general exchange and he also turned down the federal money for the expansion of Medicaid.  That $200 million he now wants is only part of the cost of his governorship decisions.

He also turned down $810 million in federal train money to build high speed travel from Milwaukee to Madison and also nixed plans for rail extensions for Racine and Kenosha.

Now with the Foxconn deal which has climbed to $4.4 billion in state and local tax money he has to build a special highway just for the company – another piece of rash spending that the electorate will not be likely to forget.

His recent moves left the Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly in amusement if not outright laughter. “Give me a break on this pivot,” commented the leader of the Assembly minority, Gordon Hintz. “I don’t know the governor deserves credit for trying to put out a fire that he started.”

But Hintz also indicated the Democrats would take such goodies, believing the electorate will see through the con.  It’s much the same thinking as union workers expressed in a previous Peoples World story about Foxconn – take the money and run to the polls to vote the other way.


Dominique Paul Noth
Dominique Paul Noth

Dominique Paul Noth for the past decade was editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and website, He now writes as an independent journalist on culture and politics.