Laughter and apprehension as Wisconsin’s Walker seeks third term
Scott Walker | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

MADISON, Wisc. – As he seeks a third term as Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker’s campaign strategy has evoked laughter and apprehension – laughter because he is so shamelessly contradicts his own past in seeking to make nice with the progressive forces lined up against him, yet apprehension because his 10-1 money advantage and slippery history raise worries  he can deceive enough voters with another change of skin.

The ridicule is strongest over Walker’s new campaign claim that this college dropout is “the education governor.”  That along with name recognition has bolstered the chances that in the August 14 primary the winner he will face is going to be Tony Evers, the state school superintendent who has won that race statewide three times before and really is the education expert.

Evers is hardly the most charismatic campaigner on the eight-person stump. He is also open to the “older white guy” criticism in the race – not the oldest by a longshot, but he is in his sixties and not the young progressive newer voters say they want.  But his proven superior knowledge of how government works and even his wonkishness may bring more electoral unity behind his efforts. Besides, older voters have a better turnout track record and many younger voters are not deciding on age alone.

Voters I speak to are likely to work hard for whoever wins. In all generic polls three months ahead of the vote, Walker is losing to any opponent in the large field arrayed – all of whom now support raising the gasoline tax largely because of the borrowing depth and crumbling infrastructure the Walker regime has fostered. Ironically many Republicans also support that position rather than Walker’s plan to borrow more money for transportation yet again.

The issues likely to defeat Walker are, in order, health care, education, job creation, transit and environment – all of which he has horrible records on, having attacked and weakened them  in his eight years.  Hovering over it all are Act 10 for public employees and right to work laws he once promised unions he would  never pass and now severely injure family paychecks (except for the few fire and police unions that supported him and were declared exempt).

It’s all intertwined. In the five years since Act 10 was passed, eliminating collective bargaining for most state workers and imposing strict property tax limits on local governments that wanted to help their schools and roads, median salaries for teachers in the state have fallen by 2.6 percent and median benefits declined 18.6 percent, according to most analyses.  In addition, more than 10 percent of the state’s public school teachers left the profession, deeply injuring natural continuity and historic legacy.

As Evers points out, regardless of political persuasion, 80 percent of the state communities that use  referendums decided to break Walker’s lock on taxing themselves. They  voted overwhelmingly  to help their local schools and communities.  This deeply embedded feeling of how Walker’s policies have injured local control is regarded as one of the keys to Democratic victory even within communities long assumed to be Republican.

Walker is fighting against the facts, hoping the audience turns into Mr. Short-Term Memory.  He keeps  pointing to a $600 million boost in state education funding in his current budget, hoping voters will ignore such what PolitiFacts determined – that even his latest budget, adjusted for inflation, fails to keep pace with the seven state budgets before he took office.  It’s clearly a case of giving back a minor portion of what he took away and hoping the voters won’t remember.

Walker’s opponent doesn’t have to play politics by detailing how all this “borders on a joke.”  We haven’t even mentioned higher education where the ax Walker took to the state universities — $250 million – exactly matches his tax largesse to the new Bucks auditorium while also speeding the departure of state professors to greener pastures in other states.

But “education governor” is just one part of the current ridicule.  Voters have not forgotten how Walker turned down $880 million in federal train aid accepted by the previous Democratic governor. In the intervening eight years, the two urban centers that would have become connected by high speed rail, Milwaukee and Madison, lead the state in tech, medical research and fresh water development, yet in largely isolated pockets without the economic gains that would have sped along the rails. That underlines eight years of failed transportation policy in a state once celebrated for the Wisconsin Idea and now famous for potholes.

As his party hack attorney general (Brad Schimel) tries to sue the Affordable Care Act, Walker claims to be trying to save premium money with a new act of sabotage called Wisconsin Health Care Stability Plan.  Its centerpiece is a gift to insurance companies – using $200 million in state and federal funds to cover some insurer costs.  That inevitably and artificially brings down consumer costs on premiums but is mainly a gift to big companies.

As his opponents point out, he could have brought down costs immediately by accepting the federal expansion of Medicaid and not imposing such means tests as refusing BadgerCare to anyone a dollar over the poverty minimum. He also wants drug testing despite enormous evidence that this group of poor people doesn’t abuse opioids – you need money to do that!

Only about half the parents eligible took advantage of another “vote for me” Walker gimmick – a five day sales tax holiday in August, lifting the 5 percent tax on very selective back to school products.  The burdensome exemptions left stores trying to grapple with the complexities.  Textbooks were not included, as were not many other standard back to school items.  Payments on expensive computers were covered,  which bears only a partial relationship to K-12 education.

The parents who took advantage say they may have saved $20 here and there  but sure not enough to change their voting patterns. “We’re just going to take the money and run,” laughed one mother leaving a suburban mall.

The Foxconn deal Walker had once envisioned as central to his re-election is clearly detested in most of the state that sees little reward from a $4.5 billion taxpayer layout for Racine County.

So Walker has talked the company into artificially spreading the reach beyond those early temporary gains in Mt. Pleasant land buying and construction.

Foxconn is setting up a headquarters in downtown Milwaukee, forcing local politicians to “make nice “even though a majority of city aldermen surveyed oppose the concept.  While most companies try to centralize their research and development, Foxconn at Walker’s urging is promising “innovation centers” in Eau Claire and Green Bay, two communities deeply upset by Foxconn and unlikely to be fooled by promises of the company buying a local building.  Will this – yet another naked attempt to fool voters – work?

Walker’s track record has been a gift for his opponents even as his superior money floods the airwaves with pretenses of success.  All he has really done is provide ammunition with every claim and every ad. His opponents are now having a field day of attack and attack:

His dismantling of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. His opposition to rural broad band funding (an Obama effort). His failure to keep state farms from disappearing at the rate of more than one a day. Those looser environmental and consumer protection laws. The abuse scandal at the Lincoln Hills youth prison.

There is no lack of topics to beat Walker up with, and one by one the opponents have. This has caused his campaign more desperation into where  to use their superior money to attack – and who and what to attack? He looks guilty on every front.

To this point, the media thought it was the Democrats who wanted to come down to one spokesman from the eight running August 14  to take on Walker.  The truth is, Walker wants  that one person more than they do, so he can focus his money and opposition research, hoping the public will again be distracted from the onslaught of failures he represents.


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.