Syrian refugees more welcome in Wisconsin than Walker?

In September Wisconsin’s governor withdrew from the presidential race. Despite being the target of lavish super PAC money and conservative cajoling voters remained more than indifferent – they recognized that Scott Walker just wasn’t presidential material. Even Iowans turned their backs.

Seeing his fellow GOP hopefuls laugh off his call to weed themselves out of the race (none accepted) Walker returned to a Wisconsin where the conservative legislative majority in a still- purple state was running even more rampant than when he left, forcing him to acquiesce to policy ideas he had loosely raised and others he was now forced to seriously consider in their ridiculousness.

He’s also paying a bigger price than other GOP governors for sticking clay feet into the national hot water. His poll numbers have dropped below 37 percent approval even as Wisconsin median income dropped by seven to 10 percent. The sense of state failure under his reign has grown in communities that remain Republican but don’t think he reflects their values and certainly in the Democratic strongholds always pained by his presence.

This is the state in which Walker’s collusion has frozen the minimum wage at the rock-bottom $7.25-per hour, mandated drug tests for food stamp recipients, limited the public aid the poor can receive, raised three taxes on low income citizens, embraced right to work rules without seeing any rise in the economy, turned back Medicaid funding, slashed public school financing while expanding voucher school programs statewide, crippled public sector bargaining rights and agreed to make sure politicians and big money couldn’t be investigated with the prosecutors’ most sophisticated tools.

It took all those realities and more to bring growing ridicule of the statements and actions of Scott Walker.  Now whenever he tries to stir the national pot on issues, the local media reaction is no longer excusing a favorite son but bearing down on him instead.

This was revealed when he led or echoed national GOP kneejerk fear in the wake of the Paris massacre. Walker tried to reinsert himself in the national eye by announcing (almost as if pretending he was a continuing voice in presidential politics) that his state would lead the way in not accepting Syrian refugees

The way Walker attacked refugees revealed he knew even less about the legal powers of a governor than he did about the gravitas of the presidency.  The media tackled his lack of depth, pointing out that the federal government, not any governor sets refugee policy. It also pointed out that the White House had posted online the stringent checks and rechecks that anyone seeking refugee status goes through, on the theory that people holding public office know how to read.

As if to underline how hateful Walker was being, the state’s largest cities, Milwaukee and Madison, tossed out a welcome mat to Syrian refugees as did major religious organizations and volunteer host families.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis) was hardly alone in reminding voters that any remotely intelligent terrorist would not choose the most difficult way to get into the U.S., which is the refugee program.

Walker got another media chuckle when he ordered his state agencies to bar Syrian refugees from health services, job training programs and senior citizen programs. That simply emphasized how many of those programs rely on federal funds that would be denied to all Wisconsin citizens if Walker succeeded in his plan of denying them to a particular group.

If he had proven that he lacked presidential “gravitas” in the national campaign now he was proving he didn’t even know what a governor could do. Succumbing to reality Dec. 2, Walker conceded in a radio interview that he had no power to block Syrian refugees. “Legally, I can’t put a wall up at the border,” he said.

But then he joined fellow Wisconsinite and new and newly-desperate House Speaker Paul Ryan in demanding a pause in accepting Syrian refugees.  He was seizing a page from the Donald Trump playbook of never fully admitting total pigheadedness and trying to reverse the blame, saying Obama had no idea of how to handle the crisis since he had written a letter Nov. 13 saying Isis had been contained – a few days before the Paris attacks.

“My confidence is what’s at question right now in this administration,” Walker said, a weird echo of what Ryan said as he shelved any legislation on comprehensive immigration reform until there is a new president because he doesn’t “trust” this administration to act honorably. (In reality he had to make that pledge to wring votes from his most conservative members.)

Except anyone who read the Obama letter knew he was talking about a narrow band of Syrian-Iraqi land where Isis had indeed been routed, not the international terrorist aims of the would-be caliphate.

On Dec. 3 that attitude mounted into a GOP denial in Congress of a sensible bill that lightly touched the new third rail of GOP concerns – the National Rifle Association. It was a simple bill based on the reality that more than 2,000 people on the U.S. no-fly terrorist list had purchased weapons or explosives from 2004 to 2014, a loophole that needed to be closed. Yet only 45 (just one Republican) voted for the practical change in the Senate and Ryan blocked it in the House with the bizarre argument that “sometimes people are put on there by a mistake and we would deprive them of their constitutionally protected due-process rights to own a gun.”

Ryan’s reasoning is strange – since putting guns on the list would clear the innocent off it in a hurry. But he seems to have adopted the Walker backwards way of thinking just as Wisconsin seems to be rejecting it.

Photo: AP


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.