Columnist examines governor’s failed campaign
By Matt Pommer
“Everything is not okey-doke in Wisconsin.”
That’s the explanation given by Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, to the Los Angeles Times this summer to explain the collapse of Gov. Scott Walker’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
The governor had hoped his record as Wisconsin’s chief executive would capture Republican enthusiasm, starting in Iowa. He raised some $5 million before the first debate and was spending $25,000 a day on campaign staff, Time Magazine reported. But poll numbers and contributions declined sharply in the wake of the debate. U.S. News & World Report told readers that “Walker spent like a drunken sailor,” including putting his two sons on the campaign payroll.
Walker recently used emails to help retire his campaign debt: “It is my hope you and all of our supporters will chip in and make an online contribution of $10, $25, $50, $100, $250 or more so we can end this campaign in the black.”
The latest Marquette poll showed less than 40 percent of Wisconsinites viewed Walker favorably. Then, a national survey showed Walker had the fourth-lowest acceptance rate of the nation’s 50 governors. Running for president while serving as governor was very unpopular.
Controversy has dominated Walker’s years as governor. He dropped a policy “bomb” on public employee unions, gutting their bargaining rights. He bragged in Iowa that his changes made it easier to fire teachers. He also approved making Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state for private-sector unions.
Changes to the state’s mining laws were made, aimed at economic growth. Later, it was found a mining company had given $700,000 to help defeat a recall of Walker. But the company never moved ahead with the mine, setting back the promises and hopes of economic development in the north.
There were changes to affect the poor. Despite legal setbacks in other states, Wisconsin moved to require many of those receiving unemployment compensation or food stamps to undergo drug testing.
Major budget decisions included rejecting hundreds of millions of additional federal money for Medicaid under Obamacare. Walker, perhaps with an eye on the White House, said he didn’t think the federal government could afford it. Meanwhile, Republican governors in Iowa and Ohio had fashioned plans to use the Medicaid monies.
With state government facing an economic pinch, state aid to the UW System campuses was reduced. Walker tried to change the university’s “Wisconsin Idea” before retreating. Statutory tenure for faculty was replaced.
Expanding voucher aid for private schools, including using some public school aid, dominated local education.
Election laws were changed. Voters will be required to show photo IDs when they get to the polls next year. Absentee voting hours were reduced. Critics said the changes will make it harder for the elderly, students and the poor to vote in Wisconsin elections. Campaign donation limits were dramatically increased.
All the changes may make little difference in legislative elections. Only 10 percent of the districts are considered competitive in the wake of Republican gerrymandering.
Leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature this summer flirted with gutting the state’s open records law, but backtracked as public outrage grew and newspaper editorials poured in. But the Legislature did change the way elections and ethics are administered, creating two partisan-dominated commissions.
What’s ahead for Walker? His answer in the fundraising emails was, “While I don’t know what the future holds, trust me, we will continue leading the fight for big, bold, conservative changes in Wisconsin and across America.”