Who is Scott Walker?
The real, profusely documented story of the man who would be president.
Scott Walker is a magnet for both adulation and anger, and that’s resulted in lots of half-truths and misconceptions about him. I’ve written about Walker for nearly two decades, since he was a legislator, and Urban Milwaukee has probably done more than 150 stories about him. Here’s the real story about the Republican candidate for President.
Grew Up in Poverty?: Walker has a younger brother and this family of four lived chiefly on the salary of his father Llewellyn Scott Walker, who was a Baptist preacher. The family had always been described as one of average means, through the more than two decades Walker sought and held office, but in a June 2014 profile by the National Journal, Walker for the first time described a family in poverty. “We didn’t realize it until later in life, but we were poor,” Walker said. The family, he noted, didn’t even own a TV until he was nine. But because the church where his dad was employed served many farmers, “we ate like kings,” Walker said.
His Depressed Father: Walker was an Eagle Scout and skilled speaker at an early age who was sometimes called to the pulpit to give a prayer, lead a responsive reading or even preach. But it’s more recently come out that he sometimes subbed for his father because Rev. Walker had problems with depression. The list of politicians driven by the absence or deficiencies of their father is long, and includes the alcoholic and abusive fathers of Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, the absent father of Barack Obama and deceased dad of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. More here.
Competitive in School: Walker was a very competitive person who joined “practically every sports team and extracurricular organization that Delavan-Darien High School had to offer,” the National Journal noted, including the foreign-language and library clubs, pep band and symphonic orchestra. He also played football, ran track and cross-country and played basketball.
Drawn to Politics Early: Wisconsin Republicans joke that Walker has been running for president since he was teenager involved in Badger Boys State, where high school students from across Wisconsin attended a seminar on government. He was one of two boys selected to serve as Wisconsin’s “senators” at the Boys Nation event in Washington, D.C. He was just 17, and already envisioning a career in politics. He was 18 when he worked as a volunteer in the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Tommy Thompson and just a sophomore at Marquette University when he ran for Student Council president and lost. He was 22 when he first ran for the state Assembly and lost. More here
Why Walker Didn’t Graduate: The idea that Walker was “kicked out” of Marquette University for “cheating” has often been repeated by his opponents, but has never been proven. There were accusations that Walker’s supporters in the student council race emptied racks of the student newspaper, which endorsed his opponent, but no evidence any action was taken against him or his supporters. MU officials have said Walker left as a student in good standing, some 34 credits short of graduation. One professor said Walker had below-average grades and another described Walker as a bored and indifferent student to the Washington Post. Why did Walker leave without graduating and never return to finish his degree? He has given various explanations. Psychologically, it might have been hard for him to remain at and return to the scene of his defeat. More here
The Lifetime Politician: Other than three years working for the Red Cross in his early ‘20s, Walker’s entire career has been in politics. “His whole life revolves around politics,” his wife Tonette Walker has said. He was 25 when first elected to the state Assembly in June 1993. As a legislator he was seen by fellow Republicans as an ambitious headline hunter and he began amassing a campaign chest to run for higher office. After a pension scandal forced Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament from office, Walker ran as a reformer and won election to the position in 2002. “The whole time he was here, he was running for governor,” former county board chair Lee Holloway told me.
Not a County Reformer: Though Walker was elected to clean up county government and later ran for governor as a reformer, he actually did little to clean up the pension mess at the county. County supervisors were “flabbergasted” at Walker’s disinterest in the issue. More here.
Not a Team Player: Walker typically describes his style as “aggressive,” “bold” and “unintimidated,” but never as a unifier or compromiser. His first race, for Marquette student government divided the campus and broke voter turnout records and his 2012 recall race for governor did the same statewide. As a legislator, he wasn’t seen as team player by Republican leaders. As County Executive, he rarely compromised with the Milwaukee County Board, using the veto 204 times and seeing them overridden all but 65 times. As governor, Walker’s first act wasn’t to create a bipartisan jobs agenda, as he promised, but to pass a law — bitterly contested by Democrats — that all but abolished public unions. Since then, Walker has largely ignored any Democratic ideas. As he once put it, “hell, I’ll talk to (Democrats). If they want to yell at me for an hour, you know, I’m used to that… But I’m not negotiating.” More here.
The Anti-Union Governor: Walker is famous for Act 10, his proposal which largely eliminated public unions. He argued that taxpayers who didn’t receive the same level of health and pension benefits shouldn’t have to pay taxes to support this. But as a recent analysis showed, state and local government employees actually earn less in total salary and benefits than comparable workers in the private sector, and the one group of public employees who typically earn more than private sector workers, namely police and fire fighters, were exempt from Act 10. Walker also argued that ending teacher unions could lead to higher educational achievement, but the analysis found little evidence to prove this. The law’s other impact was to decimate the state teachers union, which was the most important campaign contributor to Democratic candidates. More here
His Historic Recall: Walker is the first governor in American history to survive a recall. The spending on both sides was massive, though Walker had a huge financial advantage. But the decisive issue was the decision of Democratic candidate Tom Barrett not to run on overturning Act 10, which removed the main reason for the recall from the campaign. Walker emerged as a national hero to Republicans.
The Tax Cutter: Walker is most popular in Wisconsin for delivering tax cuts in his first term, which averaged a hefty $322 per family. But because the cuts came through the state income tax, the wealthiest 20 percent of state taxpayers — those earning $119,000 or more annually — got more than half of the tax reduction, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Budget Project. Meanwhile, Walker’s cuts in the Homestead Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit resulted in low-income individuals and families paying $170 million more in taxes. The income tax reduction was funded by the $3 billion saved by requiring government workers statewide to contribute more to their benefits, and all of that came from the mostly middle-class public employees, which in turn helped fund the tax cuts that were more helpful to upper-income taxpayers. A Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis shows a mid-level government employee earning $50,000 was forced to pay $3,060 more in contributions to his/her benefits — and yet would have received less than a tenth of this in tax cuts. More here
The Jobs Governor?: Candidate Walker promised in 2010 to grow 250,000 private sector jobs, but fell far short, delivering just 131,515 in his first term. Wisconsin has trailed the nation in job growth throughout his tenure and is among the worse states in new business startups. As our Data Wonk columnist has found, his approach to economic development has followed the recommended conservative path of lowering taxes, but there’s no evidence this has worked in other states. A Reuters story, in fact, found next door neighbor Minnesota is doing far better in attracting business and jobs.
Another key part of Walker’s jobs approach was to replace the Commerce Department with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, but the new agency has struggled with turnover, suffering a 25 percent turnover in all staff, and losing two CEOs, two COOs and four chief financial officers. While some business leaders say the agency has become more responsive to businesses, the liberal magazine The Progressive reviewed WEDC records and concluded just 5,840 jobs had been created in his first term. More here
The Tell-It-Like-It-Is Politician: Walker has repeatedly recommended such an approach to conservatives, saying voters respect and will vote for someone who takes strong stands in an election and then delivers on them. The outstanding example of that was Act 10, where Walker withstood stinging criticism and huge protests to stick to his guns. But Walker didn’t run for office in 2010 on shutting down unions. He did suggest he might ask state employees to contribute more to benefits, but his campaign expressly said no other government employees (teachers and local employees) would be asked to contribute more, much less that their unions would be eliminated. In fact, on most controversial issues, Walker has given people the idea he wouldn’t favor them, in the case of something like the right to work law, right up until its passage.
The Quick Law Governor: Walker proposed the massive changes in Act 10 without any study or in-depth rationale done ahead of time. He proposed to delete the “Wisconsin Idea” from state statutes, killing the idea that university scholars should provide research and insight to help guide state government, with no study or analysis of potential effects. His last budget casually ended tenure and faculty governance through a budget provision, slashed the number of scientists in the state Department of Natural Resources and ended the state’s land conservation program. (Republican legislators restored some of this last program.) All of these were pillars of state government with a long history of bipartisan support. More here
A Fierce Opponent of Obamacare: Like many Republican governors, Walker has opposed the Affordable Care Act, but nine of them nonetheless accepted expanded federal Medicaid funding for their states, because it meant less costs and more health coverage for their citizens. Walker, however, rejected the funding, arguing the federal government might take away the money at some point. Of course that’s true of any federal money, which makes up 28 percent of the state’s budget. A Republican supporter of Walker provided another explanation: it would give Walker a huge advantage over these other Republicans in his run for president. The net result is Wisconsin residents have has lost some $500 million in federal funding. This is one of several issues where Wisconsin residents were arguably hurt by Walker’s run for president.
Married to a Cougar?: Tonette Walker is 12 years older than her husband and should Scott Walker become president, she would be older than her husband (by more than seven years) than any first lady in history. But it was Scott who pursued Tonette, at a bar on Karaoke Night, scribbling a note on a napkin with his phone number and request to meet again.
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Birth Control: Walker’s position on abortion, reiterated frequently, is that he opposes all abortions and favors a legal ban even in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. And he has long favored proposals that would reduce women’s access to birth control. In 1998, 1999 and 2001, Rep. Walker was the lead author of the “conscience bill,” which allowed doctors and pharmacists to refuse to prescribe and dispense birth control. He also supported a “personhood” amendment to the constitution that would outlaw some forms of birth control. In his first budget as governor, Walker unsuccessfully attempted to repeal Wisconsin’s Contraceptive Equity law that requires employers to cover birth control in the same way as other prescriptions and preventive care. And his administration did audits of family planning clinics that could have forced them to close, though the audits were eventually abandoned.
The Middle Class Man: Unlike most of the candidates for president, Walker is not wealthy. Walker and his family live in a rather average, suburban home in Wauwatosa with a not-so-well-kept-up yard with the home and lot valued at about $360,000. Though it does have 12’ by 20’ swimming pool.