Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Walker’s Post-Campaign “To Do” List

Back from his failed presidential campaign, what are his policy priorities for the state?

By - Sep 28th, 2015 12:05 pm
Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation. Photo from Governor's Office.

Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation. Photo from Governor’s Office.

Tommy G. Thompson, former governor, federal cabinet secretary and candidate for U.S. Senate and President, joked that he knew he was no longer famous when he climbed into the back of an official vehicle, but there was no driver to get him to the next event.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker won’t have Thompson’s problem. State troopers will continue to drive him for the 39 months remaining on his second term.

But, after quitting as a candidate for president last week, Walker will be flying in fewer private planes to events in Iowa, South Carolina, Las Vegas and New Hampshire. Instead, he’ll be shuttled to communities like Milwaukee, Oostburg, Shawano, Dodgeville, Prentice and Seymour.

And, Walker will no longer be asked about international issues like crushing ISIS, the flood of Syrian migrants, immigration reform, or the Iran nuclear arms treaty. He also won’t get nationally televised debate questions about repealing the Affordable Care Act or shutting down the federal government to cut off funds for Planned Parenthood.

Welcome back to Wisconsin full-time, governor. Items on your “to do” list include:

*Supreme Court vacancy: The sudden death of veteran Justice N. Patrick Crooks hours before you quit the presidential race lets you name someone to serve out his term, which ends next spring. Crooks did not plan to seek re-election.

Who you appoint will serve almost a full session on the Court, giving them the benefit of incumbency in the April election.

Some expect you to appoint Court of Appeals Judge Rebecca Bradley, since you named her to that job in May of this year and to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2012. Because Bradley is one of three announced candidates for that now-vacant seat, appointing her means you will be accused of trying to handpick the next justice. You also named a veteran GOP advocate, James Troupis, a Dane County Circuit Court judge this year.

No governor has had to fill a Supreme Court vacancy since 2004.

*Transportation funding: The state Transportation Department wants the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to authorize $350 million more in borrowing to keep work going on major highway projects statewide. Legislators don’t want to go deeper in debt.

Without that additional cash, there will be an overall 20 percent delay in highway-and-bridge projects statewide next year. Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb is likely to want your thoughts on breaking that impasse, so expect a call from him.

*Replacing the Government Accountability Board (GAB): Republican legislative leaders plan to scrap the GAB that has regulated campaign-finance, election and ethics laws since 2008. They have also vowed to force out its executive director, Kevin Kennedy.

Those legislators want your input, governor. Are you OK with returning to the pre-2008 model of having separate elections and ethics boards? And, if so, who should serve on the elections panel? Judges? Local election clerks? And what should be its mix be of Republican and Democrat partisans?

*Campaign-finance laws: Wisconsin laws on who can contribute to campaigns, how big a check they can write, whether givers’ occupations must be disclosed, and how closely campaigns can work with third-party groups have been struck down by state and federal courts.

Most of these laws haven’t been changed since the 1970s. How should they be updated for the post-Citizens United era?

*Milwaukee murders: As of Sept. 23, there had been 114 murders in Milwaukee this year – a 25 percent increase over the total for all of 2014. An Assembly-passed bill with mandatory minimum prison terms for armed felons who commit new crimes is endorsed by Police Chief Ed Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett, but it may not get a Senate vote. Will you push for it to become law?

If you’re looking for legacy issues, governor, here’s one: Only 55.8 percent of Madison’s African-American students graduated from high school in four years, according to DPI records for the 2013-14 school year. In Milwaukee Public Schools, the black four-year graduation rate was 58.3 percent. The four-year graduation rate for white students statewide was 92.9 percent.

But, governor, you won’t have to worry about pushing to narrow the scope of future John Doe probes – criminal investigations like those that targeted you and your supporters for three years. Republican legislators plan to limit the scope of John Does to violent crimes. That won’t include campaign-finance violations

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at

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