Walker Retreats From Foxconn Deal
It was supposed to assure his reelection. What happened?
Gov. Scott Walker’s deal with Foxconn was supposed to be the centerpiece of his reelection campaign.
The ink was barely dry on the memorandum of understanding he signed with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou when conservative blogger David Blaska predicted the deal would assure Walker’s reelection. Urban Milwaukee’s Contrarian columnist George Mitchell suggested it made Walker a 10-point favorite in 2018.
Former Republican staffer and Journal Sentinel columnist Christian Schneider hailed the proposed Foxconn plant in Racine County as an “epic” opportunity for the state, a “transformative” deal for the Wisconsin economy. For that matter, most Democrats held their fire, with both Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett offering positive words for the deal.
The day after signing the MOU, Walker toured Wisconsin on “a campaign-style airplane tour to make the case that the entire state would benefit from a plant three-times the size of the Pentagon,” as a Madison TV station reported.
For the next couple months, Walker amplified the message, touting it in Madison, at UW Hospital, as a “remarkable opportunity” to keep college graduates in Wisconsin, and in Green Bay as something “businesses here in northeast Wisconsin… are going to benefit from.” In a Milwaukee appearance the governor was particular bullish: “anytime you’ve got the ability to bring 13,000 jobs in and a $10 billion investment we want to talk about that… We found traveling the state of Wisconsin… there are people excited, not only here in Southeastern Wisconsin, but all around the state.”
And after the legislature quickly signed the less-than-detailed deal, Walker made sure to maximize the impact, with a triumphant bill signing ceremony at Gateway Technical College near Racine.
But amid the drumbeat of Republican praise for the deal, State Superintendent of Education and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers did a radio ad labeling it the “Donald Trump-Scott Walker deal” which “sounds good until you read the fine print.”
“Did you know it will take Wisconsin taxpayers 25 years to break even on the deal?” Evers asked. “But worse, those job aren’t even required to be for Wisconsin residents. And the contractors that build the facility aren’t even required to be Wisconsin contractors. And the deal will exempt exempt Fox from critical environmental protections. Sounds good for Foxconn, but what’s in in for the rest of us?”
The ad got little attention but it demonstrated how obvious — and easy to explain — the objections to the deal were. And it soon became clear voters weren’t nearly as excited as Walker about the deal.
In late October a Marquette University Law School poll of southeastern Wisconsin voters, those most likely to see some benefit from the deal, found that more respondents — 48 percent — thought the state incentives to Foxconn would cost more than the plant is worth, while only 38 percent thought the deal would be a net benefit for the state. Even in Racine County, where the plant will be located, more people thought the deal would be a net loser for the state.
Two days later a survey by the Democratic firm, Public Policy Polling, found 34 percent of registered voters statewide supported the deal and 41 percent opposed it, with 26 percent undecided.
Not long after this, Walker stopped talking about the Foxconn deal. On Monday, an adroit story by Journal Sentinel reporter Jason Stein caught the change: “After spending months touting” the deal, “the GOP governor didn’t mention Foxconn at his 2018 re-election kickoff on Sunday. He kept his distance again on Monday when conservative talk radio host Jerry Bader asked Walker about Sunday’s omission.
“’Those 13,000 jobs are no more important than the 13 jobs that we helped the small business (create) in Green Bay or Superior or La Crosse,’” Walker told Bader.”
As Scot Ross, head of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, told Stein, if Walker isn’t mentioning Foxconn, it’s because the governor’s internal polling is showing the deal isn’t popular.
Details of the Foxconn deal have been cloaked in secrecy and the state board which just approved it was not allowed to vote on the final contract, but only on the staff’s review of it. The $3 billion deal will cost every adult resident in Wisconsin $585 per person, and they won’t see a return on that money for 25 years. But that net gain, if and when it comes, is likely to be concentrated in southeastern Wisconsin. What’s in it for the rest of the state?
That’s the kind of question that, ironically, candidate Scott Walker has pushed voters to consider. In the 2012 recall election, he made Milwaukee the villain, warning that a vote for his opponent, Mayor Barrett, could make the state more like its biggest city. Last December, as the Ashland Daily Press reported, Walker promised to spend more on rural roads because he would “Stop spending a billion and a half dollars on Milwaukee area projects” — meaning the reconstruction of I-94.
Walker is a canny politician who understands that outstate people often feel overlooked. If they see no benefit in spending $1.5 billion to rebuild the most important and heavily used transportation connection in the state, why would they support a $3 billion project to create some jobs just off I-94 in Racine County?
The logic and emotional appeal of Walker’s past campaigns is completely at odds with the Foxconn deal. Apparently in his desperation to provide some proof he has created jobs, the governor simply forget this.
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