Walker’s Shadow Looms Over the Capitol
Walker's legacy is found in bitter partisanship, limits on the governor's power and appointee's that won't leave office.
Last week, the Republican-controlled state Senate confirmed four Evers cabinet secretaries, who had served as designees for 33 months, and dozens of the Democrat’s appointments to boards and commissions.
The Senate did not consider Naas’s appointment, leaving Prehn on the DNR board.
Walker’s lieutenant governor during his eight years in office, Rebecca Kleefisch, is the best organized Republican candidate for governor. She hopes to challenge the Democratic governor seeking a second term in November 2022.
“Tony Evers and Joe Biden are weak, incompetent leadership, and it comes at a cost,” she said in her campaign announcement Sept. 9.
Kleefisch had no government experience before she and Walker were elected in 2010, so Walker would be her model for how to serve as governor.
Kleefisch has said she was a proud partner in all the significant changes Republican legislators enacted, and Walker signed into law, between 2011 and 2019.
She and Walker survived separate recall elections, prompted by Act 10 changes, in 2012. Kleefisch says she was the “first lieutenant governor in American history to survive a recall.”
She has also said she would sign a Texas-like law prohibiting an abortion after a heartbeat is detected and she has championed small businesses and the Second Amendment.
Democrats say a Kleefisch administration would be a Walker-era replay.
Kleefisch “wants to drag Wisconsin backwards to the failed days of the Scott Walker era, and has shown she can’t be trusted to follow science and listen to the experts in a crisis,” said Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler.
As lieutenant governor, she “championed far-right policies that hurt Wisconsinites and eviscerated protections for workers,” Wikler added.
But the most significant way Walker’s legacy looms over state government may be how he shaped the career of Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, who went from being the governor’s chief legal counsel to the state’s highest court in four years.
After serving as a law clerk to then-Justice Michael Gableman, Hagedorn gave Gov. Walker legal advice for five years – a period that included the Act 10 firestorm. In 2015, Walker named Hagedorn a Court of Appeals judge. That gave Hagedorn a portfolio to do two things: win a full Court of Appeals term in 2017 and, in 2019, win a seat on the Supreme Court.
His latest significant fourth vote decided that the Supreme Court – and no lower courts – will decide any legal challenges to new Congressional and legislative district lines, which the Constitution says must be drawn by legislators and vetoed or signed into law by the governor. The new lines must be in place for November 2022 elections.
Another Walker shadow over the Capitol is bitter partisanship – a tone set by the Act 10 controversy.
Soon after taking office, Walker and Republican legislators moved quickly to push Act 10 through within days, prompting all 14 Senate Democrats to leave the state to try and delay its passage. Republicans found a way to pass Act 10 and Walker immediately signed it into law.
Republicans reinforced that partisanship when GOP legislators pushed through new limits on the governor and attorney general after the November 2018 elections before Evers and Kaul took office. Walker signed those changes into law shortly before he left office.
Ten years after Walker was first elected, a veteran Democratic senator recently sat in his Capitol office signing new Blue Books. He summed up how Republicans run that chamber: “They don’t want our input.”
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