Republican fans may see GOP presidential candidate and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker as a crowd-pleasing, union-busting leader. And while he’s certainly popular with a certain segment of Wisconsinites (namely, those in affluent suburbs of Milwaukee), he’s demonstrably less admired by many of his constituents. According to an April poll by Marquette University Law School, 53 percent of registered Wisconsin voters believe the state is heading in the wrong direction, and only 41 percent approve of the governor’s performance. Many of his policies, from cutting aid to schools (including the University of Wisconsin system) to his controversial decision to make the state less hospitable to unions, are deeply unpopular.
Yet despite all the highly visible damage he’s done to the Badger State, he’s got still more skeletons in his closet. And we’re not even talking about his ridiculous devotion to Ronald Reagan.
1. He’s currently the subject of the equivalent of a grand jury probe for conduct during his 2012 recall election.
Called a “John Doe investigation” in Wisconsin, it’s actually the second investigation of this type into potential wrongdoing by Walker and his affiliates. They first looked into whether his staff did campaign work when they weren’t supposed to — like devoting hours to posting pro-Walker comments on news sites while on the county payroll. That probe led to the conviction of six staffers.
The current investigation, which has been going on since 2012, is to determine whether Walker’s anti-recall campaign unlawfully conspired with outside groups. To wit: whether campaign funds were funneled illegally “to a network of 12 supposedly independent conservative groups” while Walker’s campaign actually “directed their spending to fight the recall,” as Andy Kroll at Mother Jones put it.
2. His career in political shenanigans started early.
In his sophomore year at Marquette University, Walker ran for student government president in a contentious election that reached epic proportions, culminating in a scandal with his team being accused of stealing the campus newspaper,The Marquette Tribune, from racks in highly trafficked school buildings after the paper endorsed his rival, John Quigley.
Taking offense the following day, the Tribune wrote another editorial decrying Walker’s tactics. Despite endorsing Quigley, the student paper had previously also given support to Walker — but after the scandal, it quickly rescinded that support.
Walker lost the election big: 1,245 to 927. He stayed out of campus politics from then on, even though there has been no proof that he was part of the scheme to steal the newspapers.
3. It’s not the fact that he didn’t graduate from college that’s an issue. It’s the fact that he left under murky circumstances — and lied.
In speeches, Walker likes to claim that he’s just one semester short of graduation, and dropped out to take a full-time position at a local Red Cross chapter. He always planned to return to school, he says, but “family obligations” got in the way.
In reality, according to Marquette records unearthed in an investigation by PolitiFact, he was 34 credits short of the minimum needed to graduate with a single major. But he told his college’s 1990 yearbook that he had a triple major instead — political science, philosophy, and economics — which would have necessitated a heavier course load and far greater time commitment to school.
As for those “family obligations”? He dropped out in February 1990 — but didn’t get married until three years later. And his son wasn’t born until 1994.
4. Surrounded by yes men, he can’t tell the real from the fake.
The billionaire Koch brothers have been Scott Walker supporters for years, donating big sums to his campaigns. They’ve all but announced that they’ll back him in 2016. But in 2011, inspired by a Huffington Post article describing how difficult it was to get Walker on the telephone, blogger Ian Murphy decided to test this out — by pretending to be David Koch himself. When the governor rushed to pick up the call, Murphy turned on his tape recorder.
Having used YouTube videos to tweak his speech, Murphy then spent 20 minutes chatting on the phone with Walker, focusing on the governor’s plans to deal with people protesting his decision to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers. Opponents picked out Walker’s most damning statement: that he considered planting provocateurs among the protesters to make them appear violent. His explanation for rejecting the idea? “My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused is that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid all these problems,” said Walker to “Koch.”
5. He’s chummy with right-wing radio.
As detailed in a series of articles in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last year, the city of Milwaukee is dramatically divided from its surrounding counties on nearly every demographic and political measure. Walker’s standing in suburban counties of metropolitan Milwaukee is at astronomical levels — 91 percent approval rating among Republicans, according to a Marquette University poll — while Milwaukee County itself is solidly blue and anti-Walker.
Starting as a state assemblyman in the 1990s, Walker frequently guested on Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling’s respective shows on radio station WISN. So close did he become with Belling that Walker had his own emergency access line to the studio, off limits to station employees, according to the New Republic.
Why does this matter? These two hosts’ influence cannot be overstated. In Milwaukee the game is not about changing voters’ minds, it’s about increasing turnout — because the suburbs are filled with Republican whites and the city has the Democrats.
In fact, Walker’s vote totals aligned closely with the listening range of the stations, according to Sykes.
6. He wants to destroy unions.
Walker became a GOP golden boy during his first month in office when he decided to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers, along with requiring additional contributions to their benefits and reducing their overall take-home pay. Although initially targeting government employees like police officers and teachers, he has expanded his anti-union crusade by signing “right to work” legislation, which bans unions from requiring employees to pay dues. All this he did under the pretense of balancing the budget.
Walker’s policies have damaged the prospects for Wisconsin workers. Unionized workers set the pay scale for many kinds of jobs, of course, which affects compensation for non-unionized workers as well. And unions also set health and safety standards, offer training, and certify workers. According to the New York Times, which compared the salaries of ironworkers in Wisconsin to Texas and Iowa, which have had right-to-work laws since 1947, the Wisconsin ironworkers get paid twice as much as those in the other two states.
Walker’s critics say that when union membership is high, union wages become the standard and lift the pay of non-union workers, whereas the opposite is true of places that have right-to-work in place. And further research suggests that workers in right-to-work states are killed more often on the job than those in other states.
Although Walker credits his collective bargaining law for a decrease in the state’s unemployment, it’s actually driving people out of the state altogether. And instead of fixing budget shortfalls, it has actually increased them: In 2013, Wisconsin boasted a budget surplus; this year, after giving $2 billion in tax cuts to the rich, Walker had to defer $100 million in debt payments to balance the 2015 budget (a gimmick that will only end up costing the state millions more in later years). But as a cosmetic measure, the debt deferment made him look better when he signed the budget — just before announcing his entry into the Republican presidential race.
Image: Scott Walker has been under investigation twice for suspected shady campaign activity. DonkeyHotey via Flickr