I suffered from Scott Walker’s gubernatorial reign firsthand. While Walker was governor, I graduated from a Wisconsin high school and university, also receiving a master’s from the La Follette School — an esteemed policy school named after Wisconsin’s legendary progressive, “Fighting” Bob La Follette. Walker cut my education and scholarships, but he did so much worse for so many others.
In eight years, Walker dismantled civility and good sense. He championed policies that attacked public services, workers, marginalized communities, the poor, and the environment. From the boneheaded to the unethical to the simply disappointing, here is a summary of how truly awful Scott Walker was for Wisconsin.
1. Declined $810 million in federal funds to build a high-speed commuter rail
Walker’s predecessor, Jim Doyle, obtained $810 million in federal dollars to build a high-speed rail across the state, with lines later to extend into neighboring Minnesota and Illinois. Walker said NO to this FULLY-FUNDED interstate transit project. Projected annual operating costs were $7.5 million, which is pennies compared to the $30 BILLION for road repair in Walker’s 2015–17 budget. Wisconsin still PAID $40 million for trains they never received and $10 million for reneging on a manufacturing contract. Once the funds were re-sent to California, the Los Angeles Times sneeringly wrote “Thanks a billion, cheeseheads.”
2. Rejected federal Medicaid money, costing the state roughly $1 billion
Wisconsin residents pay federal taxes, but Walker again rejected the return of these dollars to his state, costing taxpayers roughly $1 billion. Should it matter that free money was made available by Obamacare?
3. Stripped bargaining rights from public workers
Back in 1959, Wisconsin was the first state to ever give collective bargaining rights to public-sector employees. Walker privately disclosed to a campaign donor his “divide and conquer” strategy against unions, which began by removing their bargaining rights. He ignored over 100,000 protestors at the State Capitol and privately admitted considering “planting troublemakers” into the crowd.
4. Gave huge tax subsidies to large corporations
For all his disdain for what he deemed excessively large government, Walker was content handing out outrageous tax subsidies to corporations. Over the next ten years, somewhere between $4 to 5 BILLION will be paid to the foreign-owned Foxconn, which alleges to create 10,000 jobs ($450,000 per job). In a supposed effort to retain a Kimberly-Clark plant, Walker boasted signing a $28 million subsidy ($75,000 per job). Even more, this bill did nothing to stop Kimberly-Clark from closing its other Wisconsin plant.
5. Failed to fulfill a 250,000 new jobs promise made back in 2010
He said he would. He never did.
6. Maintained strong opposition to same-sex marriage
Citing results of a ballot question from before he became governor, Walker opposed same-sex marriage. Not that public support is necessary for civil rights, but opinion polls while he was governor favored legalization. Walker called the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage a “grave mistake”.
7. Dramatically reduced access to women’s healthcare and abortion
Walker signed at least fourteen laws restricting women’s access to healthcare. He closed five rural health centers and signed a dangerous intrusion abortion ban without exemption for rape or incest. Planned Parenthood has a lot to say about the harmful effects of Walker’s policies on women and families.
8. Cut nearly half a billion dollars from K-12 education in his first year
Subsequent increases were arguably politically-driven — but funding levels have yet to return to the pre-Walker years.
9. Slashed over $500,000,000 from public higher education
Continued massive cuts from the previous administration. For the first time in at least 44 years, UW-Madison fell out of the top five ranked schools nationwide in research expenditures. Walker would rebut that he froze tuition for state residents, but this further constricted the UW-System budget.
10. Eliminated need-based financial aid options for Wisconsin residents
The Wisconsin Covenant Program was a need-based scholarship promise given to Wisconsin high schoolers who kept their grades up and volunteered in the community. Despite eliminating the program, Walker bragged about its financial aid delivery while on the presidential campaign trail.
11. Launched $8 million ad campaign in Chicago to lure millennials to Wisconsin
Maybe if he did not cut school funding and cut scholarships, millennials would be more interested in living in Wisconsin and taxpayer dollars need not be squandered on advertising.
12. Repealed state laws giving tenure and academic freedom protections for UW professors
The attacks on free speech come from such conservative-led crusades, not the supposed “snowflakes”.
13. Proposed cutting funding to essential college services
Epitomizing the slimy nature of his tenure, Walker proposed an exemption option for student fees on UW students. Upon first read that may seem reasonable, but it threatened operating budgets for campus buses, emergency care and trauma services, student organizations, and student affair offices. The proposal would have marginally reduced, not eliminated, student fees. At UW-Madison, students would only be able to opt out of 17 percent of their fees.
14. Removed century-old language in state law for a “living wage” in Wisconsin
Walker dismantles Wisconsin’s proud history once again. Workers remain subject to the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, even as inflation and prices rise.
15. Claimed his bald spot resulted from hitting his head on a sink
Doctors had a laugh with this one.
16. Accepted $4.4 million in contributions from the NRA since 1998
17. Twice met with a Russian agent posing as a gun-rights activist
Maybe NRA conventions are not so great after all.
18. Took hundreds of taxpayer-funded flights, with distances as short as 24 miles
19. Signed law making it easier for school districts to keep offensive Indian mascot names
The ACLU and the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, representing 12 tribes in Wisconsin and Michigan, opposed the decision. A slap in the face to Native populations in Wisconsin, who now carry the burden of proof to demonstrate a name is offensive.
20. Supported constitutional amendment to remove a liberal Chief Justice from the State Supreme Court
Shirley Abrahamson was Wisconsin’s first female supreme court justice, re-elected four times, and supported by everyone from police chiefs to unions. Originally becoming Chief due to her seniority, Abrahamson was removed when Walker-approved changes allowed a conservative court to elect their own chief.
21. Six campaign staffers were convicted for embezzlement, money laundering, and campaigning from Walker’s Milwaukee County Executive office
Speaking of email servers — Walker’s campaign team secretly sent over 3,000 emails from his County office.
22. Added work requirement to Medicaid access and drug test requirement for food stamps
23. Aided campaign donors and retroactively protected paintmakers from liability for lead poisoning in 171 children
Yep. Prior to the measure, Walker and other GOP members received campaign funding from the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which received a $750,000 donation from a billionaire lead producer.
24. Eased regulations for campaign donor to construct an environmentally harmful open mine though Native lands
The 21-mile mine was opposed by local cities and importantly the residents of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Walker’s “independent” Wisconsin Club for Growth received $700,000 from the mining company, Gogebic Taconite. It was only EPA regulations that eventually forced Gogebic Taconite to backing out of the deal.
25. Never visited a state prison in eight years, claiming there was “no value” in doing so
Wisconsin has one of the worst racial disparities in prison population in the country. Inmates have died in custody and officers charged for negligence. Despite similar crime levels to neighboring Minnesota, Wisconsin imprisons at twice the rate.
26. Had the shortest presidential campaign since 2000
Economic cases for Scott Walker, unfortunately, lead nowhere. And it makes sense — Walker did not shy away from government spending when it favored campaign donors and corporations. His consistent cuts to education, restrictions to healthcare access, and foolish rejections of federal dollars only made Wisconsin worse off. Let’s not forget the harms of Scott Walker — especially as he would not rule out a run for Senate or return to governor in the future.
On January 7, 2019, lifetime educator Tony Evers takes his oath of office as Governor of Wisconsin. Facing him is a hostile State Legislature — bolstered by gerrymandered districts and passing lame-duck legislation to weaken the incoming Democrat governor. Evers and the first Black Lt. Gov, Mandela Barnes, have their work cut out. Good luck to them both.