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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hints at run for a third term

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hinted Wednesday that he might run for a third term.

Walker hasn’t said yet whether he plans to run again after his current term ends in 2018. But in a speech to the state chamber of commerce, one of his biggest backers, he seemed to open the door wider than he had before.

The governor’s political future came up when he talked about an initiative he planned to unveil in next month’s State of the State address. Walker said he wants to gather input from Wisconsin residents about the future of the state to determine what people’s shared values and goals are.

He compared the state to the growth of a tree.

“For us, we want a state that grows upward, that grows out full, that includes everyone, that lifts everyone up with freedom and prosperity, not just for today but for generations to come,” Walker said. “I’m certainly committed to that through the remainder of my term or whatever terms I’m blessed to serve thereafter.”

In September, after his failed presidential run, Walker said he had not decided whether he was going to run for a third term.

“I haven’t ruled anything out in that regard,” he said then. “I enjoy being governor. I’ll be focused on being governor the next three years and sometime between now and November of 2018, I’ll make a decision as to whether or not to seek a third term.”

Walker’s spokeswoman did not immediately return an email asking whether he had now made up his mind.

The governor has some work to do over the next three years if he hopes to be elected again. His approval ratings fell to record lows during his short-lived presidential campaign, and they haven’t rebounded much since he dropped out on Sept. 21. The latest Marquette University Law School poll released on Nov. 19 showed Walker with just 38 percent approval.

Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Weathersby pointed to the poll numbers as evidence there’s no interest in a third term for Walker.

“The voters know it wouldn’t be a blessing to see Scott Walker as governor for another four years — that’s why his approval rating continues to sink to lower and lower,” Weathersby said.

During Walker’s tenure, Wisconsin has become the most politically divided state in the nation, the middle class has shrunk more than in any other state and Wisconsin has lagged near the bottom for job growth during much of his term. Walker came nowhere near his signature promise to create 250,000 jobs during his first term, and he slashed education funding more than any other governor.

Wisconsin incomes have fallen from 2009 to 2014.

Walker was out of the state for the first few months of his second term campaigning for president, after promising that he wouldn’t run for president during his re-election campaign last year.

After his presidential campaign imploded from a lack of fundraising and lackluster poll numbers in early voting states, Walker recommitted himself to spending time in Wisconsin. He also got behind divisive measures in the Legislature, signing into law a bill that does away with secret John Doe investigations into public misconduct.

He said he intends to sign a bill next week that passed without Democratic support to do away with the state’s nonpartisan elections board, replacing it with a pair of commissions that include partisan appointees.

He tried to get rid of the state’s open records law and is likely to do so again. Next week, his Republican legislative leaders plan to go after the Legislative Audit Bureau, which predicts the cost of bills, among other duties.

Walker also plans to sign a Republican-backed measure that will rewrite the state’s campaign finance laws to allow for coordination between candidates and independent advocacy groups, double candidate contribution limits and do away with a requirement that donors disclose who they work for.

The governor also plans to get rid of the state’s civil service bill, which was adopted a century ago to rid cronyism and corruption from the process of hiring and keeping state workers.

Walker became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election in 2012. That recall was spurred by anger over his proposal that effectively eliminated collective bargaining for most state workers, a measure that roiled the state and brought weeks of protests as large as 100,000 people to the Capitol.

But in his speech Wednesday to the right-wing Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which has supported the governor with massive campaign donations, Walker talked more about bringing people together than the numerous contentious measures that have been the hallmark of his tenure as governor.

“Together we need to work on saying what are our goals for the next five, 10, 15, 20, 25 years beyond,” Walker said Wednesday. “What is our goal for the state of Wisconsin? What are our multiple goals for the kind of state we want to be?”

Louis Weisberg contributed to this report.


Scott Walker’s commercial attempts to salvage his campaign but instead shows why he’ll lose

Scott Walker’s supporters have released the first in a $7 million series of commercials to boost his sagging presidential campaign in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The 60-second ad, titled “Fight & Win,” begins with dramatic footage of angry protesters converging on Madison in 2011 after Walker proposed gutting public unions.

The battle made Walker famous, but since then voters have become better acquainted with our bland, flip-flopping, gaffe-prone governor. He’s freefallen from the top of the polls into eighth place. Now Walker is reminding voters of his trademark achievement, which is not really an achievement at all: a law that divided Wisconsin in half politically and was foisted on the state without prior discussion or debate.

GOP governors in other states enacted nearly identical policies without generating the level of backlash and publicity that Walker did. He incited 100,000 people to demonstrate for weeks in frigid weather at the Capitol, earning Wisconsin the title of “most divided state in the nation.” His success at whipping up political frenzy is now his platform for a presidential run.

Act 10 sent school teachers, prison guards and other workers fleeing the state, leaving us with serious shortages in many critical areas. It’s also had a dampening effect on wages: Wisconsin’s middle class is shrinking faster than any other state’s, according to government data.

The way Walker handled Act 10 was not a show of leadership by anyone’s definition of the word. Leaders don’t ambush people with their ideas, they inspire people to rally around them.

Having struck gold by attracting news cameras from all over the world to Madison, Walker went on to govern the state in the most confrontational way possible. He even titled his revisionist memoir Unintimidated, which is also the name of the super PAC supporting him.

But in reality, Walker’s intimidated to the point that he sneaks controversial laws into the budget, then denies knowing anything about them when they generate a backlash. He has to make up stories to make him appear brave, such as the famous fabrication about his car being surrounded by hundreds of life-threatening protesters in La Crosse.

Walker’s gubernatorial tenure has centered on policy decisions written by the conservative corporate think-tank American Legislative Exchange Council, the brain child of Koch Industries, Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Pharma and other special interests. He hasn’t spoken truth to power, he’s taken marching orders from power and collected tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions as a reward.

What’s unintimidated about that?

Walker’s commercial moves on from Act 10 to crow about a lot of “accomplishments.” He claims to have created a “billion dollar surplus,” which was true in January 2014, but only if you don’t count the payments he put off until future budgets. And this year, when Wisconsin faced a $2 billion shortfall, Walker pushed through deep and unpopular spending cuts, including a $250 million reduction to the University of Wisconsin system.

The campaign ad claims Walker signed $2 billion in tax cuts into law during his first term. But those cuts, which overwhelmingly went to wealthy individuals and corporations, contributed to turning his $1 billion surplus into a potential shortfall in less than a year.

The ad also refers to the state’s unemployment rate dropping from 7.8 percent the month before he took office to 4.6 percent in June. It skirts the fact that Walker didn’t come close to his signature 2010 campaign promise, repeated in the 2012 recall election, that the state would add 250,000 private sector jobs by the end of 2014. Only 129,000 jobs were added.

Wisconsin’s private sector job growth during Walker’s first term was 5.7 percent, compared with 9.3 percent growth nationwide. For many months during his first term, Wisconsin lagged at the bottom of the region in terms of job creation — and near the bottom of the nation.

Walker hopes to revive his moribund campaign by positioning himself as a fighter, but even if it were true, it’s not likely to resonate. Voters are tired of the sort of political gridlock and double-talk that he’s mastered. They want leaders who are unabashedly authentic, as evidenced by their embrace of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Voters are tired of scheming, self-serving tricksters more focused on manipulating their poll numbers and pleasing their donors than solving the nation’s problems.

In other words, Walker might as well throw in the towel. Not even a stellar debate performance on Sept. 16, complete with new facial expressions and newly invented stories, can salvage a candidate with his record.

Walker does more gesturing than talking in first debate — and with good reason

The Federal Election Commission’s recent release of Scott Walker’s finances should give his supporters pause: The governor’s personal financial liabilities far outweigh his assets.

Walker reported assets between $36,000 and $190,000 — made up mostly of life insurance and a government-deferred compensation plan. Walker owes between $120,000 and $280,000, largely because of student loan debt for his sons. He listed no property ownership.

Walker has two credit card debts of more than $10,000 each, one of them with Barclays, whom he’s owed between $10,000 and $15,000 since 2014. He’s paying an interest rate of 27.24 percent on the card — a rate that’s applied to risky loans.

Walker, who’s worked in politics his entire career, listed his governor’s salary of $222,899 on the disclosure form and reported a $45,000 advance payment for his recent book. Most people would assume that the head of a household of four could stay above water on that kind of money, especially when the person in question can buy sweaters for $1 at Kohl’s.

Maybe Walker’s personal financial situation helps account for his terrible budget choices and the series of damaging economic decisions he’s made since taking office in 2011.

His signature job agency, known as WEDC, gave out $124 million to prospective job creators, many of them Walker donors, who weren’t required to create jobs in the state. There was no system of oversight at the agency, which Walker chaired, and WEDC lost track of millions of taxpayer dollars. Audits of the agency repeatedly cited gross mismanagement.

Walker’s response to the situation was to try getting rid of the watchdog agency that conducted those audits.

Walker has hurt Wisconsin’s economy in so many other ways that it would fill several pages of this paper to list them.

So, no wonder Walker was all but invisible during the first presidential debate on Aug. 6. He doesn’t have many successes to talk about, but at least the gaffe-prone governor has enough wit to keep a low profile.

The candidates were given 60 seconds to answer questions, but Walker often took even less time. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Walker spoke less than 40 seconds during the first 30 minutes of the debate and only six minutes in total.

Asked by debate moderator Megyn Kelly about his failure to create the 250,000 jobs he promised in his 2010 campaign, Walker gave his canned response: He likes to aim high. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that’s a self-aggrandizing answer that avoids admitting he broke his promise — a promise that was likely to be broken, since it was based on nothing but bombast.

For the millions of viewers who were glimpsing Walker for the first time, his muted performance must have been baffling. Positioned by his handlers as a shoot-from-the-hip charmer who’s even popular among Wisconsin Democrats, Walker failed to make good on that image. 

Walker did, however, put on a mime show of mugging whenever he was in range of the camera — shaking his head, grimacing and widening his eyes with an uncomfortable level of hamminess to signal his agreement with other candidates’ statements. He came off like a human emoji. 

Given the inevitability of questions concerning his personal and official financial failures, Walker will not be able to rely on gestures alone in the months ahead. And he’ll need more to talk about than his Harley and his sweaters.

New estimate projects $1.8-billion budget shortfall from Walker’s corporate tax cuts

A nearly $1.8 billion budget shortfall projected by a new report released yesterday provides yet more evidence that Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature have mismanaged the state’s finances, critics say.

The two-year budget that ends in June is projected to be nearly $396 million short after tax collections came in $281 million less than anticipated. The $1.8 billion shortfall is forecast for the next budget, which runs from July 2015 through June 2017.

The Legislature will have to address the deficits next year. All of the numbers are estimates and will change based on actual spending and tax collections in coming months.

Walker and legislative Republican leaders downplayed the latest bad news for the budget, while Democrats pressed them for details about how they planned to address it.

“We have a proven track record of managing the taxpayers’ money well,” said Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick. “By continuing to grow the economy, finding further efficiencies in government, continuing to eliminate waste, we will take care of any future structural issues.”

Walker’s Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, a former state Commerce Department secretary and Trek Bicycle executive, said the projected shortfall is the result of Walker’s “irresponsible approach” and “failed stewardship of a lagging economy.”

Walker and the Republican Legislature passed about $2 billion in tax cuts over the past three years, approving broad income and property tax reductions and an income tax cut targeting manufacturers. Critics complained that the lion’s share of the tax cuts went to Walker’s wealthy corporate out-of-state donors while taxes on the poor effectively increased.

“Governor Walker has spent money we don’t have,” Burke said in a statement. “In the business world, if a CEO created this big of a financial mess, he would be fired.”

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos accused Democrats of “looking for dark clouds on a sunny day.”

Since Walker took office, only about 103,000 private-sector jobs have been created in the state after about 133,000 were lost during the recession. Walker pledged during the 2010 campaign to create 250,000 private-sector jobs, a pledge he won’t come anywhere close to meeting. During his 2010 campaign, he urged voters to hold him to his pledge, but now he says that he never meant it to be taken literally.

Under Walker and the GOP, Wisconsin’s job growth has been about half the national average. The state ranks last in the upper Midwest for job creation during Walker’s term.

Although the unemployment rate has fallen, experts attribute that partly to people giving up on seeking jobs as well as people taking low-paying part-time jobs.

Walker and Republicans inherited a roughly $3 billion budget shortfall, which they plugged by making deep spending cuts to schools and local governments. Walker also used the shortfall to argue for passage of a law requiring most public workers to pay more for their pension and health care benefits while also taking away nearly all of their collective bargaining power.

The savings from those higher contributions helped schools and local governments deal with the other spending cuts.

Walker argues, as he runs for re-election, that he made the tough choices necessary to turn around the state’s economy, which his critics contend that he turned around from bad to worse.

Even in the face of the recent negative estimates, Walker and Republican legislative leaders have promised to take a similar approach to bring the budget into balance.

“Our local schools, small businesses and communities can’t afford to limp through another round of devastating budget cuts,” said Democratic state Sen. Jen Shilling, a member of the Legislature’s budget committee. She said the numbers definitively prove that Walker and Republicans’ approach has failed.

The Associated Press contributed to this article

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Major missteps cost the state jobs

Scott Walker ran for governor in 2010 on the promise to create 250,000 jobs using the core Republican economic strategies of cutting taxes, easing environmental and consumer regulations and reducing government spending.

As a result of those actions, however, the state’s economic performance in comparison with the rest of the nation’s has been dismal by most measures.

“Almost to the month since Walker took office, Wisconsin has fallen behind the nation in job growth,” said Jack Norman, former research director at the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future, a progressive but nonpartisan group whose mission is to educate the public about state policy issues.

Walker and his supporters are touting the state’s shrinking unemployment numbers as evidence that he’s succeeded in boosting Wisconsin’s employment market. But experts say that figure is misleading, because large numbers of people have simply stopped looking for work. People who were pushed off the unemployment rolls when Republicans reduced the length of time they qualify for benefits helped to drive the unemployment figure down, said Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now. 

Epps-Addison also pointed out that the unemployment figures fail to reflect the thousands of Wisconsinites who went from decent-paying jobs to service-sector jobs that pay so poorly that some cannot survive without taxpayer-supported public assistance. Ironically, while Republicans in Wisconsin and elsewhere condemn social welfare programs for “fostering dependency,” they award large tax breaks to corporations that don’t pay workers enough to keep them off food stamps and other public assistance programs. 

Progressives refer to that as “corporate welfare.”

Admittedly, the governor of a state and the mayor of a city actually have much less control over the economy than their promises and boasts suggest.

“The research would show that overall state and local policies might have an effect on the margins of the economy, but they’re not a real driver,” says Gary Green, professor at UW–Madison, whose research and teaching focuses primarily on community and economic development. “About 10 percent of business growth might be attributed to state or local policies. But we’re driven more by what’s happening in the global economy, especially in Wisconsin, where we’re so much more driven by manufacturing than other states.”

Still, “What governors can do is a little bit of tipping at a crucial time,” Norman said. The big decisions that Walker has made on the economy have tipped it in the wrong direction, he added.

Following is an assessment of some of the critical missteps that Walker made and what Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said she would do differently.

Public-spending cuts

In what his detractors branded as a scare tactic, Walker falsely proclaimed during his 2010 campaign that Wisconsin was bankrupt. The state faced a projected budget shortfall but was nowhere near being out of funds — or funding.

Walker called his first budget a “budget repair bill.”

In fact, Walker enters into his re-election campaign after submitting a biennial budget last year with a projected shortfall of $505 million, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The real goal of Walker and his tea party backers was — and is — to starve the government, which they contend saddles business activity with red tape. Walker’s inflammatory rhetoric was used to justify massive government spending cuts, which he claimed were needed to balance the state’s budget.

At the same time, Walker instituted tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the wealthy corporate interests that contributed massively to his campaign. He promised the cuts would stimulate jobs.

Walker’s spending cuts, which Democrats criticized as draconian, succeeded in yielding a budget surplus of nearly $1 billion last year. That’s more than he expected, and his supporters are trumpeting it at as Walker’s greatest achievement.

But the cost of that surplus was jobs, according to economic experts. In taking money out of the paychecks of the state’s 300,000 public workers, Walker took a massive amount of money out of Wisconsin’s consumer economy.

“Walker tripped us when we were trying to get back up,” Norman said. “It’s not like a factory shutdown that has an impact in just one community. You’ve got public school (workers) everywhere in Wisconsin, so the cuts saturated the state.”

“Some of the states that did not make some of these severe cuts seem to be doing better than Wisconsin right now,” Green said. 

High-speed rail and energy

One of the first things Walker did as governor was to renege on a deal already in the works to build a high-speed rail line connecting Milwaukee and Madison. He returned $810 million in economic stimulus money that the federal government had earmarked for the project.

The Spanish train manufacturer Talgo, which had built a manufacturing facility in the Milwaukee area to support the project, pulled out of the state and sued it for about $66 million, claiming breach of contract. 

Burke and others said the train would have brought good jobs to the state, along with increased economic activity along its route.

“In the short run, it would have created a lot of jobs and investment,” Green said. “If you look at these projects around the country, they do support a lot of development. The (Walker) administration thought it would take too much support from the state to maintain it.”

Walker is believed to have rejected the money to shore up his anti-government cred with the tea party in anticipation of a 2016 presidential run. While his action gained national headlines and the gratitude of his supporters in the fossil fuel industry, there’s no question that it hurt the state economically.

“We need a governor who will fight to bring Wisconsin taxpayer dollars back to Wisconsin,” Burke said, “particularly when they would spur economic development and job creation.”

In addition to blocking high-speed rail, Walker also prevented alternative-energy projects, especially wind energy projects, from moving forward. The alternative-energy movement not only has the potential to lower the state’s own energy costs but also is considered one of the most promising areas for creating the so-called “jobs of the future.”

Walker has never stated his reason for opposing wind and solar energy, but a number of his largest donations have come from the fossil fuel industry.

Medicare expansion

Norman said Wisconsin has traditionally ranked poorly compared with other states in getting back the federal taxes that citizens of the state pay. But when Walker turned down $100 million in Medicaid expansion money from the federal government, he became an instant hero to the tea party at the cost of health care for tens of thousands of poor Wisconsinites.

That action once again turned down jobs for the state.

Jobs in health care pay relatively well, much better than service-sector jobs. Critics say that refusing the Medicaid money cost thousands of potential jobs as well as increased economic activity that would have created other jobs. 

Education cuts

When Walker declared that Wisconsin was “open for business,” he seemed to expect companies to relocate to the state to take advantage of lower corporate taxes, a poorly paid, non-union workforce and a weakened regulatory environment.  But large companies of the sort he sought seldom relocate at all, and those that do are looking for a skilled, educated workforce and the kind of quality-of-life perks that attract the best workers, according to experts.

“Higher graduation rates and having a higher percentage of your workforce with degrees lends to creating a strong economy,” Burke said.

But, instead, Walker took a hatchet to public education in the state. His first budget stripped $2.6 billion from education at a time when the state could have taken advantage of high unemployment to re-educate workers, according to Norman and others. His cuts on a per-student basis were the nation’s highest.

An especially disastrous decision Walker made was cutting funding to technical colleges by 30 percent. Wisconsin already lagged behind the nation in terms of having workers versed in the latest production technology, Norman said. Walker’s cuts made the state even less attractive to manufacturers and knowledge-based industries, according to him and others.

“It’s absolutely stupid to defund something that’s helping manufacturing,” Norman said. “You should use your tax dollars to supporting training people with a specific job in mind. This is targeted job assistance.”

Norman said that across-the-board tax cuts can’t possibly stimulate job creation in the same way that targeted job assistance can.

Interestingly, Minnesota raised taxes by $2 billion beginning in 2011, the same year that Walker cut them by $1 billion. Minnesota used the additional money to invest in education and job creation.

Despite Wisconsin’s cuts and Minnesota’s increases, not one Minnesota business relocated across the border. In fact, from March 2012 to March 2013, private-sector jobs increased in Wisconsin by 1.1 percent, ranking the state 34th in job creation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Minnesota ranked 16th, with 2.1 percent job growth during that period.

The WEDC

When Walker took office, he eliminated the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, which Burke headed under Gov. Jim Doyle at a time when the state had 80,000 more jobs than it does today. The office was charged with helping business startups, an area in which Burke is considered a world-class expert: She set up sales and distribution operations for Trek Bicycle Corp., a company founded by her father, in five European countries and oversaw operations in seven nations.

Walker replaced the commerce department with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a public-private partnership that’s  been one of the highest-profile disasters of Walker’s administration, plagued by turnover, outrageous cronyism and the loss of millions of taxpayer dollars, some of which simply disappeared. 

“Under Walker, Wisconsin ranks 48th in new businesses created,” Burke said. “At a time when entrepreneurs and small businesses need access to capital, WEDC failed to get $35 million designated for business loans out the door. That’s unacceptable.”

Burke said even if the agency had been staffed by professionals, it didn’t have adequate funding to handle the magnitude of the economic crisis in the state. She would have allocated $200 million, she said. She also would have targeted that money to go to businesses with the greatest potential for creating jobs.

“The specific industries and businesses I would target vary by region,” Burke said. “Our state is best viewed through its various regional strengths — for example, biotech and health information in south central Wisconsin, clean water research and development in Milwaukee and forestry products and tourism in the north.”

Overall, Burke would promote investment in high-tech and alternative energy, particularly solar energy.

“As recently as 2010 we were keeping pace when it came to developing and utilizing solar power, but the last three years have seen a precipitous decline here in Wisconsin, while the rest of the country continues to move forward,” Burke said.

Sales tax increase

Walker recently floated the idea of eliminating the state’s income tax and increasing the sales tax to make up for the revenue loss. The effect would be to make Wisconsin sales taxes the highest in the nation — more than 13 percent. 

Burke said this approach “would kill jobs and raise taxes on 80 percent of Wisconsinites.”

“Taking money out of the pocket of the families whose purchasing power drives our economy to give another tax break to those at the top doesn’t make sense — it would devastate businesses near the state’s borders and potentially cause businesses to leave the state,” Burke said. 

Norman said Wisconsin tax code has been historically regressive, but the sales tax idea is the most regressive he’s ever heard. “Burke should go berserk on Walker for floating that proposal,” he said. 

Are you better off?

During a 1980 presidential debate with incumbent President Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan famously instructed voters to, “Ask yourself, ‘Are you better off today than you were four years ago?’”

Voters felt the answer was no, and Carter lost his re-election bid.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke might consider asking Wisconsin voters the same question in her race to depose Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November. Despite the strained spin that Walker and his supporters are frantically applying to his record, only the wealthiest of voters have received a boost under his administration. The main question standing in the way of a Burke victory is whether she can inspire enough of those who’ve suffered under Walker’s policies to vote in a non-presidential election year, because the wealthy and those who identify with them are likely to turn out for Walker in record numbers.

Burke is a wealthy businesswoman, and downtrodden Wisconsinites might look at the two candidates and wonder, “What’s the difference?” That perception is not going to compel them to head to the polls in November. Political analysts concur that Burke and her campaign must overcome  that image in order to win.