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Campaigning in Iowa, Trump slams Scott Walker for flip-flopping and bringing down Wisconsin economy

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump opened up a line of attack Saturday on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, accusing the leader in recent polls in Iowa of running his neighboring state into financial trouble. It’s the latest broadside against a rival of the outspoken New York billionaire. Last week, Trump went after South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham for calling him a “jackass.” The New York businessman has characterized other candidates as unfit for the office and said the party’s 2008 nominee, Sen. John McCain, was not a war hero in spite of his years as a prisoner in Vietnam.

Spurred on by a raucous audience of more than 1,000 at a central Iowa high school, Trump said Walker has an advantage in Iowa because he’s from a neighboring state but that the edge is undeserved because Walker has mismanaged Wisconsin’s budget.

“He grew up right next door. A little advantage, right?” Trump said. “Except Wisconsin is doing terribly.”

Trump faulted Walker, popular for stripping public employees of many of their collective bargaining rights, for falling short of budget projections and changing his position on Common Core education standards. The voluntary state-based benchmarks for achievement in math, reading and language arts are unpopular among a segment of conservatives who view them, if incorrectly, as a federally mandated curriculum.

Walker showed tacit support for the standards during his first term when he signed budgets that paid for implementing them. Last year, he called for their repeal and replacement with standards set in Wisconsin.

“He was totally in favor of Common Core, which I hate, I hate,” Trump said. Walker changed course on the topic, his rival said, when he saw “he was getting creamed.”

Trump said Walker deserved the criticism because a top fundraiser to the governor referred to Trump in a recent fundraising email as “Dumb dumb.”

Of course, there were far worse things Trump could have called Walker out on, including chairing a scandal-plagued job-creation agency that loaned millions to the governor’s cronies and never repaid the state or created jobs. The agency lost track of millions of taxpayer dollars at the agency.

Then there was the governor’s failure to meet his avowed goal of creating 250,000 jobs in the state. Not only has he fallen far short of that promise, but the state has ranked among the lowest in the nation for job creation.

And there was the last-minute insertion of a proposal into the 2015-17 budget that would have allowed Wisconsin public officials to ignore Freedom of Information requests from the public and the media, making the state’s government the least transparent in the nation. Walker tried to hide his involvement in that scheme.

As politically savvy Wisconsinites know, the list of Walker’s failures and scandals goes on and on, leaving them to wonder how he’ll manage to keep his shabby and divisive record as governor out of the national media spotlight.

Walker is not alone on Trump’s get-even list. The real estate mogul has constantly attacked GOP candidates who’ve criticized him — something that has party officials cringing but voters mesmerized. The TV reality star has brought an unanticipated element of entertainment to the Republican presidential race.

Trump criticized Graham, a close friend of McCain, after Graham chided Trump for faulting McCain for being shot down as a Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. McCain, held as a prisoner of war for five years, was heralded by Republicans as a war hero during his 2008 campaign.

“I’m very disappointed in him for one reason. He’s done a bad job with the vets,” said Trump, who has sharply criticized Congress for inaction on calls for improvements for services under the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While Graham and other GOP presidential candidates have sharply criticized Trump for his comments about McCain, Trump held up a stack of paper during his Iowa speech that he said were letters of support he’d received from veterans.

Before Trump arrived at the event, hundreds lined the sidewalk in front of the high school. At the end was a catered picnic lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chips and cold drinks.

Standing in the 90-degree sun, Jill Jepsen held a sign that said, “The Beltway talks, Trump works!”

“He works, and he doesn’t back down,” said Jepsen, a political independent from Oskaloosa. “He’ll get things done.”

At the National Governors Association meeting in West Virginia, two Republicans gave Trump’s campaign little chance of succeeding.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think (Trump) will do very well in Iowa because Iowans like leaders who are humble and hardworking, and people who go to all parts of the state,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said when asked about the reality TV star.

Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin, said she didn’t think Trump would be the next president “because I think the people of our nation want to see someone who will be able to bring people together to get things done.”

Asked about Trump, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said: “You see some outspoken people who jump up in the polls, but then they also falter very quick. It’ll be interesting to see if that same dynamic occurs.”

Not one to suffer criticism silently, Trump denied press credentials for Saturday’s event to reporters at The Des Moines Register after the newspaper published an editorial calling him a “feckless blowhard” who is “unfit to hold office” and saying that he should leave the race.

Register editor Amalie Nash said Friday that the paper’s editorial board is independent of its news reporters and editors.

Where Scott Walker stands on key issues as of today

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has shifted his stances on everything from the federal ethanol mandate to Common Core education standards to immigration reform as he positions himself for a presidential run. Here’s where he stands on some key issues as of today, July 3.

IMMIGRATION

As early as 2002, Walker supported creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. Now he doesn’t. He attributed the shift to his conversations with border-state governors and voters nationwide. “My view has changed. I’m flat out saying it,” Walker told Fox News in March. “Candidates can say that. Sometimes they don’t.” He’s open to granting legal status short of citizenship to many people in the country illegally. But he’s also questioned whether the current policy on legal immigration makes economic sense, suggesting he might side with those who believe high numbers of immigrants — legal or not — suppress wages.

FOREIGN POLICY

A weak link in his presidential resume. To address that, he has traveled overseas four times this year. His visit to Israel in May was tightly controlled, with no public appearances. He stumbled rhetorically at times during a more public London tour earlier. Oddly, in an otherwise well-received speech to conservatives in February, he said his experience taking on thousands of protesters in his state helped prepare him to confront terrorists abroad. Walker has also said that his Eagle Scout training had prepared him for the role of commander-in-chief. He speaks hawkishly about the U.S. conducting pre-emptive strikes to prevent what he insists are certain future attacks on the U.S., although he’s offered no specifics, such as which countries he’d strike and why — only that he would strike somewhere on the globe.

SOCIAL ISSUES

Walker, the son of a Baptist minister, opposes abortion rights, including in cases of rape and incest. As governor, he signed into law a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion. He also supports a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Walker also opposes same-sex marriage, even though he’s had a large number of key advisers who are gay and even attended the wedding of a gay relative. Still, Walker called the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states a “grave mistake” and said he’d support a Constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. Walker opposed the death penalty until 2006, when he switched positions, saying he believed that if DNA evidence proved the guilt of a person, the death penalty was justified. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty. The National Rifle Association gives his gun-rights record a 100 percent rating. In June, Walker signed a bill removing a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases. Walker also legalized the carrying of concealed weapons in 2011. He supports the drug-testing of welfare recipients and allowing people who get food stamps to only use them to purchase approved items.

EDUCATION

Walker supports Wisconsin’s first-in-the-nation school voucher program, under which taxpayers will pay for students to attend private rather than public schools. That would transfer money from public schools to for-profit schools, including religious schools and schools that have no education standards and no access for the disabled. Walker has extended the program statewide after its start in Milwaukee and Racine, and this year proposed eliminating enrollment caps. Walker cut money to K-12 public schools by $1.2 billion in his first budget, the largest reduction in state history. He called for cutting about $127 million from schools in the first year of his most recent budget, but the Republican Legislature rejected that. Walker’s position has varied on Common Core academic standards. He never explicitly advocated for them, but in his first state budget in 2011 he called for statewide tests that were tied to the standards. By the middle of 2013, Walker was calling for a halt to further implementation of the standards, and in July 2014 he called for a repeal even though it’s up to local school districts whether to adopt them. His budget this year prohibits the state superintendent from forcing local school districts to adopt the standards and calls for new standardized tests.

LABOR UNIONS

Walker proposed, just six weeks after taking office in 2011, that public employees except for police and firefighters pay more for pension and health care benefits, and only be allowed to bargain collectively over base wage increases no greater than inflation. Outrage over passage of that law led to Walker’s 2012 recall election, which he won. This year, Walker signed a right-to-work bill into law, after saying during his re-election campaign that the issue would not come up because it was a distraction. Right-to-work laws prohibit unions from requiring workers to join or pay dues. Walker this year also proposed eliminating tenure protections for University of Wisconsin faculty and staff from law as part of a broader proposal to make the university independent from state oversight and regulation. Walker has referred to that as the higher education version of the law he signed affecting state workers four years ago.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Walker has not made climate change a focus of his campaign, but he has spoken at the Heartland Institute, a group that denies man-made climate change. Walker also joined more than a dozen other coal-reliant states suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block the so-called Clean Power Plan, which would require states to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Walker has also signed the “no climate tax” pledge to oppose any legislation that would raise taxes to combat climate change. Walker’s administration called for the firing of scientists who work at the Department of Natural Resources on issues related to climate change.

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Ted Cruz to announce bid for presidency tomorrow

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz plans to announce Monday that he will run for president, according to The Houston Chronicle and other news sources. He will become the first high-profile Republican to officially enter the 2016 race.

Cruz has not been coy about his intentions to seek the GOP nomination, so the announcement will come as no surprise. He made his first trip to New Hampshire earlier this month to help lay the groundwork for a presidential campaign, after already having reached out to tea party activists and donors.

His plan to jump into the race formally was confirmed by a strategist for the first-term Republican senator, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity so as not to preclude the announcement.

While Cruz is the first Republican to declare his candidacy, he is sure to be followed by several big names in the GOP, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and two Senate colleagues — Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Florida’s Marco Rubio. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also is expected to formally announce his candidacy in the near future.

Like Walker, Cruz has considerable appeal among the Republican Party’s base of conservative voters and religious fundamentalists. Both candidates are also gaffe prone. Cruz recently sent out a tweet urging Congress to repeal the law forcing schools to adhere to Common Core standards — but no such law has ever existed.

In 2013, Cruz insinuated the Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary, may have been on the payroll of the North Koreans.

The Canadian-born Cruz has proven to be a thorn in his party’s side on many occasions. He won praise from tea party activists for leading the GOP’s push to shut down the federal government during an unsuccessful bid to block money for Obamacare, but Republican leaders were chagrined by the maneuver.

Following the incident, a senior GOP House aide told the Huffington Post, “Some people came here to govern and make things better for their constituents. Ted Cruz came here to throw bombs and fundraise off of attacks on fellow Republicans. He’s a joke, plain and simple.”

Cruz continues to be a leading voice for the law’s repeal. He also promises to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, scrap the Education Department and curtail federal regulators, likening them to locusts.

Despite his erratic behavior and misstatements, Cruz was one of the nation’s top college debaters while a student at Princeton University, according to AP. Like Walker, who wrote a book in anticipation of his presidential bid, Cruz is set to release a book this summer that he said would reflect the themes of his White House campaign.

Walker’s book was ridiculed for the governor’s claim that God spoke to and consulted with him over political decisions.

In a recent Associated Press interview, Cruz said he wants to counter the “caricatures” of the far right as “stupid,” “evil” or “crazy.”

The son of an American mother and Cuban-born father, Cruz would be the nation’s first half-Hispanic president. Two lawyers who represented presidents from both parties at the Supreme Court recently wrote in the Harvard Law Review that they think Cruz meets the constitutional standard to run despite being a Canadian native.

Cruz will still retain his Senate seat through early 2019, even if he spends the majority of his time campaigning.

GOP rivals slam Scott Walker over flip-flopping

Scott Walker’s rivals see him as an up-and-comer in the Republican race for president, so they are focusing on the Wisconsin governor’s changing positions on a number of issues.

The still-unofficial campaigns of several Republicans have assembled internal memos, research papers and detailed spreadsheets that highlight and track Walker’s shifts on positions from immigration to ethanol to abortion.

They say Walker has a broad pattern of flip-flopping that will be his greatest vulnerability.

The rush of what’s known in the campaign trade as “opposition research” comes as Walker is in midst of a swing through two early voting states. He travels next week to South Carolina after spending this weekend in New Hampshire.

Steve Duprey, a Republican national committeeman from New Hampshire who is not aligned with any candidate, said Walker is relatively unknown among voters in his state — meaning the governor is subject to definition by his opponents.

“You have to be an authentic candidate,” Duprey said. “If people think you’re flipping left and right, that sticks with you.”

Walker has earned strong reviews for his early performances in Iowa and at several forums attended by other expected Republican presidential candidates.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who ran for president in 2012, said Friday that Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are the leading candidates for the Republican nomination.

“Scott is from a Midwestern state, but he has a national profile and a national fundraising capability,” Pawlenty said. “The non-Jeb money is increasingly flowing to him, and he’s used to communicating red messages in blue places.”

In the past week, aides working for other Republicans expected to run in 2016 have circulated materials that highlight Walker’s change in position on immigration, ethanol mandates, Common Core education standards, abortion and right-to-work legislation.

One campaign has a spreadsheet that outlines when Walker changed a position in comparison to 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The analysis found that Walker’s shifts on more than a dozen issues came an average of 15 months before the Iowa caucuses — almost a year later than did Romney’s.

“Voters still don’t know the real Scott Walker,” said veteran Republican operative John Feehery, who is not aligned with any of the potential candidates. “And if he thinks he can get them to like him merely by saying things that they want to hear, he is going to run into the same problem that plagued Mitt Romney: authenticity.”

AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for Walker’s campaign-in-waiting, said each issue needs to be examined in detail to better understand his positions.

“Gov. Walker has a proven record of championing big, bold reforms in Wisconsin to limit the government and empower people,” Strong said. “It’s lazy and inaccurate to simply lump all issues into one narrative instead of actually examining the facts.”

Walker has acknowledged changing his some positions, most notably on immigration. As early as 2002, he publicly supported creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. In an interview with Fox News this month, Walker said he no longer supports what he termed “amnesty.”

He defended his shift in view, saying he had done so after talking to governors of border states and voters nationwide. “My view has changed. I’m flat out saying it,” he said. “Candidates can say that. Sometimes they don’t.”

In the heat of his re-election campaign last year, Walker softened his position on abortion, saying in a television ad that the decision on whether to have an abortion is between “a woman and her doctor.”

This month, after drawing criticism from conservatives, Walker said he would sign a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

As a candidate for governor in 2006, Walker was critical of the requirement that gasoline contain a certain amount of corn-based ethanol. “Mandates hurt Wisconsin’s working families,” he said at the time. “And whether they are from Washington or Madison, we as fiscal conservatives should oppose them.”

Speaking at an agriculture summit in Iowa last week, Walker said the fuel standard that requires the use of ethanol is “something he’s willing to move forward on.”

Walker’s first budget as governor supported the Common Core academic standards in 2011, but he called for their repeal last summer. During his recent re-election campaign and in the months that followed, Walker said an effort to pass right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin would be a distraction and he urged lawmakers not to address it.

Last week, after the Wisconsin Legislature did so, he signed the bill into law.

A former Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Steele, said he has heard from other Republicans about Walker’s shifts on policy positions. Steele said it is a matter that will play in the presidential primaries.

“If you’ve taken positions and done things, you’ve got to stay true to that. You cannot reframe it for a presidential race,” Steele said. “Everyone’s trying to find a way to carve these men and women up before they even get out of the gate.”

Walker plan to eliminate Badger Exam dismays school leaders

As Wisconsin schools prepare to give new standardized tests this spring, teachers and administrators say the time, effort and money they’re putting into the exams may be pointless.

That’s because Gov. Scott Walker’s budget calls for scrapping the new tests next year before school officials can analyze the results.

The Smarter Balanced test, which will be known as The Badger Exam in Wisconsin, is linked to the Common Core State Standards, which spell out what skills students in each grade should master in reading and math. The Smarter Balanced testing consortium intends for the test to make it easier to compare not only schools to each other, but states as well. 

The Badger Exam will test students in grades 3-8. It will replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.

But Walker, like many Republicans, is critical of the Common Core and the federal role in education, and wants schools to make other choices for which tests to use.

Walker’s intention to abandon the new tests has been met with confusion and dismay by school officials who have spent the past couple years getting prepared for the switch, News-Herald Media reported Sunday.

“It’s very frustrating to feel so devalued in the world of education. Anyone in the field of public education feels that the work we’re doing is not valued whatsoever, and that’s very disheartening,” said Colleen Dickmann, superintendent of Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools.

Attila Weninger, superintendent of the Stevens Point Area Public School District, said she has yet to hear a good explanation for why schools should abandon Smarter Balanced.

“Nobody is listening or wants to hear from those in the field: teachers, administrators, students, school board members,” Weninger said. “It’s a monumental waste of money and somebody needs to stand up and say, ‘We’re not going to do that anymore.’ We’ve spent thousands of hours, and therefore dollars, preparing.”

Florida lawmaker claims standardized tests aim to make kids gay

Florida’s education commissioner this week rejected an assertion by a state lawmaker that a standardized testing organization aims to make public school students gay.

American Institutes for Research is administering new statewide tests for students in Florida. The testing aligns with the nationwide Common Core standards that some states have accepted while others have rejected.

Republican Rep. Charles Van Zant, of Keystone Heights, has said the testing company has a “pro-homosexual agenda” because it has done research on lesbian and gay issues. Speaking at an education conference in Orlando, Van Zant said the testing program would “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.”

Van Zant made the comments in March but a video of his remarks just surfaced.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the testing firm does research for many clients and work for one does not influence its work for another. Stewart said AIR was selected according to normal procedures after officials reviewed various bids.

Washington D.C.-based AIR did not immediately return messages left by The Associated Press. On its website, AIR says it was founded in 1946 as a nonprofit and nonpartisanship research organization.

“AIR is one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research and evaluation organizations. Our overriding goal is to use the best science available to bring the most effective ideas and approaches to enhancing everyday life,” the website states.

Democrats, including Rep. Joe Saunders of Orlando, condemned Van Zant’s statements.

“LGBT students are some of the most likely to be targeted, bullied and harassed. For such a comment to come from the mouth of an elected leader is outrageous,” he said in a statement released this week.

Wisconsin reading, math scores up slightly

Reading and math scores for most Wisconsin public school students increased slightly on tests administered last fall, but wide achievement gaps between white students and minorities persist, results released this week show.

Test results for students participating in the taxpayer-subsidized private school voucher program were to be released later Tuesday.

The scores are looked at closely by parents, educators and policy makers to assess both how well students are learning and how schools are doing at educating them. Last year, the report showed voucher school students lagging their public school counterparts, a finding that only further fueled the rancorous debate in the Legislature over expanding the program.

Ultimately, the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker reached an agreement to allow vouchers in 25 additional schools or school systems, with a 500-student cap beyond Milwaukee and Racine. That cap grows to 1,000 students next year, and advocates plan to push for even greater expansion.

The public school results showed that just under half of the state’s students — nearly 49 percent — scored either proficient or advanced, the two highest ratings, in math. In reading, just over a third — nearly 37 percent — were proficient or advanced.

The scores were up slightly from last year, when 48.1 percent of students were proficient or advanced in math, and 36.2 percent were in reading.

Five years ago, about 47 percent were proficient or advanced in math and nearly 36 percent were in reading.

As has been the case for years, minority students continue to lag. American Indian, black and Hispanic students all had fewer proficient or advanced math scores. In reading, all minority groups, including Asian students, scored lower than their white counterparts.

The disparity was deepest among black students, where only 18 percent were in the highest two ranks in math and just 14 percent were in reading. White students were 56 percent proficient or advanced in math and almost 43 percent were in reading.

“Our achievement gaps are no secret and are too large,” state Superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement.

A task force Evers created to study the issue plans to meet for the first time today.

The tests show that over 42 percent of Wisconsin students are in poverty. That is a 5 percentage point increase over the past five years. While just over 30 percent of white students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, nearly 82 percent of black students qualify, along with nearly 78 percent of Hispanic students and more than 68 percent of American Indians.

The results reported Tuesday are the last under the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations, which have been used to assess student achievement since 1992. Those tests are being replaced next school year with new annual online exams, and another component that can measure progress throughout the year instead of just one point in time.

Every high school junior in Wisconsin will also take the ACT college entrance exam, with the state picking up the $50 fee. All 11th graders will also take another test designed to assess job skills called WorkKeys. Students in elementary grades would take a new test being designed by a 28-state consortium that includes Wisconsin.

The tests are aligned with the Common Core education standards.

Evers, who advocated for the new tests, said they will help the Department of Public Instruction close achievement gaps and prepare students to graduate ready for college or a career.

Nearly all of the state’s 430,600 students in grades three through eight and 10 took the reading and math tests last fall.

Common Core spawns widespread political fights

More than five years after U.S. governors began a bipartisan effort to set new standards in American schools, the Common Core initiative has morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads establishment voices — such as possible presidential contender Jeb Bush — who hail the standards as a way to improve student performance and, over the long term, competitiveness of American workers.

Many arch-conservatives — tea party heroes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among them — decry the system as a top-down takeover of local schools.

The standards were developed and are being implemented by states, though Common Core opponents argue that President Barack Obama’s administration has encouraged adoption of the standards by various parameters it set for states applying to get lucrative federal education grants.

Tea party-aligned officials and candidates want to delay the standards or abandon them altogether in at least a dozen of the 45 states that adopted some part of the guidelines.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence this week signed the first Common Core repeal to make it through a legislature.

“Common Core is like Obamacare: They passed it before they knew what was in it,” said William Evers, a Hoover Institute research fellow and lead author of a California Republican Party resolution denouncing Common Core.

To a lesser extent, Democrats must deal with some teachers — their unions hold strong influence within the party — who are upset about implementation details.

But it’s the internal GOP debate that’s on display in statehouses, across 2014 campaigns and among 2016 presidential contenders.

The flap continues as students in 36 states and the District of Columbia begin this week taking field tests of new assessments based on the standards, although the real tests won’t be given for another year.

Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, has joined seven colleagues, including Texas’ Cruz, to sponsor a measure that would bar federal financing of any Common Core component. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida isn’t among the eight, but he had already come out against the standards. So has Rick Santorum, a 2012 presidential candidate mulling another run.

On the other end of the spectrum is Bush, the former Florida governor and Rubio’s mentor. “This is a real-world, grown-up approach to a real crisis that we have, and it’s been mired in politics,” Bush said last week in Tennessee, where he joined Republican Gov. Bill Haslam at an event to promote Common Core.

Haslam, who is running for re-election this year, is trying to beat back a repeal effort in the Tennessee Legislature. “These are simply guidelines that say a fourth grader should be learning the same things” regardless of where the student lives, the governor said recently. “Historically, we haven’t been good at setting high standards.”

The National Governors Association and state education superintendents developed Common Core.

Among other things, the framework recommends when students should master certain skills. For example, by the end of fifth grade, a math student should be able to solve complex problems by plotting points on x and y axes. A high school sophomore should be able to analyze text or make written arguments using valid logical reasoning and sufficient evidence.

The issue presents a delicate balancing act for some governors. Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana and Scott Walker’s Wisconsin initially adopted the new standards. Now both men — possible presidential candidates — watch as GOP lawmakers in their states push anti-Common Core bills.

Jindal, who was an NGA member during Common Core’s development, won’t say where he stands on repeal.

“When it comes to specific bills, when they get to the issue of standards, we’ll sit down with the authors and provide our thoughts about it. But in general when it comes to standards, we don’t want to weaken the standards,” he told reporters last week.

Before Wisconsin lawmakers convened, Walker announced support for rethinking Common Core.

Establishment Republicans in Georgia, meanwhile, derailed a repeal effort in favor of a “study commission” empowered only to make recommendations. Alabama GOP leaders have held off a repeal measure, as well.

Immediate political consequences of the disputes aren’t clear. GOP officials and strategists say any fallout for them is dwarfed by Democrats’ struggle with Obama’s health care law. In the meantime, conservative candidates use Common Core as a symbolic rallying cry.

Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr, a long-shot primary challenger to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, insists Common Core “is just one more overreach of a federal government that wants to insert itself into everything.”

An Alabama congressional hopeful, Scott Beason, casts Common Core as liberal indoctrination. In Georgia’s crowded Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Rep. Paul Broun declared in a recent debate, “I want to abolish the Department of Education and get rid of Common Core forever.” His first goal wouldn’t necessarily accomplish the second.

The arguments perplex the politicians most responsible for the plan.

Democratic Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware told The Associated Press that opponents mistakenly equate a coalition from across the nation with a federal government initiative. Markell co-chaired the NGA’s Common Core panel with Republican Sonny Perdue of Georgia.

Perdue, who left office in 2011, said Common Core actually began as a pushback against federal influence because of the No Child Left Behind law, the national education act signed by President George W. Bush. Perdue said it was “embarrassing” for governors of both parties that Congress and the White House pushed higher standards before state leaders.

Perdue attributes the outcry against Common Core to Obama’s backing: “There is enough paranoia coming out of Washington, I can understand how some people would believe these rumors of a ‘federal takeover,’ try as you might to persuade people otherwise. I almost think it was detrimental … for the president to endorse it.”

Evers, who was a top Education Department appointee during the Bush administration, says it’s unfair to reduce opponents’ concerns to partisanship. He notes insufficient training for teachers expected to use new teaching methods, and he criticizes specific components. For example, some math courses are recommended for later grade levels than in standards already adopted in leading states like Massachusetts and California.

States move forward, Evers argued, because of competition. “It’s by emulation and rivalry that we have always seen advances in public education,” he said. National standards, he added, “will close the door on innovation.”