Just 15 hours after the polls closed in Tuesday’s primary elections with voters handing Tony Evers a resounding victory in an eight-way Democratic gubernatorial primary, the fall race came to the Chippewa Valley with Gov. Scott Walker stopping in Eau Claire as part of a statewide campaign kickoff tour.
The two-term Republican governor told about 50 supporters gathered Wednesday morning at J&D Manufacturing that he planned to run on his record — Wisconsin’s unemployment rate being at an all-time low, the number of people in the state’s workforce being at an all-time high and K-12 education funding being at a record high in terms of actual dollars — and also proposed several new tax incentives to attempt to ease the state’s worker shortage.
“All around Wisconsin, we have turned things around. ... The choice in this election is pretty clear: Do you want to go forward, or do you want to go backwards?” Walker said, tying Evers to what he described as “the policies that got us in trouble” before Republicans gained total control over state government in 2011.
Democrats gathering Wednesday at the party’s campaign headquarters in Eau Claire offered a vastly different perspective on the race leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.
“What good is a job if you can’t afford health insurance, you can’t send your kid to an excellent public school and you drive on really bad roads on your way to work,” said Democratic 67th Assembly District candidate Wren Keturi of Chippewa Falls, who will face GOP incumbent Rob Summerfield of Bloomer in November. “At this point in time, when the economy is doing so well, we need to be investing in our communities, especially our rural communities.”
Charlene Warner of rural Mondovi, the Democratic candidate in the 93rd Assembly District who will face GOP incumbent Warren Petryk of rural Eau Claire in the Nov. 6 general election, added that stagnant wages have forced many people in that district to work large amounts of overtime or two or three jobs just to pay the rent.
“That’s not really working for us,” she said, echoing the governor’s “Wisconsin is working” campaign slogan.
In response to Walker’s often-repeated claim about education funding being at a record level, 31st Senate District Democratic candidate Jeff Smith of rural Eau Claire said actual funding is at about the same level as 10 years ago — thus not accounting for inflation — after Republicans boosted funding in an election year following large cuts earlier in Walker’s two terms.
Smith will face Republican Mel Pittman of Plum City for the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of rural Alma.
Referring to the previous education cuts, state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, called Walker “the guy who caused the problem in the first place.”
“People are rightfully outraged at what he’s done to education,” said Wachs, who didn’t seek re-election this year because he was running for governor, although he dropped out of the race in June.
Jodi Emerson of Eau Claire won the Democratic primary Tuesday in Wachs’ 91st Assembly District. She will face Republican Echo Reardon of Eau Claire in the general election.
Mark Bauer, owner of CraftTime Buttons in Eau Claire, showed up for the governor’s speech to show support for Walker, who he called a “real down-to-earth guy.” Bauer said he appreciates the governor’s support for small businesses.
Tax breaks proposed
Walker began laying out his workforce-focused agenda for a third term in his speech at J&D, where he called for:
• Connecting students with careers by expanding youth apprenticeships to children in seventh and eighth grades.
• Reducing student loan debt and helping to keep skilled workers in Wisconsin by offering a tax credit of up to $5,000 to college students who live and work in Wisconsin for at least five years after graduation.
• Helping alleviate the financial crunch faced by many elderly residents by providing a tax credit for seniors to stay in their homes.
• Aiding working families by providing a tax credit to ease the burden of child care costs.
Revenue generated by strong economic growth would be enough to pay for the proposed tax breaks, Walker said.
A skeptical Keturi responded, “They are willing to promise everything short of a puppy in order to get re-elected.”
Ad war begins
In some ways, the fall campaign actually started Tuesday night when the state Republican Party launched what it termed an “attack ad” against Evers just as the Democratic nominee was delivering his victory speech.
The ad accuses Evers, the state schools superintendent, of failing to revoke the license of a Middleton-Cross Plains school district teacher who was fired by the school board in 2010 after receiving several pornographic emails on his school computer and sharing one with a co-worker.
“I was one of the ones that called on (Evers) years ago to revoke the license of the porn-watching teacher ... but he didn’t even try to do that,” Walker said when asked about the ad. “This was just pointing out the facts. ... I think that’s a legitimate issue.”
However, the fact-checking publication Politifact Wisconsin deemed a similar claim made a year ago in a state GOP digital ad “mostly false” because it contained only an element of truth. Politifact said Evers had discretion to initiate license revocation proceedings but agreed with an arbitrator that the teacher’s conduct didn’t endanger kids — the standard required by state law at the time.
State Democratic Party spokesman TJ Helmstetter called the ad an act of a “desperate politician” and issued the following statement highlighting the difference in how Evers and Walker responded to the case:
“In 2010, a teacher was fired for watching porn at school. An arbitrator reinstated him, and the courts refused to remove him under the law at the time. What did Tony Evers do? He got to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to pass a law prohibiting teachers who view inappropriate material at school from keeping their licenses, making sure it wouldn’t happen again.
“When a concerned parent asked Scott Walker for help, he declined, and instead he sent her an email saying the issue wasn’t under his ‘jurisdiction’ and that he would ‘recommend contacting your school board members or attending a school board meeting to express your concerns.’ When Walker’s own staffer expressed concern because her child attended the same school, Walker passed the buck yet again. Now, he’s resurfacing attacks against Tony Evers that have already been debunked.
“The contrast is stark: Scott Walker passed the buck, and Tony Evers helped pass a law.”
Wachs said the ad is the latest example of disturbing pattern among GOP candidates.
“Republicans are afraid of the issues,” Wachs said. “All they have are scandalous, unfair attacks.”
For his part, Walker said the left is motivated by anger and hatred and called for Republicans to counter that negative energy with optimism and organization to avoid the potential “blue wave” of Democratic victories this fall he has been warning about for months.
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