Politics & Policy

Walker’s Opponents Get Personal

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
To unseat the Wisconsin governor, Democrats resort to making stuff up.

IPoor Richard’s Almanack, Benjamin Franklin offers sage advice for handling political opponents: “Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.”

It is advice unheeded by Democratic Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke. When asked to name one good thing about Walker in a recent debate, it was as if Burke had been asked about the health benefits of Ebola. She fumbled around before finally mentioning he had done good work on domestic-violence issues. Asked in a later interview if she had thought of any more positive Walker qualities, Burke ascribed him the ultimate calumny by calling him a “great politician.”

It is Walker, however, who should question Franklin’s sage aphorism, for far from illuminating Walker’s faults, Burke is inventing new ones, facts be damned.

For instance, Burke has been traversing the state telling voters that Walker’s policies have led to a $1.8 billion deficit. This is demonstrably false; Democrats essentially took a brief one-time revenue downtick and extrapolated it over the course of four years, saying the hiccup would extend to 2017.

But that number assumes state revenues wouldn’t grow a dime in the next four years. Heck, why not stretch it out over eight years and call it a $4 billion deficit? Or Burke could warn voters of the impending $1 trillion deficit due around the corner in 4236.

Numbers out just this week blow a hole in the $1.8 billion figure, as revenues from the last three months exceeded expectations by $55 million. Over the course of the year, that would eliminate the Democrats’ imaginary deficit. The state also ended the year with a $519 million surplus. Despite Walker’s signing $2 billion worth of tax cuts into law, the state is now taking in more revenue than it ever has before.

Further, nearly half of the $281 million shortfall reported in September was intentional; Walker unilaterally cranked down the state’s income-tax withholding tables to allow employees to keep more of their money until tax time. Instead of giving the state an interest-free loan, taxpayers would keep more of their money up front and receive a lower refund check in 2015. Thus, much of the “shortfall” isn’t really a shortfall at all; it just won’t be officially pocketed by the state until next year.

But this is campaign season, where facts are often collateral damage. One particularly noxious ad being run against Walker by a PAC called the Greater Wisconsin Committee tries to cash in on the “war on women” meme, accusing Walker of repealing Wisconsin’s “Equal Pay Law.”

This charge, which has been given a “False” rating by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Politifact team, cites the claim that women are paid less “for equal work,” a charge that has been thoroughly dismantled over the past year. Walker actually repealed a 2009 law passed by a Democratic legislature and governor that allowed trial attorneys to collect larger judgments in sexual-discrimination suits. Not surprisingly, the Greater Wisconsin Committee is a front group for the state’s trial attorneys.

(Burke herself actually ran a pro-abortion television ad featuring a woman who had previously been arrested for domestic abuse. If Walker had run a pro-life ad featuring a man arrested for hitting his wife, it would fund a new wing at the Jezebel headquarters.)

In fact, the state’s public-sector unions recently dumped $1.2 million into the Greater Wisconsin Committee to attack Walker. The governor famously made enemies of government unions when in 2011 he all but eliminated their ability to bargain collectively. Burke has promised, if elected, to restore public-union collective bargaining.

Interestingly, Burke has constantly attacked Walker for signing legislation that benefits “special interests,” saying “it should be illegal” for groups to spend money to support a candidate who then acts on legislation in which the group has an interest. In 2011, one pro-mining group spent $700,000 to support Walker and other state senators facing recall elections, and Walker later signed a bill allowing an iron-ore mine in Northern Wisconsin. And despite the fact that Walker had favored the mine all along, Burke has maintained that the money “smelled like pay to play.”

Last week, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board, Burke was asked why the union and pro-abortion money being spent on her campaign this year is different from the mining money spent on Republicans’ behalf in 2011 and 2012.

“There is a big difference between having support of groups that you see have similar values on, or approaches to things, and being supported by those groups,” Burke said. “And then there is things where it is, crosses that line between having some shared approaches to things versus having things where you are actually getting support to do the bidding of those organizations.”

In the same interview, Burke pledged to support public-union collective bargaining, restore the so-called “equal pay” law, and veto any bill restricting abortion past 20 weeks. All these bills are supported by the public unions, trial attorneys, and the pro-abortion EMILY’S List, the three largest current donors to groups running television ads on her behalf.

And thus, while it would seem Burke’s attacks illuminate more of her own faults than Walker’s, polling would indicate her shots are having an effect on the race. According to a Marquette University Law School poll released last week, Walker and Burke are deadlocked in a 47–47 percent tie among likely voters, although Walker holds a 48–45 percent lead among registered voters. (This result runs counter to national polls, which show voter intensity to be much higher among Republicans.)

Walker’s charge in the last two weeks before the election, then, is to persuade voters that the faults laid out by his enemies aren’t actually his, but those of a fictitious candidate who isn’t actually on the ballot.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once suggested that he should be judged by the enemies he made. If Walker is judged by the veracity of the attacks levied by the enemies he’s made, he should emerge victorious on November 4. But in a state that Barack Obama won by 7 percentage points in 2012, Walker still has some persuading to do.

— Christian Schneider is a columnist with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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