Former aides give Wisconsin Gov. Walker re-election headache

September 20, 2018

FILE - In this March 29, 2010, file photo, Wisconsin Emergency Management Administrator Ed Wall poses for a photo in Madison, Wis., days before taking over as the state Justice Department's Division of Criminal Investigation. As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker fights for his political life, some of the most devastating attacks aren't coming from Democrats. They're coming from a handful of former top officials from his own administration. Wall is one of three former Walker Cabinet secretaries who have blasted the two-term Republican incumbent publicly. Wall writes in a tell-all book that he was driven to the brink of suicide by the way Walker and others treated him.

MADISON As Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker fights for his political life, some of the most devastating attacks aren't coming from Democrats. They're coming from a handful of former top officials from his own administration.

Three former Walker Cabinet secretaries have blasted the two-term Republican incumbent publicly not through anonymous editorials or off-the-record comments.

Former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall writes in a tell-all book that he was driven to the brink of suicide by the way Walker and others treated him. Former Financial Services Secretary Peter Bildsten said Walker was beholden to special interests and consumed by his political standing. And former Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said Walker isn't telling the truth about road funding.

Even former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, long a supporter, distanced himself from Walker on prison overcrowding. Thompson said he regrets expanding the prison population as governor, even as Walker looks at building yet another prison and making his Democratic opponent's plan to reduce the number of inmates a campaign issue.

"I have never seen a situation like this where there seems to be a building insurrection for a governor running for re-election," said Dale Schultz, a former Republican state senator who spent 32 years in the Legislature. Schultz has been highly critical of Walker and other Republicans since retiring in 2015.

The criticism comes as polls show Walker is in a tight race with Democrat Tony Evers. Walker is seeking a third term after beating back a recall attempt in 2012 and a failed presidential bid in 2016. The race is being closely watched as a signal of GOP strength in Wisconsin after President Donald Trump put the state in the Republican column for the first time since 1984.

For now, Walker is shrugging off the attacks, saying he doesn't think they will be a political liability.

"I don't put yes people around me," Walker told The Associated Press. "I put people who give me a variety of different views and opinions."

Evers is rushing to capitalize on the family feuding. He has already cut two digital ads featuring Wall and Bildsten blasting Walker.

"I just think it is pretty powerful," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a former state lawmaker who has sparred with Walker for years. "Usually if someone does it they're about to switch parties and run for office, or something self-serving. In this case, I don't see that. These are people who are just seeing a wrong direction for Wisconsin. ... Scott Walker's starting to make Donald Trump look competent."

Wall was fired from his job as head of the Corrections Department for asking that a public document be destroyed. He is the most outspoken of the three, and his recent book accused Walker of mismanaging the state's juvenile prisons , which have been under federal investigation for more than three years.

"People need to pay attention to what former administration people are saying," Wall said. "My purpose in writing the book is not grinding an ax but to tell the truth. ... There was a pattern of mistakes and dishonesty going on with this administration you should know about."

Bildsten once was such a Walker believer that he joked at Walker's first Cabinet meeting that he was going to tattoo Walker's promise to create 250,000 jobs on his shoulder. But Bildsten left in 2015 amid what he said was a dramatic shift away from doing what is best for the state toward doing what is best for Walker politically.

"I became very frustrated with the influence of special interests," Bildsten said.

Bildsten, who is semi-retired, said he's voting for Evers.

Gottlieb was a Republican leader in the state Assembly before joining Walker's administration in 2011. He left in 2015 and recently said that Walker was "not truthful" and "increasingly inaccurate" in comments about transportation funding, another hot topic in the race.

Gottlieb chaired a task force that in 2013 recommended considering gas tax increases to help pay for roads, a position that put him at odds with Walker, who has refused to consider the idea without a corresponding cut elsewhere.

Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany derided Gottlieb as a "status-quo secretary in a reform-minded administration."

But Walker, when asked about Gottlieb, said "he served us well" and helped save $600 million on an interstate project in Milwaukee.

"He has his opinion now; he's in a different world than before," Walker said.

Thompson, who was the state's longest-serving governor, in office from 1987 to 2001, said he "would have felt terrible" had he faced the type of internal criticism Walker has experienced. But he also doesn't think it will hurt Walker politically.

"Everything negative has an impact on a race," Thompson said, "but I think it's not something that's lasting."

Walker attacks Evers over union ties as McAuliffe joins fray

MADISON Gov. Scott Walker is attacking his Democratic opponent over his support from labor unions, the day after a poll showed Tony Evers is slightly ahead in the race.

The Walker tweets against Evers comes as former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was to campaign with Evers in Madison on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Evers was joined in Milwaukee by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Walker has been a target for organized labor since 2011 when he eliminated nearly all collective bargaining for public workers. He's followed it up by enacting a host of other anti-union measures, including making Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

Walker questions whether union support for Evers means he is "bought and paid for."

Evers has been hammering Walker on health care and his push to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Police stop black legislative candidate going door-to-door

MADISON A black legislative candidate says she feels humiliated after police in Wisconsin stopped her and questioned her while she was campaigning door-to-door.

The Capital Times reported Wednesday that a man called police in August to report a group of black people were sitting in a silver car in his Madison neighborhood. He said he believed they were waiting for drugs.

The people in the car were Dane County Supervisor Sheila Stubbs' 71-year-old mother and 8-year-old daughter. They were waiting for Stubbs as she knocked on doors to discuss her candidacy for the Legislature. Stubbs went on to win the Democratic primary and is unopposed in November. She'll be the first black woman to represent Dane County in the Legislature.

Stubbs, 46, told the newspaper that she saw a squad car pull up next to her family's vehicle. She explained to police what she was doing, then tried to explain to her daughter what had happened.

Stubbs said she had been in what she says is a predominantly white neighborhood for less than 20 minutes and had knocked on five or six doors.

The report indicates the encounter ended amiably, with Stubbs and her mother handing the officer, Katherine Bland, their cell numbers and offering to help Bland improve race relations.

Still, Stubbs said she had to work hard to prove she was who she said she was. She showed the officer her name tag, her campaign literature and a list of addresses she wanted to approach.

"It was just so degrading," Stubbs said. "It was humiliating. It was insulting. I belong where I choose to go. You don't have to like me. You don't even have to respect me. But I have a right to be places."

Evers says he's looking at higher taxes on the wealthy

MADISON, Wis.  Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers said Thursday he wanted to raise income taxes on the wealthy in order to provide working families a break, feeding into attacks from Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his allies who are warning of tax hikes and economic failure under Evers.

Evers, at a news conference after a speech where he said the state's priorities are "out of whack," said he wants to keep tax increases to a minimum. But Evers also said he wanted taxes to be "shifted a little bit" to benefit working families and "anything is on the table."

"It will be our goal to keep taxes reasonable in the state of Wisconsin," he said. "We want to make sure working people in the state of Wisconsin get a break, but the bottom line is budgeting has always been about priorities. This is no different."

Evers also repeated that all options for road funding, including raising gas taxes, would be considered as part of a plan to bring Republicans and Democrats together. But he rejected the allegation from Walker that he would consider raising the gas tax as much as $1 per gallon, calling it "ridiculous."

"Who the hell would?" Evers said.

Walker has ruled out raising gas taxes without a corresponding tax cut elsewhere.

Evers also supports eliminating a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit Walker signed into law, noting 93 percent of the benefit goes to taxpayers who make more than $250,000 a year.

Walker, through a new television ad , and Republican state lawmakers at a news conference said higher taxes would hurt the state. They also called for Evers to release more details. He has not put forth a plan.

In the ad, his 20th of the campaign, Walker speaks directly to the camera and says: "With all of the attack ads these days, it's easy to forget" positives like lower property taxes, strong schools and that more people are working now than ever.

Walker then goes on to criticize Evers, saying he'll raise property, income and gas taxes and that this "would put our jobs at risk."

Rep. Mark Born, who is on the Legislature's budget committee, said Evers would take the state backward.

"Wisconsin will no longer be open for business under Tony Evers," Born said.

Fellow budget committee member, Sen. Tom Tiffany, said Evers should spell out exactly what taxes he plans to raise.

Evers stressed that he would prioritize Wisconsin-based businesses, not international companies like the Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group that could benefit from more than $4 billion in state and local tax breaks under a deal cut by Walker.

Evers, the state superintendent, also took swipes at Walker in his annual state of education speech, saying "Divisive solutions from Washington and Madison haven't made things better. These policies are failing us."

He proposed an education budget that would raise state aid to schools by 10 percent, a dramatic increase Evers said could be paid for without a property tax hike.

Walker has cut Wisconsin's taxes by about $8 billion since 2011. He is calling for about $200 million in tax breaks in the next state budget, which the Legislature would consider if he is re-elected.

A poll this week showed Evers with a slight lead over Walker. The Nov. 6 election is less than seven weeks away.

Associated Press