Democrats' hope to beat Walker is former teacher

August 16, 2018

Tony Evers speaks after his win in Wisconsin's Democratic gubernatorial primary election during an event at Best Western Premier Park Hotel in Madison, Wis., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018.

MADISON Tony Evers will try to capitalize on his even-keeled demeanor and background in education as a former teacher, superintendent and now state schools chief to do something no Democrat has been able to achieve in 28 years: beat Scott Walker.

Evers, a cancer survivor who refers to himself as the "progressive from Plymouth," won Wisconsin's eight-person Democratic primary Tuesday and immediately finds himself trailing in fundraising and facing an onslaught of television attack ads.

Walker is seeking a third term as governor after returning to Wisconsin following his failed run for president in 2016.

The race will be a test for Democrats trying to reclaim Wisconsin after years of Republican dominance, typified by President Donald Trump's narrow victory in 2016. Walker, who called on fellow Republicans to drop out of the presidential race when he quit to rally against Trump, eventually backed Trump and is now a supporter.

Evers met Wednesday with his lieutenant governor nominee, former state Rep. Mandela Barnes, and promised to keep the race focused on issues he said Walker has neglected as governor, saying he "shredded" Wisconsin values the past eight years.

Evers said he was open to "anything" to improve state state's roads, including tolls and higher gas taxes. Evers also promised to focus on education issues, his specialty.

Walker recently has tried to tout himself as an "education governor," even though his signature legislative achievement in 2011 effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers, and forced them to pay more for health care and benefits.

It so angered teachers that many walked out of their classes to protest at the Capitol and helped organize the ultimately failed effort to recall Walker from office. Evers joined the protests and signed the petition to recall Walker.

Since then, Walker has increased funding for public schools and even Evers praised Walker's last budget, calling it "kid friendly." Evers said he did that because Walker adopted much of what Evers was proposing.

The Wisconsin Republican Party, in an effort to weaken Evers' on education, unleashed a new $500,000 television ad shortly after Evers' victory attacking his handling of a teacher who viewed pornographic material in the classroom, saying he didn't keep children safe. Evers didn't revoke the teacher's license and called the ad "ridiculous."

"It's attack, it's divide and conquer," Evers said of Walker's style. "That doesn't work anymore."

Walker on Wednesday unveiled an outline of third-term priorities without many details. That includes a new $5,000 credit over five years for college graduates who live and work in Wisconsin as a way to reduce college loan debt, a tax credit to help senior citizens afford to live in their homes, and a tax credit to lower child care costs.

Walker also wants to expand apprenticeships available to middle school students and continue a back-to-school sales tax holiday.

Walker, in elected office since 1993, has not lost since his first run for the Wisconsin Assembly as a 22-year-old in 1990, but he's been warning supporters about a pending blue wave if they are complacent.

Democrats are optimistic this year represents the best shot they've ever had at taking out Walker, given recent unexpected electoral successes in the state and a national political climate in a midterm election that typically favors the party not in control.

"I'm almost giddy feeling successful with Evers, that's how much optimism I have," said Madison voter Charlie Campbell, 80, a retired nurse anesthetist.

Walker starts the general election with a huge financial advantage. He had $4.8 million cash on hand in August, while Evers had less than $160,000. But the Democratic Governors Association, which has been working behind the scenes to line up funding and staff for the nominee, has already committed $3.8 million for advertising in the final five weeks of the general election.

A DGA-backed group on Wednesday announced a $1.8 million ad buy, releasing a spot that contrasts Evers as a teacher and superintendent who cares about roads, health care and schools with Walker who is cast as a politician "who only cares about politics."

The Republican Governors Association has reserved $5.7 million over the final nine weeks.

Evers, 66, has deep ties to the state. Born in the tiny town of Plymouth, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a teacher, elementary and high school principal, superintendent and regional administrator before joining the state education department in 2001. He's been state superintendent, an elected position, since 2009.

Evers is a loud opponent of taxpayer-financed private voucher schools, which Walker supports. He also argues for increased funding for public schools and backed adoption of the Common Core academic standards.

Critics say he's not done enough to address Wisconsin's worst-in-the-nation achievement gap between black and white students, is beholden to the status quo and doesn't embrace alternatives like giving parents a taxpayer-funded voucher to send their children to private schools.

He is a survivor of esophageal cancer, which doctors told him he was cured of in 2012 after extensive surgery in 2008 requiring removal of his esophagus and part of his stomach. It's a cancer that few people survive and that Evers has said he thought would kill him.


Broadcasters invite governor, Senate candidates to debates

MADISON, Wis.  The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association is inviting Wisconsin's gubernatorial and Senate candidates to a pair of televised debates in October.

The association on Wednesday invited Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers to an Oct. 5 debate in Madison. The organization also invited Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Republican challenger Leah Vukmir to an Oct. 13 debate in Wausau.

Walker campaign manager Joe Fadness tweeted a statement saying Walker would appear at the gubernatorial debate and challenging Evers to another statewide debate. Evers said Tuesday he would debate Walker every day if Walker wanted.

Baldwin's campaign issued a statement saying Baldwin would appear at the Oct. 13 debate and challenging Vukmir to two additional debates. Vukmir campaign spokesman Mattias Gugel didn't immediately reply to an email.

Turnout in Wisconsin primary highest since 2002

MADISON Turnout in Wisconsin's primary that saw hotly contested races among both Democrats and Republicans is the highest since 2002.

Based on official results, turnout in Tuesday's election was nearly 22.1 percent. That is the highest since 22.5 percent in 2002. That year featured a multi-candidate primary for governor on the Democratic side won by Jim Doyle, while then Gov. Scott McCallum faced nominal Republican opposition.

This year's primary had eight Democrats running for governor, the most in Wisconsin history. State Superintendent Tony Evers won by a wide margin.

There was also a Republican primary for U.S. Senate which state Sen. Leah Vukmir won by about 6 points over Kevin Nicholson.

In total, nearly 994,000 people voted in the primary out of roughly 4.5 million voting-age adults.

Conservative Hagedorn joins Wisconsin Supreme Court race

MADISON, Wis.  Conservative state appeals court Judge Brian Hagedorn, the former chief legal counsel for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, launched his candidacy for Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday, setting up a contest with liberal-backed chief Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer.

Hagedorn is looking to increase conservative control of the court, which currently sits at 4-3. The election in April is to replace retiring liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

This photo provided by Brian Hagedorn shows conservative state appeals court Judge Brian Hagedorn, the former chief legal counsel for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who launched his candidacy for Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018.

Hagedorn, who had been weighing a run for months, serves on the same 2nd District appeals court as Neubauer. Walker appointed Hagedorn to the bench in 2015. Neubauer was appointed by then-Gov. Jim Doyle in 2007.

Hagedorn, in a statement announcing his candidacy, said voters want a justice who will "defend the rule of law, uphold the constitution, and protect the public." He said that "personal political values" have no place on the Supreme Court.

Races for the court have become increasingly partisan over the last decade, including the race this year won by Rebecca Dallet, who ran a campaign ad criticizing President Donald Trump. Another liberal candidate in that primary, Tim Burns, took stands on partisan issues, pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable in a judicial race even further.

Hagedorn, 40, of Oconomowoc, said he's been endorsed by current Supreme Court Justices Rebecca Bradley and Dan Kelly, both conservatives, as well as recently retired Justice Michael Gableman. Hagedorn applied to Walker for a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 2016 but Walker appointed Kelly instead.

Neubauer raised more than $100,000 in June and loaned her campaign $250,000 of her own money. As of June 30, Hagedorn had just $500 cash on hand.

Others who have said they are considering a run are Democratic Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ and conservative Waukesha County Judge Maria Lazar, who formally worked for Republican Attorneys General J.B. Van Hollen and Brad Schimel.


Associated Press