Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Started a War Against Teachers - Now Education Could Decide a Key Battleground Election
Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s state superintendent of public instruction announced on Wednesday, August 23 that he plans to run for governor against Scott Walker. In his speech declaring his candidacy, he promised to invest in children, public schools, and the middle class, and declared that he will heal the political divide exploited by Scott Walker and Donald Trump.
"Make no mistake—Donald Trump is using the same playbook Scott Walker has been using in Wisconsin for years to create divisions and pit people against each other,” Evers said in his announcement speech to about seventy-five people at McKee Farms Kids Crossing Dream Park in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.
The setting for his announcement was symbolic of the values Evers’s candidacy represents, he said: a public park where kids of all backgrounds come to play together: “It’s democracy for little kids—I love it.”
“We must be clear: Trump and Walker are not the symptom of our divisions,” Evers added. “They are the cause.”
Evers is optimistic that voters will respond to a better, more community-minded vision if one is presented to them.
He points out that on the same day Wisconsin voted for Trump, majorities in local school districts all over the state (including in Republican areas) voted to raise property taxes on themselves to support their local public schools.
“On the morning of November 9, when you looked at the results of referendum after referendum, they told a completely different story from the election of Donald Trump,” he noted in an interview with The Progressive.
He made a similar point in his speech: “Scott Walker’s policies have forced almost a million people to raise their own taxes in the last three elections. And these are local people—Democrats, independents, and Republicans.”
That’s important because it shows, in Evers’s view, that when it comes to issues where people feel they have a direct stake in their communities—like maintaining their local public schools—voters do not support the Republican slash-and-burn agenda. As Evers puts it, “Local communities get it. Walker doesn’t get it.”
Evers himself has won statewide election three times with big majorities, while fighting Walker’s budget cuts and efforts to expand school vouchers, which further drain resources from public schools. In the last election he won 70 percent of the vote and carried 70 of 72 counties.
His candidacy is all about the core issue of defending public education as an engine of democracy and equal opportunity—an issue that has been at the center of Wisconsin politics throughout the Walker era.
Public school teachers led the massive street demonstrations against Walker’s union-busting Act 10 law in 2011. Weeks later, teachers and parents jammed hearings on school budget cuts and the expansion of Wisconsin’s school-voucher program, which dealt another blow to school funding and left many rural schools on a razor’s edge.
“I oppose Act 10 and I was at the capitol with my teacher colleagues when we protested Act 10,” Evers says. “Once I’m governor, I will treat workers with respect and give them a voice to make our public institutions strong again.”
John Matthews, the former president of the Madison teacher’s union, and a leader of the Act 10 protests, calls Evers “a good Democratic candidate to take out a horrible Republican governor. “
“Tony has done a great job as superintendent of schools,” says Matthews.
Evers is one of several Democratic candidates who have announced their intentions to run in the Democratic primary, including Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin. “Any of the three of them would be a heck of a lot better than what we have,” Matthews said.
Beating Scott Walker, who has access to virtually unlimited campaign moneyfrom rightwing billionaires, including the Koch brothers, outside the state, will be a huge challenge. Walker raised $3.5 million in the first half of 2017, putting him way ahead of all of his potential Democratic challengers. Evers, the only Democratic candidate who has won statewide election, is far ahead of the other Democrats so far in the money race, having raised $437,619 in the first half of the year.
As a lifelong Wisconsinite and a “small-town guy” born in rural Plymouth (“the cheese capital of the world”), Evers distinguishes himself from Democrats who hail from Madison and Milwaukee, suggesting that he is the best candidate to win over the crucial block of disaffected rural voters who supported Walker and helped elect Donald Trump in 2016—the first time Wisconsin went for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan.
“Families and friends are pitted against each other and people are scared,” Evers says. But moving around the state to different communities, he says, he and his family have always felt welcome. “It’s this culture of acceptance . . . not divide and conquer, that is part of what makes Wisconsin special,” he says.
Plus, people have had enough of “divide and conquer” and the general decline of Wisconsin’s schools, roads, and work environment, he adds.
Evers connects the way Walker “raided public education to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations” to the governor’s neglect of state infrastructure, which recently led US News & World Report to rank Wisconsin’s roads 49th out of 50 states.
He derides the governor’s $3 billion Foxconn deal as another corporate giveaway that will not solve the state’s problems or help bring good jobs in the long term: “If we invest in public education—k-12, tech colleges, and the university system—new jobs will come, and they will come without having to write a $3 billion check to a foreign corporation.”
Evers’s entire vision of a fair society grows out of his background in public education. Toward the end of his speech he ran down a list of progressive policy positions, including resisting healthcare cuts (“30 percent of our rural kids are covered by Medicaid”), a strong public sector (Public education is one of the last great equalizers. It creates opportunities for all.”), support for Planned Parenthood, and, to laughter, his belief that climate change is real.
“I’m running because I’ve always believed what’s best for kids translates into what’s best for our communities, best for our economy, and frankly best for our democracy,” he says.
“Scott Walker has failed Wisconsin. Instead of seeking solutions, he’s gone from running for President to defending a President who disgusts and embarrasses many of us. I can beat Scott Walker and bring change from day one.”