So … Scott Walker is all but officially running for president, and the country is getting a look at a man whom we residents of Wisconsin have been living with since before he became governor. While the national press has focused on the policies and conservative ideology that Walker has imposed on our state, these don’t define the man or explain the mayhem he has caused here.
The massive protests against Walker in 2011 began with “Act 10,” which stripped public employee unions of almost all of their rights and power. Walker loves to leave the story there and depicts ongoing opposition to him as a fight between him and the unions. It’s a narrative that sells well to his donors and to a national press eager for narrative simplicity.
But Act 10 was only a triggering event, not the sole or even primary motivation of Walker’s opponents. While much of the opposition to Walker centers around his policies, there is more to it than that. It is the way he implements these policies, the way he deals with opposition, and the way he rewards his allies that make Walker not just divisive, but frightening. Even conservatives who share Walker’s ideology should distrust him, and dread the prospect of him becoming president.
Why? Here is a brief primer on Scott Walker, drawn from what we have learned about him first-hand here in Wisconsin. These are things that the rest of the country should know in order to avoid learning the same lessons the hard way—on a national and international platform of the presidency.
1. Scott Walker is a liar.
“So what?” you say, “aren’t all politicians liars?” True, but Walker is in a league apart. He lies about so much, even inconsequential things, that it seems almost compulsive.
His recent lies explaining how “searching for truth” and other aspects of the “Wisconsin Idea” came to be stricken from his rewrite of the University of Wisconsin mission statement were astounding enough to draw rebuke from the New York Times editorial board, but such lies compose a large part of almost all of Walker’s public statements.
Like most politicians, Walker lies when it is politically convenient to do so; unlike most politicians, Walker lies when the truth is already firmly established, such as when he claims that Wisconsin has a budget surplus (it doesn’t), or that he never considered planting agents provocateurs among the demonstrators (he did). For Walker, deceit is not only a tool; it is an end in itself, his default mode. Walker even lies about things that have no obvious political angle, like the date of the births of his sons and how he got his bald spot.
Walker’s lies often take the form of self-aggrandizing fantasy, a large helping of which he served up in his ironically titled [for someone who almost never appears in public] ghost-written political autobiography, Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge. In it, for example, Walker recounts how during the peak of the 2011 protests, a mob surrounded his car and tried to tip it over. This incident never happened, at least not to Walker, though Walker’s story bears a remarkable similarity to a 1958 attack on Richard Nixon’s car in Venezuela.
2. Scott Walker is astoundingly corrupt, even by current political standards.
He is so corrupt the corruption itself gives him cover, because an objective description of it sounds like a hyperbolic screed, leading to an “Oh, come on, he can’t be as bad as all that” from people who don’t know his history.
He IS that bad. Here’s his tea party brag that shows he’s more extreme than conservative. During the past few years, the fact that he has not yet actually been indicted for a crime is the strongest defense of his character that his supporters have been able to mount.
Walker’s reputation for political cunning, reflected in the oft-repeated warnings to not underestimate him, derives from his lack of moral restraint and his willingness to do anything to get what he wants, rather than from any tactical brilliance or deep understanding of people. It’s “the ends justify the means” on steroids. This, combined with the ineptitude of the Wisconsin Democrats and the Wisconsin press, answers an obvious question about Walker: How could someone of such mediocre abilities be so successful?
Walker’s known political career began in 1988, when he ran for president of the Associated Students of Marquette University. He didn’t win, but he was found guilty of violating campaign rules. After trying to lie his way out of it, he was forced to admit the truth of the charges. The Marquette Tribune ran an editorial before the election declaring that Walker was “unfit for presidency.” Like much of Walker’s past, the details of why he left Marquette before graduating are secrets.
It may seem petty to bring up an incident from so long ago, but Walker has continued to show the pattern he revealed at Marquette in every job he has held since about which there is any public information. His lies about the “Wisconsin Idea” and getting caught in them prove he has not changed. In fact, past and ongoing criminal investigations into Walker’s administrations, both as Milwaukee County executive and as governor, have resulted in multiple felony convictions of close Walker associates, and charges ranging from misuse of county resources for political purposes, to embezzling funds raised to help wives and children of veterans, to child enticement.
Among the felons is Tim Russell, Walker’s political mentor from shortly after he left Marquette, and one of the very few people who can be identified as a personal friend of Walker. Walker himself so far has escaped indictment, but public records of the investigation, some accidentally released, leave little doubt that Walker knew about and used (and perhaps continues to use) an illegal in-house email system to illegally coordinate his public offices with his political campaigns, and to evade open records laws. The latest criminal probe has identified Walker as part of a “criminal scheme” to evade campaign finance laws by arranging to have donations to his recall election laundered through Koch-funded super PACs.
But lies and corruption are not the end of the story. They merely set the stage for what is truly frightening about a possible Walker presidency.
3. Walker does not tolerate opposition.
This applies not only to opposition from other politicians (although it certainly applies to them, too—see the fate of Mike Ellis) but to everyone. Suppression of dissent through intimidation is one of the chief features of the Walker governorship, and a main source of the fear and discord Walker has inflicted on his state.
Walker uses the power of his office to punish opponents. His administration ordered unconstitutional mass arrests of peaceful political dissidents in the Wisconsin State Capitol. In the state legislature, which Walker controls, laws have been introduced to eliminate the ability of local governments to block industrial projects of Walker’s donors, to eliminate independent government oversight panels, to eliminate the office of Secretary of State (currently held by Douglas La Follette, a staunch opponent), to remove the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, who has sided against Walker in several cases.
But much of the dirty work of intimidation is carried out by a network of right-wing groups that operate with a wink and nod from the administration, allied with unscrupulous legislators, Koch-funded lobbyists, and new right-wing media outlets set up by out-of-state billionaires. The most obvious of these intimidation efforts is a digitized, searchable online database of the one million people who signed a petition demanding Walker’s recall. The barely unstated purpose of this list is to keep petition signers from being hired by pro-Walker businesses. Walker himself withdrew the student representative nominee for the Board of Regents because his name appeared on the list.
People who do not limit their dissent to petition signing can expect harsher treatment. Opponents of Walker’s mine deregulation legislation, crafted specifically to allow Florida billionaire Chris Cline to open an iron mine in northern Wisconsin (and Walker’s one and only “jobs initiative”) have been attacked openly in right-wing outlets like the Bradley-funded “Media Trackers,” and behind the scenes by state legislators. Mine opponents have had their jobs threatened, sometimes with success. Many have received death threats.
4. Under Walker, Wisconsin literally has become a lawless state.
The state has become a playground for the Walker regime and its supporters, and a dangerous place for the rest of us. State agencies, most notably the Departments of Justice, Administration, and Natural Resources are fully under the control of Walker and his minions. Scientists and professionals have been replaced by political cronies who know nothing about the jobs they are supposed to do.
Ultimately, corruption and intimidation are unchecked in Wisconsin for two reasons: the State Supreme Court and the Wisconsin press. The State Supreme Court is controlled by four ethically challenged Walker allies who barely even pretend to be honest, and who Walker and his friends can count on to make problems go away.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin press has mostly been asleep. A few articles describe each new revelation of Walker’s deceit or corruption, with follow-up articles giving Walker’s explanation, and there the matter is left. Walker is almost never asked difficult questions or pressed to explain his often incoherent answers. Thus Walker’s friends can openly violate the law with little fear of either prosecution or sustained scrutiny. When Chris Cline, in clear violation of state law, sent heavily armed and unlicensed mercenaries to his proposed mining site in the Penokee Mountains, a publicity stunt designed to raise the specter of “eco-terrorism,” no charges were ever filed and press coverage of the story quickly vanished.
The mysterious late “discovery” of 14,000 votes in Waukesha County, which swung a State Supreme Court election to Walker ally David Prosser and thereby maintained Walker’s control over the court, has never been adequately investigated, despite hundreds of suspicious irregularities and serious evidence of ballot tampering discovered during the state-mandated recount. The Government Accountability Board, the state agency that should have investigated this evidence, did not even look at it before certifying the election results.
The press accepted the results without question and never reported on the evidence of fraud. Illegal campaign donations, physical attacks on Walker opponents circulating recall petitions, online threats by pro-Walker groups such as “Knot my Wisconsin” and “Operation Burn Notice” have all gone unpunished and largely unreported.
Scott Walker has damaged the legal and political system of Wisconsin so badly that it may never recover. His house of cards is collapsing and even the state GOP knows it. It is only because Wisconsin is just a state within a larger country, and not an independent country on its own, that it has not descended into totalitarian dictatorship. Scott Walker does not scorn moral constraints on his actions. Rather, he seems to not comprehend such constraints. Walker’s only limit is the limit of his power, and it is this limit that Walker wants to eliminate by becoming president.