Wisconsin's tight governor's race puts Walker on defensive

Wisconsin governor race
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker arrives to deliver his state of the state address in January 2018 at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. Walker faces Democratic challenger Tony Evers in the November election.
Steve Apps | Wisconsin State Journal via AP

Wisconsin's tight race for governor is putting Republican Gov. Scott Walker on the defensive about his record on education, roads and health care, while his Democratic challenger faces accusations he mismanaged his duties as the state schools chief.

With the Labor Day weekend kicking off the final two months of the campaign, arguments in the race pitting Democrat Tony Evers against Walker, who is seeking a third term, are coalescing just as millions more in television advertising is about to be unleashed.

Walker, in his first race since he dropped out of a short-lived bid for president in September 2015, has at least a 2-to-1 advantage in television ad spending since the Aug. 14 primary. Millions more in spending from both the Republican and Democratic national governors associations, among others, is on the way.

The argument from Walker backers made on the airwaves so far focuses on Evers' job as state superintendent the past nine years. Walker argues he's delivered on his promises to cut taxes, improve education and lower health care costs.

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"Hard-working families want a reformer who delivers results, not an ineffective bureaucrat who sides with unions over children," said Walker spokesman Austin Altenburg. "Scott Walker keeps his promises and has led our state to record low unemployment and historic actual-dollar investments in our schools."

Wisconsin governor race
Tony Evers speaks after winning Wisconsin's Democratic gubernatorial primary election on Aug. 14, 2018 in Madison, Wis. Evers faces incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the November election.
Amber Arnold | Wisconsin State Journal via AP

Evers, in a statement, argued that it's time for a change "after nearly eight years of Scott Walker dividing and conquering, breaking his promises, and putting his political ambitions before us."

Ads from the state Republican Party and Wisconsin chamber of commerce question Evers' ability to lead, targeting salary increases Evers gave employees at the Department of Public Instruction that he runs and his handling of teacher discipline cases.

One ad from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state chamber of commerce, wrongly implies that Evers could have given teachers nearly $400,000 that he instead used for staff raises. Evers doesn't have the authority to divert money earmarked for staff salaries to schools.

The Wisconsin Republican Party has been blasting Evers over cases where he didn't revoke the licenses of teachers who were accused of wrongdoing, including one who viewed pornographic images in the classroom.

Evers argued he didn't have the authority to revoke the license for that behavior, and he later advocated for a law change that gave him the power. Walker and his allies say Evers failed because he didn't even try to revoke the license.

Evers contends he's being attacked over side issues and that voters have other things they're worried about.

"Roads are falling apart, health care costs are soaring, and schools are falling behind," Evers said. "That's why Walker and his special interest allies are running a scorched earth campaign of lies and distortions."

A recent Suffolk University poll conducted for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that the top three issues in the governor's race were the economy, education and health care. Roads and bridges came in seventh, behind taxes, corruption and gun control.

Both that poll and one immediately after the primary by the Marquette University Law School showed the race to be a dead heat.

Walker has strong evidence to back his argument that the state's economy is strong. He's cut taxes by $8 billion and unemployment is at its lowest levels on record, below 3 percent.

Evers made health care the focus of his only television ad to date, faulting Walker for not taking the federal Medicaid expansion and pointing out that the cost of an average health insurance plan sold on the private market this year in Wisconsin was more expensive than in Minnesota.

Walker argues the ad is misleading and health insurance costs will decrease in Wisconsin once a recently approved reinsurance program takes effect.