Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
During a recent panel discussion in Madison on covering Gov. Scott Walker, one reporter mentioned speaking to people in other states who say they support his quest for the Presidency because “they think he’s an honest person.”
The audience erupted into laughter. “I was expecting that kind of reaction from this room,” the reporter said.
In fact, a significant number of people in Wisconsin regard their governor as having a tenuous relationship with the truth. And while everybody misspeaks, and not every error is deliberate, Walker does seem to say a lot of things that turn out to not be true. Over the last five years, the truth-testing website PolitiFact Wisconsin has flagged 70 of his statements as being “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire.” And that doesn’t include his broken promises.
Here’s a ten-pack sampling of Walker whoppers:
1. “Wisconsin is broke.” This was the mantra Walker sounded endlessly in 2011, when he was pushing through school funding cuts and extracting significant benefit reductions from public workers while effectively ending their right to collective bargaining.
The problem with that claim is that it wasn’t true, as Shepard Smith of Fox News acknowledged when he said, “to pretend that this is about a fiscal crisis in the state of Wisconsin is malarkey.” PolitiFact Wisconsin, which rated Walker’s claim “False,” explained the underlying rationale: “Walker and other Republicans say the state is broke, so broke that there’s no money, and because there’s no money, they are unwilling to negotiate over the terms of the budget-repair bill.” And they didn’t.
2. Unions made him do it. After using the budget bill to cut public employees’ benefits and strip their bargaining rights, Walker claimed the unions left him no other choice. As he said in a September 2011 fundraising appeal: “I asked the unions to pay into their own health care insurance ... and they said I was being unreasonable. I requested that they contribute toward their own pensions ... and they screamed it was unfair.”
But Walker never “asked” the unions for anything; he simply introduced his bill to get what he wanted. And while the unions certainly did decry this as unfair, they also clearly conveyed their willingness to accept the cuts in exchange for keeping their bargaining rights, an offer Walker refused.
3. Protesters are from out of state or on our side. During the mass protests in early 2011, Walker repeatedly sought to mischaracterize the opposition, at one point saying “almost all” of the tens of thousands of protesters who flocked to the Capitol were from out of state, a claim that was soundly refuted.
Walker also claimed one-third of the 70,000 people who attended demonstrations at the Capitol on Feb 19 were supporters of his plan. Even the organizers of the pro-Walker component put their totals at 8,000 to 10,000, with more credible estimates being in the 3,000 to 5,000 range.
4. No more budget policy or pork. As a candidate for governor in 2010, Walker vowed on his website to break with past practice and “Strip policy and pork projects from the state budget.” He said the must-pass state budget should be about funding essential government services, not “horse trading for special interest groups.”
Walker broke this promise the first chance he got. The “budget repair bill” he used to kneecap unions, unveiled in early 2011, had nine non-fiscal policy items, as identified by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. His first two-year budget, for 2011-13, had 46 purely policy items, including an end to a mandate that insurers cover contraceptives, and 15 pieces of pork—that is, expenditures or breaks with specific beneficiaries.
5. We’ll plug that lobbying loophole. Candidate Walker also vowed to toughen the rules on lobbyists, specifically to require them to “report all attempts to influence state agency decisions regarding the awarding of state contracts and grants and provide real time disclosure of all contracts and grant awards.” At the time, lobbyists in Wisconsin had to report how much they spend trying to influence state law and policy but not their efforts to secure state government contracts.
Guess what? They still don’t have to. The only action Walker took on this front was to remove the promise from his campaign website. A bill introduced by Democrats in 2012 to accomplish Walker’s stated goal was never even given a hearing in the state’s GOP-controlled legislature.
6. Worst. Recovery. Ever. On the first page of the Introduction to his 2013 book, Unintimidated, Walker proclaims: “We are experiencing the worst economic recovery America has ever had.” The statement is backed up by the book’s first footnote, which cites a 2012 Washington Post article.
No, it’s not an article about how the economic recovery under President Obama is the worst the nation ever had. It’s an article about how Republican political operatives were seizing on the fact that CBS Evening News Anchor Scott Pelley made this statement on the air. The article identified ample reason to doubt this claim, which PolitiFact later rated as “False.”
7. Move to ax Wisconsin Idea a simple mistake. Walker’s 2015-17 state budget, unveiled in February, would have eliminated the “Wisconsin Idea” from the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin System. This is the notion that the university has an obligation to spread knowledge and assist in “the search for truth.” Strike-through lines obliterated these words. When the change was discovered and an outcry ensured, Walker tweeted that it was “a drafting error.”
Er, no it wasn’t. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, Walker administration officials insisted on the changes and rebuffed a UW System official who asked that they be taken out. Politifact Wisconsin called the drafting error claim “not only inaccurate, but ridiculous” and rated it as “Pants on Fire.”
8. Bald spot has noble origin. Last October, while running for reelection to his second term as governor, Walker, unprompted by any question, told reporters that his bald spot was the result of an injury he sustained from banging his head on a kitchen cabinet while making repairs requested by his wife
While only Walker’s hair doctor knows for sure, it sure does look as though the hairless portion of his head is simple, non-chivalrous male pattern baldness. But what makes this notable is that, after his decision to share his tale drew brief media mention, Walker chided reporters, “You covered the bald spot in my head more than you’ve covered my opponent.” That statement, by the way, is undeniably a bald-faced lie.
9. Union busting saved teacher. Over the years, Walker has repeatedly told the story of the injustice done to Megan Sampson, who he’s said was in 2010 named “the outstanding teacher of the year in my state” only to be laid off under last-hired, first-fired union rules. He’s argued that his axing of these rules through his state budget bill “keeps great teachers like Ms. Sampson in the classroom.”
First, Sampson was not “teacher of the year” but rather “Outstanding First-Year Teacher,” a fact Walker eventually got right. Second, while Milwaukee Public Schools did send her a layoff notice due to a funding crunch, it soon offered to hire her back. She declined, having found a teaching job elsewhere, no thanks to Walker. Also, for what it’s worth (apparently nothing to Walker), Sampson has spoken of her “hurt that this story is being used to make me the poster child for this political agenda” and has asked that Walker “stop using my story as a political narrative for his campaign.”
10. We weren’t trying to inhibit transparency—honest. Late in the afternoon of July 2, on the cusp of a holiday weekend, Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature unveiled and promptly passed sweeping changes to the state’s open records law. On July 4, amid a whirlwind of backlash from open government advocates, including members of both parties and groups representing a broad ideological spectrum, Walker and the GOP leaders agreed to pull the provisions, announcing in a statement that the changes were “never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way.”
Oh, really? The proposed changes, which Walker’s office had a hand in writing, would have shielded legislative communications, shut down public access to bill drafting files, and allowed the Legislature to shield any record simply by passing a rule or policy. And they would have created a blanket exemption for “deliberative materials” used to make law or public policy, at all levels of government, from the governor’s office to local school boards.
Walker’s comments on transparency were transparently false.