RACINE — In January 2006, a relatively unknown county executive from Milwaukee made 45 stops across the state in a week as he embarked on his first campaign for governor.
One of those stops was a visit to The Journal Times Editorial Board. Scott Walker admitted he didn’t have all the details of his agenda worked out yet, according to a report of the visit, but he underlined some themes — smaller government, lower taxes — that would soon become familiar to Wisconsin residents.
Walker visited The Journal Times a few more times over the years — at the beginning of his successful run for governor in 2010 and at the end of 2012, his recall-winning year that pushed him further onto the national stage.
A look back at reports from those meetings shows some ideas that didn’t pan out and some foreshadowed what was to come from one of the probable Republican front-runners in the race to capture the party’s nomination for the 2016 presidential election.
Hits and misses
Even in his first run for governor, Walker emphasized lower taxes, telling the editorial board he would call a special Legislative session to enact a property tax freeze.
He continued that emphasis as governor, signing nearly $2 billion worth of tax cuts into law.
“Holding down spending and holding down property taxes was the theme then as it has persisted into his gubernatorial period,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School poll.
Walker’s signature piece of legislation — Act 10, which effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees — was not specifically mentioned during his first campaign.
But perhaps Walker foreshadowed that something major could come along in a 2010 meeting with the Editorial Board, as he talked about his philosophy of shrinking government.
“It makes sense to maintain public safety, as public employees,” Walker said.
“But just about anything else in my mind is fair game.”
On the flip side, Walker floated several policy ideas that never came to fruition.
Instead of emphasizing photo identification for voting, which eventually became law after a drawn-out court battle, Walker in 2006 pushed repealing same-day voter registration. He abandoned efforts to repeal same-day voter registration in 2012, citing a reported $5.2 million cost.
Walker also told the editorial board in 2006 he would not accept campaign contributions until the next state budget was passed and signed. He did not make the same promise in 2010 and later accepted contributions during the following state budget period, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report found.
In the 2010 editorial board meeting, Walker said he wanted to beef up the state’s transportation fund to pay for mass transit in Wisconsin. As governor, Walker has proposed shifting transit funding out of the state Department of Transportation budget and in his first budget called for a 10 percent cut in transit funding.
There was also his well-documented promise of 250,000 jobs in his first term. He stood by it in a 2012 editorial board meeting, acknowledging he may come up short — the state ended up with only about half that number of jobs — but saying “we thought it was a very needed and ambitious goal.”
And one of the biggest examples of how far he has come since his first run was a comment made in 2006, when he called then-Gov. Jim Doyle’s promise to spend $10 million to $12 million on his re-election campaign “absurd.”
Walker has since developed into a prolific fundraiser, shattering fundraising records when relaxed restrictions on contributions allowed his campaign to spend a reported $36.1 million in the 2012 recall.
More changes recently
While not everything went according to plan, experts say Walker’s early introductions to Wisconsin voters showed what was to come.
“In general, I think Governor Walker has been very consistent in terms of supporting individual economic freedom, social conservatism and a willingness to take on things liberals hold most dear,” said Michael Wagner, a University of Wisconsin-Madison journalism professor and political scientist.
His 2006 run for governor was an indicator of how strategic Walker is, said Dennis Dresang, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor emeritus of public affairs and political science.
When it became apparent he would not be the Republicans’ nominee, Walker bowed out of the race, earning him respect from other Republicans and laying the groundwork for his successful 2010 run.
“Aggressively going after the nomination would alienate people down the road,” said Dresang, who has been critical of Walker and signed a recall petition. “He’s, frankly, very smart strategically.”
His biggest shifts have come recently. In the run-up to his all-but-official presidential campaign, Walker has shifted on issues such as immigration and changed his rhetoric on other issues like abortion and right-to-work, Franklin said.
That speaks to a changing voter group, he said.
“It’s more a presidential constituency that you have to appeal to,” Franklin said. “The completely obvious consistency is Iowa Republican caucus goers. But Republican primary and caucus voters nationwide are certainly a much more conservative group than the state of Wisconsin’s general electorate.”
Our American Revival, Walker’s political group that’s raising money for his likely presidential bid, did not provide a requested comment before deadline.