Steven Walters: Polls document Walker’s dangerous political year

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Steven Walters
Monday, November 4, 2013

Wisconsin elects its next governor one year from today. Two new statewide polls suggest that, for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the next 12 months could be a remake of the 1982 movie, “The Year of Living Dangerously.”

The gubernatorial election “could become quite a close race” because of the sharp partisanship statewide, said Charles Franklin, director of Marquette University Law School’s new poll.


-- Only 4 percent of respondents in the 800-sample Marquette poll didn’t know about or had no opinion of Walker, whose push to all but eliminate collective bargaining by public employees in 2011 led to a recall election he survived. He’s the only governor in U.S. history to survive a recall vote.

Nationally, it’s “remarkable” for so few voters to offer no opinion on an incumbent governor, Franklin said,

-- The Marquette survey gave Walker a 49 percent-47 percent job approving rating, which was within the poll’s 3.5 percent margin of error.

-- Although 70 percent of Marquette poll respondents didn’t know enough about Mary Burke, the only Democrat now running for governor, to answer the favorable/unfavorable question, Burke finished margin-of-error close—49 percent Walker, 47 percent Burke—to the governor.

-- St. Norbert College’s Wisconsin Survey had similar news: By a 49 percent-46 percent margin, its respondents said Walker does not deserve re-election. That was also within that survey’s 5 percent margin of error.

What’s it all mean?

First, as Walker continues to juggle controversial issues—the Marquette poll found that 41 percent of those surveyed backed the proposed new Kenosha casino, and 38 percent opposed it—he has no political margin of error.

Land-mine issues might keep coming for Walker: How does he respond, for example, if the state Supreme Court invalidates his Act 10 collective bargaining changes? And will Walker pay a political price if more low-income residents lose health care coverage because he turned down federal cash to expand Medicaid?

Second, Burke—or Democratic Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, if she chooses to run and wins a primary election—starts with a bloc of up to 45 percent of “anybody but Walker” voters.

Burke is a former executive at Trek Bicycles, which her father founded. She then served as state Commerce Department secretary for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Last year, she spent $128,000 to win a Madison School Board seat.

For several reasons, Burke is easing into the race for governor: It’s her first statewide campaign. The election is still a year away, so why give Walker’s team so much time to attack any specific promise you make now? And she doesn’t yet know if Vinehout will run, which would change her campaign strategy.

For now, Burke is shoring up her base of Democratic voters by saying only what they expect her to say, and no more.

For example, on women’s reproductive rights, Burke told Progressive magazine Editor Ruth Conniff: “Women should have the freedom to make their own health choices, with their spouse, their physician and according to their religious beliefs.”

But, as governor, would she introduce a bill to repeal the latest anti-abortion laws passed by Republicans and signed into law by Walker, including the requirement for an ultrasound before an abortion?

Burke is against expanding the School Choice program, which gives private schools $6,442 per year to educate up to 500 students (outside of Milwaukee and Racine) this year. Next year, the limit is 1,000 students.

Expanding school choice “is draining resources from public schools and putting them into private schools without any accountability,” she told Duluth TV station WDIO.

What she isn’t yet saying: If elected, would her first state budget repeal the expansion of school choice statewide and put new limits, or even repeal, choice in Milwaukee and Racine?

For now, Burke is only quietly criticizing Walker’s Act 10 changes. Her lack of outrage infuriates union leaders.

“Act 10 left our state divided and weakened,” Burke told The La Crosse Tribune. “As governor, I would have taken a different approach. I believe we could have firmly and fairly negotiated the changes needed to balance the budget but in a way that left our state strengthened and together. … Public employees in our state have the right to collectively bargain.”

What she isn’t saying: As governor, would her first budget repeal Act 10?

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Email stevenscwalters@gmail.com.

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