On his 50th birthday, the Wisconsin governor shows that he's in touch with the times.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker turns 50 this Thursday, November 2, 2017. He’s been asking a lot from the people of Wisconsin in the weeks leading up to this significant milestone, from instructing us to “suck lemons” if we’re not pleased with his $3 billion tax incentive for Foxconn, a company with a record of horrific labor abuses, to asking us to elect him as governor again. (To be fair, we’ve been down that road many times.) My dad is also a middle-aged Wisconsin guy who eats the same thing for lunch most days, but on his 50th birthday he just asked everyone to address him as “James” instead of “Jim,” and the Koch brothers weren’t involved in any capacity.
We all celebrate in different ways.
Although he’s getting older, Walker has done a good job of staying current. He’s engaging in the traditions of our new political world, such as just making any vague declaration that is essentially meaningless, putting the word "FACT" in front of it, and expecting people to take it at face value:
So in honor of Walker’s golden jubilee, we took a look at some other political and cultural trends he’s stayed on top of.
The bleakness of late capitalism
Walker actually helped set a lot of the economic trends here that have been celebrated and imitated around the country by GOP-ers and lamented by...well, just about everybody else. Act 10, which decimated bargaining for public-sector unions, put Walker on the map. 2011 Act 219 limited the avenues for employees to challenge alleged wage discrimination. More recently, Walker has been seeking to mandate drug testing for prospective Medicaid recipients and require parents using FoodShare benefits—you know, to feed their children—to work 80 hours per month. Because “the ultimate freedom” is navigating burdensome bureaucratic systems to get benefits you're already entitled to.
The president stole the spotlight on inexplicable merchandise last week with these MAGA Pumpkin hats, but Walker has been ahead of the curve on this one. I’m reminded in particular of when he asked his supporters to buy t-shirts to help pay off the debt from his 2016 presidential campaign and suggested they be used for craft projects, such as pillowcases.
Climate change denial
In a way, I think I can see the impulse to be a climate change denier even if you’re not getting paid for it. Climate change is frightening on an existential level, and it would be easier to bury my head in the sand and pretend it’s not a problem. Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner has certainly embraced that tactic over the years: At the 2012 Heartland Institute International Conference on Climate Change, Sensenbrenner pondered how carbon dioxide could be bad, since it is "a natural gas." "Does this mean that all of us need to put catalytic converters on all our noses?" he asked.
Walker has also been involved with the Koch-funded Heartland Institute, who planned a $612,000 campaign to support him and Act 10 during the 2012 recall elections. However, the Walker administration has sometimes preferred not acknowledging the conversation about climate at all. In 2015, Walker appointed Matt Adamczyk as treasurer of the Board of Commissioners for Public Lands. Adamczyk banned board members from discussing climate change at work, saying it constituted “time theft.” He singled out Tia Nelson in particular, who later resigned her position. “If there’s one agency that’s going to work on global warming and climate change, it shouldn’t be us, it should be the DNR,” said Adamczyk at the time. As of March 2017, all mention of human activity influencing the climate was removed from the DNR’s website.
In November 2015, Walker joined governors around the country who declared, with no legal precedent, that they would not accept Syrian refugees in their state because of “security concerns” based on their national origin. "The State of Wisconsin will not accept new Syrian refugees...Furthermore, I am opposed to recently introduced legislation encouraging the state to accept Syrian refugees in Wisconsin," wrote Walker in his official statement. (Fun fact: Governors can't even do that.)
Defunding Planned Parenthood
A budget measure signed by Governor Walker blocking Medicaid reimbursements for patients served by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin led to the closure of four of the agency's reproductive healthcare clinics in 2011. The closures may have contributed to an outbreak of chlamydia and gonorrhea in Shawano, one of the cities that lost its clinic. (Johnson Creek, Chippewa Falls, and Beaver Dam were the other clinic locations closed as a result of the budget.) The effects of a similar bill signed in 2016 remain to be seen, but could follow the pattern of what happened after this type of legislation was introduced in Texas. Community health center directors and health researchers there have seen thousands lose access to reproductive health care and an increase in unintended pregnancy and STDs.
Earlier this week during a trade mission to Israel, Walker signed an executive order prohibiting state entities from doing business with contractors that participate in a boycott of Israel. "Boycotts based on religion, national origin, ethnicity, or residence are discriminatory," reads the text of the executive order. (See section above titled “Xenophobia.”) With the order, Wisconsin officially joins more than 20 other states that similarly blacklist groups that boycott Israel. Granted, on this one Wisconsin has been overshadowed by the city of Dickinson, Texas, which required residents who sought hurricane relief aid to promise not to boycott Israel. Constitutionally questionable consequences for exercising First Amendment rights are hot in Wisconsin right now, apparently.
Wisconsin has one of the highest numbers of legal restrictions on abortion access of any state in the nation, and many of them have been introduced during Walker’s governorship. (One of the proposed restrictions, a requirement that physicians providing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, was ruled unconstitutional.) These restrictions are burdensome, hazardous to women’s health, and have been connected to poor pregnancy outcomes and increased rates of maternal mortality. Walker has also introduced a law that bans abortion after 20 weeks, a trend that is gathering steam around the country and has recently been proposed at the federal level.
Hot takes on the NFL “take a knee” protests.
In mid-October, Walker unveiled a half-baked petition responding to the NFL players’ protests against police brutality. “My request is simple,” Walker wrote in a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He proposed that NFL players should stop kneeling during the national anthem and instead stand up to respect the troops, and then after standing for the troops, also stand up against domestic violence. “Stand for the American flag and the national anthem out of respect for those who risk their lives for our freedoms, and then take a stand against domestic violence to keep American families safe.” (In late September, Walker said he wouldn’t tell people what they “should or shouldn’t do” during the national anthem.) He fired off a few tweets about his proposal, but returned to his regular gameday activities the following week.
If eating abominations like that all the time hasn’t aged him, maybe nothing will.