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EDlection2018: In Wisconsin, Walker Loses Bid for Third Term, Despite Self-Branding as ‘Education Governor’

By Kevin Mahnken | November 7, 2018

Tony Evers (Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

EDlection2018: This is one of several dozen races we’ve analyzed for the 2018 midterms that could go on to influence state or federal education policy. Get the latest headlines delivered straight to your inbox; sign up for The 74 Newsletter.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative star and 2016 presidential contender, was denied his bid for a third term in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has reported. Though his opponent, Democratic State Superintendent Tony Evers, declared victory early Wednesday morning, Walker has still refused to concede.

A batch of late-breaking votes from Milwaukee pushed Evers’s lead over the 1 percent threshold that automatically triggers a recount in Wisconsin, though the Walker campaign has publicly suggested that it would still push for one.

Walker’s seat is perhaps the sweetest prize of all for Democrats, who had lost close races to the governor in 2010, 2012, and 2014. He gained infamy among liberals by moving harshly against public sector unions and imposing significant cuts in education funding in 2011.

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Evers wasn’t considered a shoe-in to defeat one of the Midwest’s singular political talents. He emerged from a crowded Democratic primary largely thanks to high name recognition as one of his party’s few statewide officeholders, and his relaxed campaigning style was thought to present a major drawback against Wisconsin’s highly effective GOP machine.

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Befitting a race matching a state superintendent against the bete noir of teachers unions, the campaign spotlighted major differences between the two men on schools. Evers said he would reverse much of his rival’s signature Act 10 reforms (which stripped public employees of the right to collectively bargain), and inveighed against Walker’s persistent moves to expand statewide and municipal voucher programs. Meanwhile, the governor accused Evers of being slow to act against abusive teachers.

Both candidates touted their intentions to increase public school funding. After passing austerity budgets in the early years of his administration, Walker pushed for a sizable increase in per-pupil spending last year — after which he went to pains to rebrand himself as an “education governor.” Evers set his sights even higher, issuing a formal budget request that would boost inflation-adjusted school dollars to levels not seen since the mid-1990s.


The likelihood of achieving that kind of funding level is slim, however, since Republicans maintained control over both houses of the state legislature. Local political observers have forecasted a stalemate under such a scenario, and the tight nature of Evers’s win doesn’t grant him much of a mandate on education or any other issue.

Still, the governor-elect was ebullient in victory Wednesday morning.

“It’s time for a change,” he said in his victory speech. “The voters of Wisconsin spoke, and they agree: A change is coming to Wisconsin.”

EDlection2018: This is one of several dozen races we’ve analyzed for the 2018 midterms that could go on to influence state or federal education policy. Get the latest headlines delivered straight to your inbox; sign up for The 74 Newsletter.

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