Democrat Tony Evers ousted Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday, denying the polarizing Republican and one-time presidential candidate a third term and succeeding where his party had failed in three previous attempts, including a 2012 recall.
Evers’ victory is a monumental win for Democrats and a steep fall for Walker, who just three years ago was seen as an early front-runner in the GOP primary for president. When Walker dropped out of the presidential race, he focused on rebuilding his low approval ratings in Wisconsin.
Walker had promised if he won the third term would have been his last, but voters decided that two was enough.
Evers, 67, a former teacher and state superintendent since 2009, used his folksy, nondescript personality to his advantage in the campaign, using words like “jeepers” and “holy mackerel” while arguing that voters were tired of divisiveness and yearned for more collegial politics.
The win gives Democrats a boost after President Donald Trump narrowly carried Wisconsin by less than 1 point in 2016. It also puts Evers in position to dismantle much of what Walker and Republicans did over the past eight years, including rolling back portions of the law that effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers.
Democratic voters were ecstatic about ousting Walker.
“Tony Evers provides us with a new direction that a lot of people want to go,” said Danielle Moehring, 27, a scientist from Madison.
Moehring said she thought anger over Trump was motivating people to “come out of the woodwork,” get involved and vote.
Ellen Martin, a 67-year-old retired occupational therapist from Madison, said she voted for Evers because he will “save our state, especially the environment, education.”
Martin said she thought voters in Wisconsin were tired of Walker after eight years in office.
“I never liked him,” Martin said. “He’s shamed our state, embarrassed our state, ruined our politics.”
Evers, a cancer survivor, campaigned on supporting the national health care law and its guarantees of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. He also promised to cut middle class taxes by 10 percent, paid for by all-but repealing a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit program Walker enacted. Evers is also open to raising the gas tax to pay for road repair and construction, although he hasn’t released a specific plan.
Walker, the 51-year-old son of a Baptist preacher, swept into office in 2010, part of a Republican wave that saw the GOP take over control of the state Legislature as well. With Republican partners in the Statehouse, Walker pushed through a law that effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers and most public workers.
Anger over that law led to the failed 2012 recall election. Walker’s stature among conservatives and national profile skyrocketed after the union fight and the passage of a host of Republican priorities, including making Wisconsin a right-to-work state; cutting taxes by $8 billion; implementing a voter ID law; expanding the private school voucher program statewide; freezing tuition at the University of Wisconsin; rejecting federal Medicaid expansion money under the Affordable Care Act; and restricting access to abortion.
Walker ran for president in 2015, but dropped out before any votes were cast, out of money and down in the polls. His voter approval rating in Wisconsin dropped to its lowest levels.
Last year, working closely with the Trump administration, Walker signed a deal with Taiwan-based Foxconn to build a display screen factory in the state that could result in $10 billion in investments and 13,000 jobs. He’s pointed to that as signs of the state’s economic recovery.
Evers wants to renegotiate the deal, saying the potential $4 billion in state and local tax breaks for the Taiwan-based company is too much. Evers has also vowed, on his first day in office, to withdraw Wisconsin from a federal lawsuit seeking repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
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