For the first time in 70 years, Wisconsin’s next governor will be from Milwaukee County, whether it’s Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker or Milwaukee’s Mayor Tom Barrett who wins the race. The 2010 election is also noteworthy due to the absence of an incumbent governor on the ticket for the first time in 28 years, according to Milwaukee’s Journal-Sentinel.
No polling has been done since the Sept. 14 primary to assess the voters’ inclinations in this race between two familiar faces, but recent pre-primary polling positing a potential contest between these candidates favored Walker (Rasmussen, Aug. 24, +3), according to Real Clear Politics.
An unexpected federal court ruling in Aug. that overturned new federal guidelines expanding stem cell research has taken on unusual significance in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race. With Wisconsin a global leader in stem cell research, the issue has a higher profile than it might otherwise, with the candidates expressing opposing views. Barrett has come out a strong proponent and Walker a firm opponent of the procedure.
Candidate: Scott Walker
Political experience: Walker currently serves as Milwaukee county executive. He was elected in 2002 on a government-reform platform in a special election and re-elected in 2004 and 2008. From 1993 to 2002, Walker was a member of the state assembly where he chaired several committees, according to his website.
Professional experience: Prior to entering politics, Walker worked for IBM and the American Red Cross. He attended Marquette University for three years but dropped out before earning a degree. In an interview with WKOW in April, Walker said had no intention of earning a college degree in the future.
Key issues: Agriculture is responsible for more than 400,000 jobs and $59 billion in economic activity in Wisconsin. Walker advocates tax cuts for family farmers, a pro-industry approach to government regulation and expansion of Wisconsin’s Right to Farm law to give precedence to the interests of farmers over other landowners. He opposes the raiding of targeted agriculture funds to meet budget shortfalls.
Noting that 33 percent of Wisconsin’s fourth graders can’t read at a basic level, Walker favors returning to the basics for elementary education. He would grade schools and employ turnaround contracts for failing schools. This would provide funding linked to sanctions for failure to improve.
Walker would change the government-spending process to eliminate budgeting based on prior allocations. He would also require the use of generally accepted accounting principles to balance the state budget.
On health care, Walker’s platform calls for a market-based system with a single standard of care.
A job for every worker who wants one is Walker’s proposal for economic recovery. He would spur job growth with tax and other fiscal incentives.
Endorsements: It’s too early for post-primary endorsements with the primary tally barely counted. Walker received the pre-primary endorsement of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Chances of winning the seat: While there’s no post-primary polling to rely on, Rasmussen’s pre-primary surveys have consistently shown Walker would beat Barrett in a hypothetical race between them. The most recent two Rasmussen polls show Walker’s likely margin of +3 (Aug. 25) and +8 (Aug. 10).
Election Projection has characterized the race a likely moderate GOP gain, Rasmussen considers it solid GOP, while Real Clear Politics and Cook Political Report place the state in the toss-up category. Rothenberg calls the Wisconsin governor’s race a toss-up with a Republican tilt.
Candidate: Tom Barrett
Political experience: Barrett is Milwaukee’s mayor, a position he was elected to in 2004 and re-elected to in 2008. A career politician, Barrett represented Wisconsin’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2002. According to GovTrak, Barrett sponsored 37 bills between 1993 and 2002, one of which was enacted.
Barrett’s official congressional biography notes that before being elected to national office, Barrett served as state senator from 1989 to 1993 and as state assembly member from 1984 to 1989. In 2002, he was an unsuccessful nominee for the Wisconsin gubernatorial post.
Professional experience: Prior to launching his political career, Barrett was an attorney in private practice for two years and also clerked for U.S. Judge Robert Warren of the Eastern District of Wisconsin for two years. Barrett earned both his bachelor’s and law degrees from University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Key issues: With agriculture an economic mainstay in Wisconsin, Barrett supports enhanced tax credits for dairy and dairy processing facilities, enforcement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture “organic” law, $100,000 Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Association loans to dairy farmers and expanding biomass energy.
To create jobs, Barrett favors tax cuts and other business incentives, centralized economic development responsibility and creation of a state venture capital fund.
Barrett’s education proposals center on changing Wisconsin’s education funding formula to take into account declining enrollments and income levels rather than basing allocations on property values.
On health care, Barrett promises to fight for Wisconsin’s fair share of funding to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He supports stem cell research and biotech investment for their lifesaving potential.
Put Madison on a diet, Barrett says, with respect to fiscal responsibility. He has identified four categories of budget “waste” that would save the state $624.5 million. He calls for sunset reviews of all regulatory agencies, commissions and boards, government staff reductions and a crackdown on Medicaid billing fraud. Barrett estimates his reform package savings at $1.127 billion.
Endorsements: With the polls barely shuttered, it’s premature for post-primary endorsements to be rolling in for either candidate. Among the prominent pre-primary endorsements, Barrett got the nod from both President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Chances of winning: Cook Political Report and Real Clear Politics are rating the Wisconsin gubernatorial race a toss-up, while Rothenberg says it’s tilting Republican and Rasmussen is ready to hand the reins over to Barrett’s Republican opponent.
The most recent polling predates the Sept. 14 primary by almost three weeks and shows Barrett three percentage points behind Walker in what was at that time a hypothetical race between them.
Key differences between Scott Walker and Tom Barrett:
Agriculture: Both candidates have made agriculture a centerpiece of their platforms. Walker would offer farmers tax relief and a hands-off regulatory approach while Barrett would give them tax credits, $100,000 WHEDA loans and stricter enforcement of the USDA “organic” law.
Fiscal responsibility: Both candidates promise to change out-of-control spending. Walker would change the budgeting process to make state agencies justify their primary budget allocations and apply GAAP to the state budget. Barrett would root out waste and apply sunset provisions to government agencies, boards and commissions.
Jobs: Tax policy and fiscal incentives underlie both candidates’ job creation ideas. Barrett would also create a state venture capital fund and centralize state economic responsibility.
Education: Walker advocates a back-to-basics approach and No Child Left Behind-type mandates with funding behind them while Barrett aims to change the education funding formula.
Health care: The Republican candidate wants free-market health care while the Democrat’s primary goal is to attain funding for implementing the nation’s health care reform legislation. Barrett is a strong supporter of stem cell research while Walker, endorsed by Wisconsin Right to Life and Pro-Life Wisconsin during the primary race, opposes it, according to the Lacrosse Tribune.
Demographics: Wisconsin’s 5.7 million population has a median age of 37.9 and is 87.6 percent white, 5.9 percent black, and 2 percent Asian. 4.9 percent of Wisconsin residents of all races describe themselves as Latino. 4.4 percent of the population is foreign born. The percentage of the population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher is 25.5 percent. The percentage of veterans in the population is slightly higher than the national average, 10.5 percent compared to 10.1 percent.
Nearly 70 percent of residents older than 16 were in the labor force as of the 2006 to 2008 Census survey period. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is considerably lower than that of the nation, 7.8 percent as of July 2010 versus the national 9.5 rate for the same period. The median family income in Wisconsin is slightly higher than the national average at $65,268, while the percentage living below the poverty level is 77 percent of the national average.