Some state Assembly Republicans and their backers are touting their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed education cuts in their bids to get re-elected.
Campaign fliers, websites or radio advertisements promoting a handful of Assembly Republicans from across Wisconsin emphasize their opposition to proposals made by Walker — including a proposed cut to K-12 education funding and the state’s SeniorCare program.
It’s the first election cycle for the lawmakers since Walker’s popularity across the state has waned in the wake of his short-lived campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, during which he submitted a state budget that his critics described as a presidential platform and ultimately drew opposition from his own party.
Now, a handful of those lawmakers in districts that could swing back to Democrats are using that opposition to win support from voters.
“Under the current administration, it’s usually been the opposite — most Republicans were waterskiing behind his boat,” Republican strategist Bill McCoshen said of Walker.
But the governor’s job approval ratings have plummeted in the past 18 months, and the public never liked his proposals to cut millions of dollars from the University of Wisconsin System and K-12 schools.
A Marquette Law School Poll in April 2015, after Walker submitted his 2015-17 budget proposal, found 78 percent of respondents opposed his plan to cut $127 million from schools.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who leads Assembly Republican campaign efforts, did not return calls seeking comment.
Across the state
Republicans hold a 63-36 majority in the Assembly. So there’s little chance that Democrats will upend their hold on power.
But in a volatile election year, and with concern that the unpopularity of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump could affect state and local races, some Republicans are touting their willingness to stand independent from what polls show is an unpopular governor.
Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, recently mailed a campaign flier that says she “stood up against the governor’s budget cuts to education.” In the 2014 election, Bernier garnered 53 percent of votes to her opponent’s 47 percent. She faces Democrat Howard White this election.
“Since I was first elected, I have always stood up for what is right for the Chippewa Valley. I’m proud that, on many of our reforms, Governor Walker and I have worked together. But on the last budget, I couldn’t agree with his cuts to the university system and K-12 education,” she said in a statement.
Rep. Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah, lists on her website a number of proposals from Walker that she worked to change — including a proposed $127 million cut to K-12 funding and a $15 million cut to SeniorCare. VanderMeer also beat her 2014 opponent 53-47 percent. She also voted against the budget and faces Democrat Mark Holbrook this year.
VanderMeer didn’t respond to a request for comment.
And the pro-school voucher group American Federation for Children’s political arm paid about $15,000 for a radio advertisement to promote Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign spending. Krug won in 2014 by a 56-44 percentage margin.
In the ad, Krug is touted as a lawmaker who stands “up against party leaders in Madison — like when he voted against Scott Walker’s budget because it didn’t provide enough funding for our local public schools and our university.”
American Federation for Children national spokesman Matt Frendewey said the strategy behind the ad is to “celebrate his independence.”
Krug didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But his opponent, David Gorski, expressed skepticism of Krug’s professed support for public school spending. He noted that American Federation for Children spent thousands on Krug in 2014 and this election and has advocated for the creation of voucher programs at the expense of public schools.
“All of a sudden Krug appears to be anti-Walker,” Gorski said in an email. “Suuure that’s believable.”
In the end, lawmakers rejected Walker’s proposed education cuts and allocated $200 million more to K-12 schools for 2015-17. Bernier, Krug and VanderMeer voted against the budget.
Walker has said that his top priority for the 2017-19 budget, which he’ll unveil early next year, is to boost K-12 spending.