Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s embrace of Democratic ideas as he mounts his re-election campaign generated blowback from conservatives Thursday, while his longtime political foes warned voters should focus on his record, not his promises.
Walker’s so-called “Ambitious Agenda” for his eighth year in office includes long-held Democratic initiatives such as removing juvenile offenders from the troubled Lincoln Hills prison, guaranteeing insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, protecting Wisconsin’s popular SeniorCare prescription drug program and bolstering school funding.
As an added election-year sweetener, Walker announced Wednesday that he wants to send every family a $100 check for each child they have living at home under age 18. And he wants the money to show up around the time school starts, which also is the election season.
Some of Walker’s longtime allies on the influential conservative talk radio circuit blasted that idea.
“I love Scott Walker & the reforms he and the WI conservatives have done,” tweeted Jay Weber, a talk show host with WISN-AM in Milwaukee. “But this idea to give a quicky $100 per child tax credit to parents before the election reeks of the type of vote buying & game playing we’ve ripped on dems for doing for 30 years.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, when asked about the negative reaction on talk radio, was non-committal about its chances.
“I think it will be out there and sit in the sun for a couple of days and we’ll see what it does for the momentum of it,” Fitzgerald said Thursday.
Walker went on Twitter to defend the measure, which would be funded from a budget surplus.
“Sending the surplus back to the hard-working taxpayers is a conservative idea,” Walker said. “With our child tax credit, we are making tax cuts and our reforms real.”
Republican Sen. Luther Olsen said he saw the child rebate idea and Walker’s broader agenda embracing some Democratic proposals as a recognition that 2018 will be a tough year for Republicans. Democrats have already scored a surprise upset victory earlier this month in a special election to fill a vacant state Senate seat that had been under Republican control for 17 years.
“If you’re going to run for the third term, you’ve got to show that you’re going to do some things for people and probably open up the treasury, rather than just cutting, cutting, cutting,” Olsen said. “I think that’s the approach he’s taking.”
Democrats say Walker is stealing their best ideas, trying to buy off voters with the child credit and can’t be trusted to remain committed to any of it if he would win re-election.
“You can’t listen to what this governor says, you have to look at what he’s done,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor.
Taylor and other Democrats say Walker has failed in several areas, including improving the condition of Wisconsin’s roads, enacting policies that will stop young people from leaving the state and showing a commitment to school funding beyond the increase he enacted last year.
Olsen said Walker understands the mood of the voters and is responding to it with his agenda that moves more to the center.
“He’s got the burden of Washington and people’s perceptions of Washington,” Olsen said. “He’s swimming upstream because of things that are out of his control.”
Olsen said he expected Walker’s support of some Democratic ideas was in reaction to what his internal polling tells him voters want to hear. He took Walker’s shift in stride.
“People’s concerns change over time and you have to change with them if you’re going to be a leader,” Olsen said. “You have to figure out what their needs are and concerns are and address them.”