Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will face the state's top education official on the November ballot.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers won the state's Democratic gubernatorial primary with at least 40 percent of the vote at the time it was called, emerging from an eight-person field that included the longtime mayor of Madison, the head of the state's firefighters union and a political activist who refused to become a member of the Democratic Party.
In a victory speech delivered to supporters just across the street from the state Capitol, Evers pledged to stand up to President Donald Trump, work across the aisle to reach a longterm transportation solution, accept the federal Medicaid expansion and invest in education.
"Our kids' future and our state's future is on the line," Evers said Tuesday night. "I will work day in and day out and I will fight like hell."
Evers, 66, will be backed on the ballot by former state Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, who defeated Sheboygan businessman Kurt Kober by at least 38 points.
Evers launched his campaign last year, just a few months after decisively winning re-election to a third term as superintendent of schools. He has said throughout the course of his campaign that he had never considered running for governor until his April 2017 re-election win.
Asked how his campaign will be different from unsuccessful efforts to defeat Walker in 2010, 2012 and 2014 by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Madison businesswoman Mary Burke, Evers told reporters he's focused on offering a positive vision.
"It’s not going to be all about putting Scott Walker in a box and telling everybody he’s a horrible man. We’re going to hold him accountable for what he’s done wrong, but this race is going to be about things — people in Wisconsin want to return to their roots," Evers said. "It’s going to be about compassion, it’s going to be about kindness, it’s going to be about the issues people think are important. That’s what’s different this time. We’re going to have a positive vision for the future. People know it’s time for a change."
When he announced his gubernatorial bid, Evers said Walker has failed to adequately invest in public education at every level, failed to strengthen the middle class and engaged in divide-and-conquer style politics since he first took office.
In his speech on Tuesday, Evers pledged to make "the largest investment in early childhood education that our state has ever seen," to restore the state's commitment to funding two-thirds of school districts' costs, to increase special education funding by $600 million and to fire the entire University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.
"Scott Walker, believe it or not, has been going around boasting that he's 'the education governor.' No way. Well, sure he is," Evers said. "Walker educated us on how to increase health care costs. And he educated us that cuts to public schools hurt our kids. He also educated us that he'd rather play politics than fix our roads. And Walker educated us that he has no clue how to help Wisconsin families. I don't know about you, folks, but I've had enough of Scott Walker's education."
Voters can expect the education debate to continue as Walker and Evers wrestle their way toward the Nov. 6 general election.
Walker in June started branding himself as "the pro-education governor," a claim he bolstered with two TV ads featuring teachers praising his K-12 education record. Evers has called Walker's claim "a joke."
In his role as state superintendent, Evers initially praised Walker's 2017-19 budget proposal, which included a $639 million boost for K-12 schools, as a "pro-kid budget." But he has argued Walker adopted his own proposals for education spending after "slashing and burning public education for three budgets."
A Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman said Tuesday the party will spend at least $500,000 to air a statewide TV ad attacking Evers for a 2009 case involving a middle school teacher who viewed sexually explicit images on his school computer.
"Despite calls from parents and school officials, Tony Evers sided with the union and refused to revoke the teacher’s license," the ad's narrator says. "As Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Evers is supposed to keep our children safe. But he didn't."
The Department of Public Instruction and Evers did not revoke the license of Middleton-Cross Plains middle school science teacher Andrew Harris after he viewed the images, and Harris was rehired by the district in 2014. Evers and DPI employees have argued that state law at the time did not allow the agency to revoke the teacher's license.
Under state law, a teacher's license can be revoked for immoral conduct that has a nexus to children. In 2011, lawmakers and Evers worked to add viewing pornography on a school computer to the classification of immoral conduct.
No ad buys on Evers' behalf have been announced yet, but the Democratic Party of Wisconsin announced that he and Barnes will kick off the general election campaign by touring the state on Wednesday, with stops planned in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison, Stevens Point and La Crosse.
The Democratic Governors Association has been working throughout the race to prepare a network of donors and a general election campaign framework for the winner of the primary. DGA chairman Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said the organization sees Wisconsin "as one of our major pickup opportunities this fall."
Before he was elected to head the state Department of Public Instruction, Evers served for eight years as deputy superintendent of schools. He grew up in Plymouth and worked as a science teacher, high school principal and district superintendent in Baraboo, Tomah, Oakfield and Verona.
Two Marquette University Law School polls released over the course of the summer showed Evers leading the eight-person Democratic primary field, and an NBC News/Marist Poll released last month showed him leading Walker by 13 points in a hypothetical match-up.
As of 10 p.m., Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell was in second place, with 18 percent of the vote, followed by former state Rep. Kelda Roys, with 14 percent. Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who earned 5 percent of the vote, attended Evers' party.