Despite calls to stop using her story in his campaign, Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday again cited a Wauwatosa English teacher to make a point about his efforts to roll back public employee unions, in the process misstating the circumstances of her employment.
At the New Hampshire Education Summit, Walker told the story of award-winning teacher Megan Sampson who was laid off by the Milwaukee School District in 2010.
Walker has often used the anecdote to explain why his 2011 legislation to curb collective bargaining for most public employees was needed. Under the district’s union contract’s seniority rules, a good teacher was laid off because she was the last hired, he has said.
But Sampson has publicly called for the governor to stop using the story — most recently in June.
“I do not enjoy being associated with Walker’s political campaign,” Sampson wrote in an email to The Associated Press in June after Walker used her story in an editorial he wrote about education.
And in 2011, Sampson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she was uncomfortable with her name and story being used by Walker as the face of Act 10.
“My opinions about the union have changed over the past eight months, and I am hurt that this story is being used to make me the poster child for this political agenda,” Sampson told the newspaper. “Bottom line: I am trying to do my job, and all this attention is interference and stress for me.”
Sampson did not respond to email and Facebook messages from the State Journal on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for Walker’s campaign did not respond to emails Thursday.
Toward the end of his 45-minute interview at the summit on Wednesday, Walker said the Wauwatosa School District hired Sampson after she was laid off in Milwaukee by using his collective bargaining “reforms” to free up money to hire new teachers.
But Sampson was hired in Wauwatosa in 2010 — before Walker was elected governor and before Act 10 was signed into law.
“The irony of that story I told you before about Megan Sampson is even though she got laid off in Milwaukee, not long after my reforms, the Wauwatosa School District, where my kids grew up in and graduated from, used my reforms and had some room to hire some teachers, and one of the teachers they hired was Megan Sampson,” Walker told moderator Campbell Brown at Wednesday’s summit.
Walker also disclosed that Sampson was his son Alex’s senior year English teacher at Wauwatosa East High School, where his two sons attended.
“I did a parent teacher conference with her and she was everything that you’d think. She was wonderful, never talked a thing about politics or about me, just talked about Alex and how Alex was doing and was exactly the kind of great teacher you’d expect,” he said. Alex Walker graduated in 2013.
Sampson has previously been described by Walker as the state’s “outstanding teacher of the year,” an award that was given to four teachers that year by the Department of Public Instruction but not to Sampson.
Sampson was actually honored with the Nancy Hoefs Memorial Award for the Outstanding First-Year Teacher from the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English, which Walker accurately described on Wednesday.
Michael Wagner, a journalism professor at UW-Madison who specializes in political communication, said Sampson has a right to request Walker stop using her experience to make a political point, but Walker doesn’t have to abide.
“It doesn’t look great for the governor when he has been asked by the central character in a story he tells on the campaign trail to stop telling it, but the number of people aware of Ms. Sampson’s request is pretty small,” Wagner said. “Gov. Walker’s opponents are likely to be more aware of Ms. Sampson’s request than his supporters are.”
Walker also dropped the name of noted Milwaukee educator and civil rights leader Howard Fuller’s during the interview as the kind of person he might consider for Secretary of Education if elected president. Fuller subsequently took to Twitter to distance himself from Walker’s policies.
Wagner said many political candidates regularly mention people they admire or support without asking first.
“Some campaigns make sure people who are going to get mentioned in a stump speech are supportive of the idea, but others don’t,” he said. “Some campaigns even vet the people that are going to be mentioned so that the campaign isn’t embarrassed by some revelation about the subject of a story down the road. And, there are just times when a story pops into someone’s head when answering a question or giving a speech.”