Gov. Scott Walker sent a letter Thursday to his Democratic opponent Tony Evers taking him to task over seven instances of plagiarism in budget requests that Evers submitted as the head of Wisconsin’s education department.
Walker has been trying to emphasize the plagiarism issue in the final weeks of the campaign that polls show is a dead heat. His letter came on the same day that one of Walker’s former Cabinet secretaries, who has been outspoken against Walker for months, wrote an op-ed in The Atlantic blasting the Republican incumbent.
Evers dismissed Walker’s letter as a sign of desperation.
“He’s just trying to be the typical politician that’s afraid to talk about his record on transportation, issues of education, health care,” Evers said after a speech to the League of Wisconsin Municipalities in Wisconsin Dells. “He’ll do anything, and this is one of those anythings.”
Walker’s campaign found seven sections of budget requests submitted by the state Department of Public Instruction, which Evers runs, where material was copied from other sources without credit. Four were from the most recent budget, while three others came from budgets dating back to 2012.
Evers said the source of the material in question should have been cited in the budgets and the staff responsible would be admonished and required to undergo training.
“That’s the story. It’s no bigger than that,” Evers said Thursday. “I’m sorry that Scott Walker has to keep talking about this. Sorry for him.”
He also downplayed the issue in a debate with Walker last week, saying Walker plagiarized Evers’ budget request by passing the bulk of it and then claiming it as his own.
In his letter to Evers, Walker noted that the education department website declares that plagiarism is “illegal.” Although plagiarism isn’t a crime, it can be a copyright infringement.
“Since your own agency considers plagiarism ‘illegal,’ I ask that you issue a public statement explaining to the students of this state why, at the very least, you shouldn’t be held to the same standard that they are in the classroom,” Walker wrote.
Other than writing such a letter, it wasn’t clear what punishment Walker expected Evers to give himself. Walker’s campaign did not immediately respond to a question on that point. Evers campaign spokesman Sam Lau said Walker was trying to distract from Evers’ call that the governor end a lawsuit seeking repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Evers has promised to pull Wisconsin from that lawsuit on his first day in office.
Earlier Thursday, Walker equated plagiarism in the Evers budget requests with former Vice President Joe Biden plagiarizing a speech from a British politician during his 1988 presidential run. Biden will campaign Tuesday in Wisconsin with Evers.
On Wednesday, Evers told the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board that he dealt with the plagiarism issue the same way he would deal with a student who plagiarized — by explaining what the person did wrong and warning that it shouldn’t happen again, rather than expulsion.
Also Thursday, Walker’s former Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Peter Bildsten wrote a scathing op-ed in The Atlantic saying his former boss “wanted to do right by Wisconsin when he was first elected governor — or so it seemed to me.”
“But the longer he was in office, and the more public attention came his way, the more he changed his focus from improving the lot of the people of his state to improving his standing with the Republican Party,” Bildsten wrote. “In so doing, he made decisions that were bad for Wisconsin and — if the latest polls are right — ultimately bad for his political aspirations as well.”
Bildsten is one of three former Walker secretaries who wrote an op-ed to the Wisconsin State Journal last week criticizing the governor.
A Marquette Law School Poll released earlier this month showed Walker up on Evers by one point, within the margin of error, while other polls have showed Evers ahead. The final Marquette poll of this election cycle is set to be released on Halloween, less than a week before the Nov. 6 election.