Gov. Scott Walker said Thursday he is considering legislative changes to Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential primary date, which could help his conservative Supreme Court appointee win a full term on the state’s high court.
In his first public comments since last week’s election loss to state Superintendent Tony Evers, Walker chalked up his defeat to massive voter turnout.
“In no way did I see it as a rejection, but rather just a larger electorate than we’ve ever seen in the past,” Walker said.
Walker also said he’s proud that in the wake of several changes he and other Republicans put in place that the state has seen job growth and record low unemployment. Citing the continuing GOP majorities in the state Legislature, Walker vowed “the state of Wisconsin isn’t going to go backwards.”
Walker also suggested the changes he and lawmakers adopted the last eight years may have left them with little more to do.
“We’ve been such reformers, I may have reformed myself out of a job,” Walker said.
Walker also acknowledged he’s looking at possible changes in a year-end lame-duck session that could curtail certain executive powers before Evers takes office.
Walker acknowledged the changes being considered could give lawmakers more appointees to boards for the state Building Commission and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. — which would dilute the influence of the governor’s appointees to those boards.
“Most of what’s likely to come up between now and Jan. 7 is more of a reflection of codifying the practice that we’ve had in the past,” Walker said.
Walker also didn’t mince words with his first comments on a viral photo that drew international condemnation of Baraboo High School students making what appeared to be a Nazi salute.
“I think they’re idiots, simple as that,” Walker said. “Someone tried to brush it off as youthful indiscretion, but still, they’re idiots.”
Talk of moving presidential primary
Walker acknowledged he and GOP legislative leaders have discussed changing the date of the 2020 presidential preference election — but sidestepped questions about whether the move would be related to the state Supreme Court election.
State law now requires both elections be held in the spring election on the first Tuesday in April, which in 2020 would be April 7. The term on the court to which Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly was appointed ends in 2020, meaning that’s when he would stand for election for the first time if he seeks another term.
Because Democrats are likely to have a competitive fight for the 2020 presidential nomination, their voters may turn out at higher rates in the election than Republicans.
Walker said Thursday that he finds it odd that a nonpartisan election, such as the Supreme Court election, would be held on the same date as a partisan election, such as the presidential primary.
Asked repeatedly if talk of moving the presidential vote is about decoupling it from the state Supreme Court election, Walker said, “I’m not talking about it.”
The offices of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, did not immediately respond Thursday to inquiries about whether the GOP legislative leaders are considering moving the presidential primary date.
If the election weren’t moved to the spring primary date on Feb. 18, 2020, the move would create a new statewide election date, which could add costs for state and local officials that administer elections. Asked if he’s concerned about that, Walker said “those are all things we’d have to look at.”
In 2010, when Republicans swept into power while Democrats controlled the governor’s office and Legislature, Walker urged Democrats not to approve state employee union contracts because they could make his job of balancing the budget more difficult. The Assembly passed the contracts anyway, but they were blocked in the Senate when two Democrats who had lost re-election sided with Republicans.
Democratic legislative leaders blasted talk of moving the presidential primary in statements Thursday.
“It’s another corrupt attempt by Republican politicians to rig elections in their favor at taxpayer expense,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.
No interest in Cabinet post
Walker said he hopes Republican and Democratic state senators who oppose a Foxconn-style tax credit deal for paper products company Kimberly-Clark will support a bill that has passed the Assembly and is stalled in the Senate. He said there could be technical changes made to the bill, which would cost $100 million and save as many as 500 jobs.
“If the state fails to act, I believe before the end of this month, those jobs are gone,” Walker said.
Evers won the Nov. 6 election by a narrow margin of about 1.2 percentage points. Walker didn’t address those gathered at an Election Night party in Pewaukee after The Associated Press called the race at 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 7. He called Evers to concede later that day.
Walker, 51, who has held elective office since 1993, has not signaled what he plans to do next.
Walker didn’t rule out another run for office Thursday but said he’d be content if last week’s election were his last. Asked about a federal Cabinet post, Walker said he doesn’t have “much of an interest in going to Washington.”
Four years ago after winning re-election to a second term he began taking major strides toward an ultimately short-lived presidential run. Many observers have said the distraction from governing the state was ultimately one of the factors in his defeat.
Other factors included a national political environment unfavorable to Republicans, a mild-mannered opponent viewed by many as not being a traditional politician, a hard-line conservative record that failed to broaden his base and allegations of agency mismanagement by four of his former secretaries.