By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker dominated the political news in Wisconsin this year, even without a recall election or 100,000 people protesting outside his window.
Walker fueled talks of a presidential run with the release of his book “Unintimidated,” drew Democrats’ ire by rejecting a federal Medicaid expansion and kept proponents of a massive new casino in Kenosha guessing about whether he’d sign off on it. He hasn’t yet.
Walker also got an opponent in his 2014 re-election efforts — Democrat Mary Burke. Her father started one of the state’s most famous companies, bicycle-maker Trek, but her only political experience is serving on Madison’s school board.
A secret investigation into former Walker aides and allies closed in February with no charges against the governor, but in October a new probe into Walker’s campaign and conservative groups came to light. The Republican governor has stayed mum, saying secrecy requirements surrounding the John Doe proceedings prevent him from commenting.
Walker did plenty of talking touting his book, which recounted the 2011 fight over union rights that spurred the protests and led to his recall election in 2012. Walker’s high profile and his refusal to commit to serving a full term if re-elected stirred talks of a 2016 presidential run.
Another Wisconsin Republican — Rep. Paul Ryan — also is considered a possible presidential contender. Unlike Walker, Ryan kept a low profile for much of the year. But after a partial federal government shutdown, Ryan helped hammer out a budget deal with Democrats, putting him back in the spotlight and on the radar for 2016.
“Walker’s continued expansion of a national presence is the striking thing,” said Charles Franklin, a Marquette Law School professor and expert on state politics. “(Ryan has) really emerged as a pivotal figure in the current budget deal. In that sense, I think both of them, with somewhat different timing, have ended the year back on the national stage.”
But the GOP stars weren’t the only ones making news.
University of Wisconsin President Kevin Reilly announced he was retiring after Republican lawmakers outraged over the UW system’s $650 million reserve froze tuition for two years. The university accumulated the reserve, which included $414 million in surplus tuition, while raising tuition year after year.
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced in October that he wouldn’t seek a third term, leaving everyone guessing as to his next move. The 47-year-old said in December that he’s not shutting out a possible run for Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2015, but he’s not interested in running for governor or U.S. Senate.
While Van Hollen was on his way out, two other incumbents stayed put. Justice Pat Roggensack and state superintendent Tony Evers easily won re-election in the spring.
The state’s highest court heard arguments in November on the constitutionality of major parts of Walker’s union law, but didn’t make a decision. That will likely come in 2014.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a number of Walker’s priorities, including property and income tax cuts and a state budget that expanded the private school voucher program statewide. It also backed Walker’s decision to reject federal funding to expand Medicaid and instead tighten income eligibility for the program.
The governor also refused to have Wisconsin create its own online exchange where subsidized health insurance plans are for sale, sending residents to the federal website to buy policies.
Perhaps the biggest political battle was over whether to loosen environmental laws and regulations to make it easier for a 4 1/2-mile-long open pit iron ore mine to open in northern Wisconsin not far from Lake Superior. Environmentalists, tribal members who live nearby, Democrats and a couple sympathetic Republicans were unable to stop the bill from passing and being signed into law by Walker.
Even so, expected lawsuits could delay the mine’s opening for years.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond also contributed to this report.