By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — As the Democratic candidate for governor Tony Evers was looking ahead to leading Wisconsin with a Republican-controlled Legislature, the ousted Republican Gov. Scott Walker conceded the state’s closest governor’s race in more than half a century.
Evers’ triumph, coupled with an apparent victory by the Democratic attorney general candidate Josh Kaul in a race too close to call, realigns the political situation in Wisconsin following eight years of Republican control. Unions, long at odds with Walker over his repeal of the state’s prevailing-wage laws and adoption of a right-to-work law and the Act 10 law that greatly curtailed public employees’ collective-bargaining rights, were quick to cheer for Evers.
Terry McGowan, president and business manager of Local 139 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, the largest construction union in the state, said: “We are elated to have fresh leadership in governor-elect Evers who from the very start of his campaign recognized the value of fixing this state’s roads and bridges, putting people to work and strengthening Wisconsin’s economy.”
McGowan, a one-time supporter of Walker’s, was the main figure behind a push to tie the Republican governor to the deteriorating condition of some of the state’s roads. Named “Scott-Holes” and run by a group called Safe Transportation Over Politics, or STOP, the campaign used billboards, airplane-towed banners and radio ads to lampoon Walker’s transportation policies.
McGowan said he expects change from the new administration.
“Evers has shown leadership and courage on transportation issues and we believe that is what has been sorely missing the last eight years,” he said in an official statement.
Other unions were equally celebratory. Local 494 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, in Milwaukee, released a statement saying: “Evers stands with working people and believes unions are critical to providing safe, good-paying jobs for people to provide for their families.”
And the AFL-CIO issued a statement saying: “It has been a long 8 years of anti-worker policies from Scott Walker who looked after big money donors, not the people. Tony Evers’ win is a clear signal that Wisconsinites will not stand for attacks on workers’ rights and our freedom to collectively bargain.”
But Democrats’ triumph was not complete.
Beyond the governor’s office, Democrats had hopes of making headway in the state Legislature. But Republicans will remain in the majority even as Evers is governor, setting up at least two years of divided government. That hasn’t happened in Wisconsin since 2008, when Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, was in office and Republicans controlled the Assembly and Democrats were in charge of the Senate.
With the unofficial count substantially complete, Evers led by about 31,000 votes, or 1.15 percentage points.
Walker’s defeat came amid record turnout for a midterm election in Wisconsin. More than 57 percent of the voting-age population — nearly 2.7 million people — cast ballots in the governor’s race. Walker’s loss was driven by massive turnout in the Democratic stronghold of Dane County, home to the state capital and University of Wisconsin main campus.
But he also did worse than he had done in 2014 in some places — namely in the conservative Milwaukee suburbs that are vital for Republicans in statewide races.
Those counties also came out less for President Donald Trump in 2016 than they had for Mitt Romney four years earlier.
Walker’s loss spells the end of what some called the “Cheesehead Revolution.” That described Walker, who ran for president in 2015, Rep. Paul Ryan’s ascendance to House speaker and Reince Preibus’ role as head of the Republican National Committee and, briefly, as Trump’s chief of staff.
Ryan is retiring at the end of this year, Reince left the White House last year and now Walker has lost.
Walker’s loss comes after three previous wins — including one in a recall election in 2012 — and Trump’s narrow victory in 2016, when he won the state by just shy of 23,000 votes.
The results are a steep fall for Walker, who just three years ago was an early front-runner in the GOP presidential primary. When Walker dropped out of that race, he concentrated on rebuilding his low approval ratings in Wisconsin.
Evers, 67, a former teacher, cancer survivor and state superintendent since 2009, used his folksy, nondescript personality to his advantage in the campaign, using words like “jeepers” and “holy mackerel,” while arguing that voters were tired of divisiveness and yearned for more collegial politics.
While Evers waited for results, he played the card game euchre with his family, just as he had done in August before winning an eight-person primary election.
Evers will have to deal with a Legislature controlled by Republicans, making it difficult to roll back the conservative laws Walker has enacted over the past eight years.
It will also be tough for Evers to enact many of his campaign promises — namely scaling back a manufacturing and agriculture tax credit to pay for an income-tax cut.
– Dan Shaw of The Daily Reporter contributed to this article