Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker did not stray far from home in officially announcing his intention to run for Wisconsin governor Monday.
Ending weeks of speculation concerning his status for the 2006 election, Walker delivered a familiar message — Wisconsin needs a property tax freeze — from familiar turf: his own home in Wauwatosa. He chose the venue to symbolize the struggles he says property taxpayers have faced under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
“Our state was hit with some intense blizzards, massive snowfalls and blistering cold this winter,” Walker said. “Yet, I stand here today to reaffirm my wholehearted support for the Freeze. The Property Tax Freeze.”
Doyle vetoed a bill last legislative session that would have capped property tax increases, arguing communities should determine levies without a mandate from Madison.
But property taxes have been on the rise in recent years — they will rise six percent in 2005, according to a Wisconsin Taxpayer study — and Walker said that is Doyle’s fault. Making matters worse for the state’s property-tax payers, Walker said, are Doyle’s cuts to shared revenue and support for repealing the state’s Qualified Economic Offer for public instructors.
And that record, Walker said, spurred him to enter the race.
As a former member of the state Assembly, Walker assumed control of the state’s largest county in a special election in 2002 after longtime Democratic executive F. Thomas Ament became embroiled in a countywide pension scandal. Walker won reelection to a second term in 2004 by a wider margin than in 2002.
In each of his three years running Milwaukee County, Walker proposed a budget calling for zero tax increases, although the liberal county board only approved one of those budgets.
Walker, 37, said the tax-control platform he used to become the first Republican executive in the history of Milwaukee County will reach people throughout the state.
“Three years ago I ran on that agenda and stunned the liberal establishment,” he said. “Now, we’re setting out to do that again.”
Although he is the first Republican to officially announce a gubernatorial campaign, Walker may face a crowded field in the GOP primary in September 2006.
U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Wis., sent an email to Republican leaders two weeks ago indicating he will likely mount a bid for the governorship.
Another Republican widely rumored to be considering a run state Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, has kept his intentions hidden in recent weeks. Gard’s spokesman Steve Baas said Walker’s announcement will not have a bearing on any Gard decision to run.
“We’ve expected for quite some time that County Executive Walker would get in the race,” Baas said. “It’s flattering to have our name mentioned, but our focus right now is on the Assembly.”
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin immediately took Walker to task Monday for promoting a different agenda in Milwaukee than the one he endorsed in Madison. DPW spokesman Seth Boffeli alleged Walker has shown a willingness to change his stance on policies if the move is politically advantageous.
“When you compare his record in the legislature and as county executive, it’s like two different people,” Boffeli said.
“In the legislature, when he was doing Tommy Thompson’s bidding, he had no problem cutting education funding and shared revenue, but as county executive, he thinks everyone should follow his lead on property taxes, even though he previously worked to increase property taxes on low-income families.”
Walker, however, insisted it is Doyle who has changed his tune many times on a number of issues.
“As a candidate, Jim Doyle pledged not to cut shared revenue. As Governor, his budget cut $70 million from the program. As a candidate, he pledged to maintain the state commitment to fund two-thirds of school costs. As Governor, he signed off on a drop to 63.6 percent. As a candidate, he pledged to crack down on government waste. As Governor, he spends more than $600,000 on a website for a transportation project. Wisconsin deserves better,” he said.
Walker will visit the University of Wisconsin tonight to speak at the College Republicans meeting at 7 p.m. in Grainger Hall.