Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Introducing the Walk-O-Meter

Gov.-elect Scott Walker, at his election-night victory party
Gov.-elect Scott Walker, at his election-night victory party

When Scott Walker was elected Milwaukee County executive in 2002, he put together a notecard that listed a series of promises and encouraged voters to put it on their refrigerator and hold him accountable for them.

Fast forward to 2010:

In his successful run for governor, Walker made dozens of very specific promises, from creating 250,000 jobs during his term to reforming deer hunt rules; from a pledge never to raise taxes to one to establish a teacher evaluation system.

No need to buy a bigger refrigerator, folks.

Here at PolitiFact Wisconsin, we'll be happy to help. Today we"re introducing the Walk-O-Meter, a feature aimed at monitoring the status of some 60 promises made by Walker during the campaign. It is modeled after the Obameter on the national PolitiFact site, which follows promises President Barack Obama, a Democrat, made in the 2008 campaign.

(That feature includes 506 campaign promises, with 127 rated right now as Promise Kept, 28 as Promise Broken and the rest in between.)

Other state sites in the PolitiFact network are doing their own promise meter features for their new governors. And the national site is rolling out a feature focused on promises made by incoming Republican leaders in Congress, the GOP Pledge-O-Meter.

Of course, the Journal Sentinel will keep tabs on promises made by other politicians, of all parties — something we do as part of regular news coverage. And we may add some others to the PolitiFact Wisconsin page as time allows.

But this is our starting point.

As for those who wonder why we're focused on Walker, the answer is short: He won. We'd be talking about the Barrett-O-Meter if results were different Nov. 2.

What makes a promise?

Well, we're focused on statements from the campaign that are pledges of future action that are measurable. So, no to things like changing the tone in Madison, or improving the state"s business climate. Yes to things like creating a commission on government waste and lowering the tax on retirement income.

And of course that 250,000 jobs one.

How did we find them?

We started by combing through Walker's campaign web site, news release, speeches and policy papers. We looked, too, at statements made in speeches, debates and interviews. We asked for help from readers to guard against missing any. (If we did, let us know and we'll add them to our list. Email: politifact@journalsentinel.com).

How will it work?

As with the Obameter, we'll score each promise with one of six categories: Not Yet Rated, Stalled, In the Works, Promise Broken, Compromise and Promise Kept.

Unlike the Truth-O-Meter and the Flip-O-Meter, which measure a statement or a position at a particular point in time, the scoring for promises will change as political circumstances do. A single promise can move from In the Works to Stalled to Compromise. Or from Compromise to Promise Broken, and so on.

It is important to note that in evaluating the status of a promise we are not placing a value judgment on whether what happens is a good thing or a bad thing. Nor are we declaring the results failures or victories for Walker — or for state voters. We"re simply providing information on where the promise stands.

Consider one promise that is already in the Promise Kept category: Walker's pledge to kill the proposed Milwaukee-Madison high-speed rail link. In December, noting Walker's opposition, the U.S. Department of Transportation pulled the $810 million set aside for Wisconsin and redistributed it to other states for their rail projects.

Walker says that"s a long-term victory for taxpayers. Rail supporters say it"s a short-sighted disaster.

We simply note: Promise Kept.

There is clearly value in helping voters understand how an elected official is doing at meeting the promises made during the campaign. After all, what happens with those promises over the next four years will help set the framework for the 2014 election.

We asked Walker last month what he thought of having his promises tracked. His response: "There's nothing that I ran on that I don't plan on doing."

That echoed what Walker said in the wake of the Nov. 2 election, when Republicans won both branches of the Legislature as well as the governor's office: "For Republicans, we have to step up and do exactly what we told voters we"d do."

We hope you'll consider the Walk-O-Meter as your starting point for the promises that were made. And we hope you'll check PolitiFact Wisconsin regularly to see where they stand.

Greg J. Borowski is senior editor for projects and investigations at the Journal Sentinel and editor of PolitiFact Wisconsin. He can be reached at gborowski@journalsentinel.com.