Fact-checking Scott Walker
After months of coast-to-coast campaigning, forming exploratory and "testing-the-waters" committees, and filing federal campaign papers, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is set to announce what is essentially already official:
He will be a candidate for the White House in 2016.
The 47-year-old Republican has established a formidable presence in the national media and in early presidential polls. But the announcement rite, scheduled for July 13, 2015 at a suburban Milwaukee convention hall, will bring him even more intense attention.
Our 144 Walker fact checks, as well as our looks at his campaign promises and his flip-flops on certain issues, provide insight into how Walker has shaped his presidential bid -- and how accurate he has been while on the stump.
So let's break it all down, into four easy parts.
We'll start by reviewing PolitiFact Wisconsin articles about Walker's personal life and claims about his electability; continue with an examination of his talking points, such as tax cuts and government reforms; cover claims about Walker that have been made by President Barack Obama and other political opponents; and conclude with a lightning-round look at hot-button topics such as immigration and the minimum wage.
Personal life and electability
Walker -- who in 2012 became the first American governor to survive a recall election before winning a second term in 2014 -- is aiming to become the first major party nominee since Barry Goldwater, in 1964, to run for president without out having a college degree.
In an in-depth article that explored the "mystery" of Walker’s college days, we found no evidence to back Democratic claims that he had been forced out of Marquette University in Milwaukee when he withdrew in 1990. At the same time, there are questions about why Walker would leave the school a year short of graduation for a marketing job with the American Red Cross in Milwaukee.
Walker renewed the questions in February 2015 in claiming he had "unsealed" his records at Marquette. That earned him a False on our Truth-O-Meter. Walker had taken only the very limited step of authorizing Marquette to confirm that he was in "good standing" during his time at the school and that he voluntarily withdrew. He still hasn't released his transcript.
To some extent, not finishing college comports with Walker’s portraying himself as an average guy (after all, 70 percent of Americans don’t have a degree). Campaigning in New Hampshire in March 2015, Walker bragged that he had paid $1 for a sweater at Kohl’s, a statement we rated True. We found it was possible, through discounts and coupons from the Wisconsin-based department store chain, to buy for a buck the sweater he wore that day.
While Walker doesn't possess the family history and the built-in fundraising network of a Jeb Bush, he has argued he is more electable than the former Florida governor and the record number of other GOP presidential contenders. Three claims about his appeal have fared relatively well on the Truth-O-Meter.
We rated Mostly True Walker's two-part claim that more than any Republican governor in the 2014 elections, he won a higher percentage of the GOP vote and that he carried independents by 12 points in defeating Democrat Mary Burke to win a second term. Walker was one notch off on both parts of the claim.
Mostly True also was the rating we gave a Walker statement about his support among women. He was correct that the gender gap in his re-election race was not dramatically different from that seen for other Republican candidates in comparable races in Wisconsin in recent history. But his 2012 recall election win showed a bigger gender gap than any other recent race for governor or U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.
Walker didn't rate as well with a claim, made while campaigning in Florida in June 2015, that his support from voters ages 18 to 24 in his re-election win was "largely unheard of for a Republican." Our rating was Half True. Walker fared better than two other GOP governors who also ran in 2014, but not as well as a third.
Starting with Act 10 -- the 2011 collective bargaining reform law that made him a darling among conservatives nationally -- Walker cites a long list of accomplishments as governor. Evaluated on our meter, some of these talking points have a mixed record.
Walker boasts that Act 10, which all but eliminated collective bargaining for most state and local government employees in Wisconsin, "saved the taxpayers some $3 billion." We rated that statement Mostly True. Requiring most public employees to contribute more toward their pension and health benefits had saved public employers more than $3 billion just through 2014. But those costs haven’t simply been eliminated, they’ve been taken on by public employees, who are also taxpayers.
Walker also claimed that thanks to Act 10, Wisconsin student scores on the ACT college entrance exam "are now second-best in the country for states where more than half the kids take the exam." That drew a Mostly False. Wisconsin's rank moved from third to second the year after Act 10 was adopted. But the rank improved only because Wisconsin’s score in 2012 dropped by one-tenth of a point and Iowa’s dropped by two-tenths. There is no evidence that Act 10 affected the ranking.
Walker did better on another education claim, earning a Mostly True for saying that graduation rates and third-grade reading scores are up since he took office. Our item noted some credit for the improvement may have been due to prior elected officials.
The governor has also scored well on some of his key statements about tax cuts, a major part of his resume.
His touting $2 billion in tax relief, largely through cuts in income and property taxes, was rated True. And his claim that property taxes on a typical home in 2014 would be lower than in 2010 earned a Mostly True (the reduction wasn't entirely due to the actions of Republicans).
Walker's ratings weren't as good on two statements about the state budget -- where he has been blamed for putting the the state back into a deficit situation after having turned the state from a deficit to a surplus following his election in 2011.
In "Unintimidated," his November 2013 memoir (go here for a fact-check review of the book), Walker claimed that "the $3.6 billion deficit we inherited has turned into more than a half-billion-dollar surplus." Our rating was Half True. Walker was generally accurate in citing numbers that showed a turnaround from red to black in two years -- one of his most frequent boasts. But his claim had a context problem because it mixed two different ways to define the size of the turnaround.
Walker also said that when he and the Legislature embarked on crafting a state budget for 2015-’17, the budget would "begin with a surplus" of $535 million. We rated that False. The actual projection at the time was a $1.76 billion "structural" deficit. That is a tally of past decisions, both in spending and in tax collections, that officials have to account for in planning the next budget.
Claims by opponents
The tax cuts Walker highlights come in for criticism from the left, as have spending cuts he has made. Here are two examples.
We rated as Mostly True a Democratic claim that Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature had approved 12 times larger tax breaks for people earning over $350,000 than for "the average middle-class person." That was accurate for the major tax cuts Walker signed in 2013, but the gap narrows to nine times larger when all of the GOP income-tax changes are considered.
We also pegged as Mostly True an August 2014 claim by a liberal group that Walker "cut school funding more per student than any governor in America." For 2011-’12, the Wisconsin cuts were the largest, but more recent figures indicated that Wisconsin’s school spending cuts were no longer the largest.
Meanwhile, many claims against Walker have come from national sources. Two were on abortion.
In a TV ad during the final weeks of Walker’s re-election campaign, EMILY’s List said Walker is "forcing some women to undergo a transvaginal probe to get an abortion." We rated the statement Half True. The bill Walker signed says the woman can choose either a transvaginal or transabdominal ultrasound, though in certain cases a transvaginal probe may be medically necessary.
And in a June 2015 TV ad that ran in Iowa and New Hampshire, NARAL Pro-Choice America claimed Walker had "said that forcing women facing abortion to get invasive ultrasounds was 'just a cool thing.'" That rated a Mostly False. Walker did defend the ultrasound law. The "cool" reference, however, wasn’t to forcing some women to get vaginal ultrasounds, but rather to the ultrasound technology that produces images from the womb.
Walker's national standing has seemed to get a boost when he has been criticized by the president.
Campaigning in Milwaukee for Burke in 2014, Obama said Wisconsin Republicans "repealed a statewide fair pay law" that made "sure women are treated fairly on the job." Our rating was Mostly True. Walker and the GOP-led Legislature did repeal a law that provided more assurance -- through stiffer penalties against employers available in state court -- that women are treated fairly. But there is still a state law that allows women to win smaller damages for unequal pay.
A more recent claim, made in tweets in February 2015, was that Walker planned to cut $300 million from universities and spend $500 million on a pro basketball stadium.
That was rated Half True. Walker's 2015-'17 state budget did propose cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin System (the Legislature reduced it to $250 million). The governor also proposed, in the form of bonds, a state contribution for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. But it wouldn't have been $500 million -- the projected total cost of the arena -- but rather $220 million. That proposal was later dropped in favor of a smaller state contribution.
To wrap up, here's the lightning-round look at Walker on some hot-button issues. Some were examined with our Flip-O-Meter, which determines whether a politician has changed positions on an issue.
Illegal immigrants: Walker got a Full Flop on the status of illegal immigrants, a contentious issue for the left and the right. In 2013, he expressed support for a pathway to citizenship. But pressed on that position in a February 2015 interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Walker reversed himself, saying "my view has changed. I'm flat out saying it."
Common Core: We gave Walker a Half Flip for a partial change in his stance on the education standards, which have roiled conservatives around the country. During most of his first term, the governor showed tacit support for Common Core. But by mid-2013, Walker paused further implementation of the standards and a year later he called for an outright repeal. Then in January 2015, he was saying only that he didn’t want school districts required to use Common Core.
Minimum wage: Walker has opposed raising the minimum wage, a cause supported by many liberals. On MSNBC in January 2014, he said "jobs that involve the minimum wage are overwhelmingly jobs for young people starting out in the workforce." That claim was rated False. The best estimates are that 24 percent to 55 percent of such jobs -- not a large majority -- are held by teenagers and young adults.
Right-to-work: Walker earned a Full Flop on the timing of his support of that state legislation. Echoing comments he made in 2012, Walker stated in September 2014 that "I'm not supporting" right-to-work legislation in the 2015 legislative session. But on Feb. 20, 2015, with Republican lawmakers poised to send him such legislation, Walker said he would sign it (and later did).
More on Scott Walker
For profiles and stories on Scott Walker and 2016 presidential politics, go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Scott Walker page.