Home and away: An accounting of Scott Walker's travels

Holding a book called "Jesus Calling," Gov. Scott Walker spoke at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition presidential forum on April 25, 2015. He is scheduled to return to Iowa on May 16, 2015. (AP photo)
Holding a book called "Jesus Calling," Gov. Scott Walker spoke at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition presidential forum on April 25, 2015. He is scheduled to return to Iowa on May 16, 2015. (AP photo)

There's no question that Gov. Scott Walker is a man on the move.

The Republican governor has been criss-crossing the country as a likely 2016 contender for the White House. His journeys have prompted some observers to ask: How much time is the governor in Wisconsin?

In May 2015, state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha, repeated his longstanding call for the state to sell the governor’s mansion, suggesting that since Walker began pursuing a presidential run, there is even less need for it. And the state Democratic Party -- while Walker was in Israel on a trip paid for by his political operation -- put up billboards calling on him to return home.

"He seems to be stretched pretty thin," said Steven Davis, a political science professor at Edgewood College in Madison. "He’s doing the bare minimum in discharging his duties as governor."

With Walker scheduled to return from Israel on May 14, 2015, only to head to Iowa for a Republican function two days later, we thought we’d do an accounting of where the governor has been.

Overnighting in Wisconsin

Before we jump in, it’s important to note we don’t have a comprehensive record of Walker’s whereabouts. On some days, his official calendar is loaded with appointments and on others it’s virtually empty. And we can’t always tell, based on news accounts or other reports, how much time Walker spends on political trips out of state, or whether all of those trips have become known publicly.

That said, we’ll present what we know for 2015 -- first, a look at how many overnights Walker has spent in Wisconsin; and second, a review of how many days he has spent outside of the state.

As for the overnights, the latest official calendars from the governor’s office are available only through March 2015.

They show that in the 90 days from January through March of 2015, Walker spent at least 42 nights in Wisconsin, mostly at the governor’s mansion and some at his home in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa.

That's a little less than half, or an average of 14 nights per month, in Wisconsin.

Here’s a summary:
 

Month

Number of days overnight at mansion

Number of days overnight at home

Number of days no overnight location listed

January 2015

14

4

13

February 2015

11

4

5

March 2015

9

0

22

 

As we indicated, the actual number of nights in Wisconsin could be higher, given the holes in the calendars. On some dates, for example, the calendar entries indicate Walker was to be at the mansion later into the evening, but there is no specific notation that he spent the night there. On other dates, there is no indication at all of where Walker was overnight.

Days out-of-state

There’s no question Walker has ramped up his out-of-state travel in 2015. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Walker Tracker and news reports show that through May 14, 2015, he has been in other states or out of the country on at least 59 of the first 134 days of 2015, or 44 percent.

That includes 46 days on political trips -- such as the one to Israel and repeated trips to Iowa -- and 13 days on two official trade missions to Europe.

On the domestic political trips, Walker has visited at least 17 states and the District of Columbia.

And he has made a dozen appearances to give speeches or attend meetings in the early presidential selection states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Here's a breakdown:

 

Month

Number of days outside of Wisconsin

Places visited

January

7

Washington, D.C., California, Iowa, New Jersey

February

17

Europe, Washington, D.C., Illinois, New York, Tennessee, Maryland, Florida

March

12

Iowa, Georgia, California, New York, New Hampshire, Washington, D.C., South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Texas

April

16

Europe, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, New Hampshire, New York, Iowa, Minnesota, Massachusetts

May (through May 14)

7

Israel, Michigan, South Carolina

 

Walker has defended his travels, telling a Milwaukee TV reporter during trip to Iowa in late April 2015: "Oftentimes it's easier to get things done out of your office when you're out and about doing work because you've got a limited amount of time to hone in and focus on things than it is when you actually sit in your office."

It’s also worth noting that other Republican governors who are pondering a presidential run -- Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and John Kasich of Ohio -- have also been criticized for how they are balancing official duties with political activities.

Both Davis and Ivy Cargile, a political science professor at St. Norbert College near Green Bay, agreed that -- to the extent that Walker is emphasizing his potential presidential campaign over his governing -- he is succeeding.

They noted that Walker is polling well nationally among Republican White House contenders and has not faced any major incidents in Wisconsin in which his absence was magnified, although there is some sense his travels might be hurting his approval ratings in Wisconsin.

In Iowa, Walker has outpaced his party’s presidential field in most of the Iowa polling in 2015. Meanwhile, an April 2015 Marquette Law School poll found Walker's approval rating in Wisconsin dropped to 41 percent, down 8 points from the previous poll, in October 2014.

Walker could become more vulnerable to criticism, particularly as debate over the state budget intensifies.

"I think voters are starting to put it together and, at a time when he should be back home and on message, he’s not, he’s out running for president," said Davis.

Cargile said the risks for Walker will increase once Wisconsin voters start paying more attention to the presidential race.

"I think when people realize that he’s not (in Wisconsin) and he’s working toward the presidential race, then people will get upset," she said. "But he hasn’t really paid a price yet."

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More on Scott Walker

Go here for a video segment on Walker's travels. It was part of the May 14, 2015 edition of JS on Politics, a weekly webcast produced by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

For profiles and stories on Walker and 2016 presidential politics, go to the Journal Sentinel's Scott Walker page.