In the past week, I've met with gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker to better understand what makes him tick as a County Executive, a candidate, and as a man. It was an opportunity granted exclusively to El Conquistador.
Last Wednesday, I shadowed Walker at the County Courthouse learning first-hand about the vivacity of his work schedule. We also went to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce where Walker spoke to business leaders in the Hispanic community about job creation and retention. And on Sunday, Scott preached a 30 minute sermon at my church. The above trilogy provided us with some unique and insightful experiences.
When I met Walker at the County Courthouse, we shook hands and were quickly off to the races. I followed him from meeting to meeting with notepad in hand and a laptop cased to my shoulder. The first official topic of discussion was Politifact. Yes, Scott was elated to be the only candidate in Wisconsin politics with a "completely true" score by Politifact.
What was the issue? Over the past 8 years as Milwaukee County Executive, Walker has returned $370,000 of his own salary to the County. Walker's giveback set a uniquely high bar for leaders in government. If leaders expect sacrifice from their employees, it makes good sense that they must be willing to partake in the same sacrifice.
By contrast, Tom Barrett's "Politifact" scorecard wasn't exactly impressive. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, traditionally a liberal-leaning paper, gave Barrett two "pants on fire" ratings. These ratings identified Barrett's campaign allegations to be false and misleading.
After a couple meetings, Scott and I and spoke about his work at the courthouse and life on the campaign trail. We talked about a number of issues including his thoughts on abortion, expanding School Choice, and how the GOP needs to transform their rich white-guy image into something that better represents the working class.
We also talked about Barrett's flip-flop on partial-birth abortion when he served in Congress. To be clear, partial-birth abortion is a procedure using a scissors to puncture a hole in the base of an unborn baby's skull. A suctioning device is inserted to vacuum out the baby's brain, and the power of the vacuum collapses the baby's skull making it easier to evacuate the fetus from the birthing canal. It's a gruesome procedure to imagine and even worse to watch by ultrasound. In 1995 and in 2002, Tom Barrett voted in favor of allowing partial-birth abortion.
I also followed Walker to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. At the Chamber, Scott opened with a heart-felt apology for foregoing their Mexican food. Earlier, he had his ham and cheese sandwich lunch at the office. (And yes, I can attest to the fact that he actually eats out of a brown paper bag.)
Scott took no potshots at Tom Barrett and offered few little criticisms of Governor Doyle. When he critiqued Wisconsin's leadership, he spoke only generally about leaders in Madison. This is particularly interesting since Barrett's earlier visit to the Chamber was filled with criticisms of Walker.
Walker didn't enter the political fray. He knew his audience, and he stayed focused on jobs. With a slumping economy, he said his administration would focus on two primary goals: how to create and retain jobs in Wisconsin, and how to promote an environment appealing to out-state companies. Walker also shared some highlights of his jobs plan, which included tax cuts for companies with fewer than 50 employees and a repeal of the state tax on health savings accounts.
In contrast, Barrett offers targeted tax cuts for companies already strong enough to grow and create jobs. And that's great but what about companies that are currently losing their workers? Don't they need more help than companies strong enough to experience growth? It's like a pastor that wins 10 new converts, but loses 20 existing members. What good does it do to create new jobs when existing companies are falling apart?
On Sunday, Walker preached a sermon at Parkway Apostolic Church about letting your light shine. The phrase "letting your light shine" comes from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus told his disciples that doing good things promotes the gospel and gives proper tribute to God.
He also shared an intimate story about the rough times he and his wife Tonette endured. Tonette was previously married before she met Scott, but her husband died due to kidney failure. Around the same time, Tonette's brother passed away from bone-marrow cancer. It was a rough stretch, a sober time of soul searching.
A year after marrying Scott, they had their first child. They named him Matthew, meaning "Gift from God". Matthew's birth was one of the truly good things they had experienced together during such a time of loss and heartache. When he finished the story, the church sat silent. Lightening the mood, Scott joked that he sometimes wonders if his teenage sons are still gifts from God. It got a chuckle.
Scott also spoke a little bit about the importance of seeing the horizon from the waves. As the story goes, two men were on a boat tossed about by turbulent winds and punchy waves. One man, who fixed his eyes upon the waves, became sick and started vomiting. The captain instructed his friend to focus on something different, something further away. The man listened and focused on the horizon. His sickness went away.
Walker related the story to his first run for governor in 2006. He was lost in the waves. Getting out of a race was profoundly more difficult than getting in. He was concerned he would let down his supporters, those who worked hard in his campaign. But he looked toward the horizon and realized that there was something far greater beyond those waves. He concluded that God's grace was sufficient for him.
There's no doubt that Scott was comfortable speaking from the pulpit. Son of a Baptist preacher, Scott substituted many times for his father. At church, we saw a man outside the County Courthouse and outside the campaign trail. We saw a man of faith, a man who wrestled with his own demons just like many of us. As the story goes, he relied upon God's grace and he wasn't let down.