Scott Walker isn’t worth all these words—it took one of the unions he cravenly gutted just a few words to sum him up perfectly—but I’m going to try anyway, with the hope being that this is last time I ever have to see or hear or write about this empty, ill-fitting Boy Scout uniform again.
My dance with gormless evil incarnate goes back almost a decade, to 2010, when Walker was first elected governor of the state where I was born and raised. That first campaign had all the hallmarks of conservative villainy that now feel like quaint relics of another era when juxtaposed with Donald Trump. Walker campaigned on opposing abortion across the board, even in cases of rape or incest; he opposed marriage equality; he was stridently anti-immigrant before that was the only possible thing you could be in the Republican Party; and he rode to victory—on his birthday, no less—on a tsunami of sweet cash from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. (This would become a theme.) He was also aggressively, unapologetically stupid; he once claimed his sizeable bald spot came from hitting his head while repairing a sink. He won the governorship by a healthy margin.
Within months of taking office, the assault began. Walker’s administration took aim at the state’s school teachers and public sector workers with Act 10, an innocuously named bill to cripple unions, and an obvious thank you note to the Koch brothers and their allies for supporting his campaign. He might’ve been surprised to find that public workers weren’t going to take Walker sticking his rodent snout where it didn’t belong—in their pensions and healthcare plans—quietly. Mass protests, which on some clear, cold Wisconsin Saturdays soared into the tens of thousands, kicked off on Valentine’s Day, 2011, a cutesy ploy that didn’t foreshadow the long, ultimately unsuccessful fight ahead.
Fast forward through the months that took years off my life: three weeks of protests with people sleeping and “occupying” the state Capitol 24 hours a day; 14 heroic Democratic state senators fleeing the state for Rockford, IL—anyone from the Midwest knows just how dire a locale that is—to avoid voting on Walker’s budget; visits to Madison from the cast of the West Wing, and on and on.
I was covering the ever-widening mess as a wide-eyed, deeply overwhelmed student journalist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s independent paper. Between the paper, which I cared very much about, and my journalism school education, which I absolutely did not, it had been drilled into me that getting the story right was the most important thing, and that meant telling it exactly down the line, lest I be accused of not being “objective.” (An editor once told me I needed an opposing viewpoint on a story about the Madison Zoo getting a red panda; I accepted this without question and dialed up anti-zoo people. It got stickier when I covered sexual assaults and suicides on campus, but I was too busy calling poli sci professors to meditate on what that might mean.)
So when Walker started actively fucking with my state, it felt intensely personal, dredging up feelings that ran completely counter to what I’d been taught. This was Wisconsin—the birthplace of public-sector unions in America, a cradle of progressivism, homeland of the guy who started Earth Day, for heaven’s sake. Walker and the Republicans cast the union-busting bill as Taking A Stand to balance the state budget—the Other Side which I dutifully included in my stories—but looking in teachers’ faces when they told me they were buying their students winter jackets out of pocket, all I could see was the damage Walker had wrought.
As the groundswell around an effort to recall Walker began, the sentiment felt universal inside my liberal Madison bubble. How could he possibly survive this, I thought, when everyone I know is signing the recall petitions?
Things happened relatively quickly from there. As you may remember, Walker survived the recall election—with the Kochs right there to bail him out, yet again—at which point he seemed bulletproof. When I was entering the job market, local and national publications put out the word that they wouldn’t be hiring candidates who had signed petitions against Walker. I felt unspeakably dejected, like my budding journalism career was doomed before it started. Later, the state Supreme Court upheld the anti-union bill; unions in the state have since been decimated. Walker never finished his college degree, a biographical data point that wouldn’t matter if it weren’t instructive about his loathing for the education system. His next two terms in office (one after the recall and one when he formally won re-election) were a depressing parade of the Republican-controlled legislature waging war on the University of Wisconsin, passing deep budget cuts year after year, attacking tenure, posing an existential threat to academic freedom—all of which caused top-tier talent to flee. All told, the damage to what was once a world-class land grant research university is difficult to fully quantify and likely impossible to repair.
This is all to tell you that the immense pleasure I took from watching Walker make his much-hyped foray into national politics as part of the 2016 Republican presidential primary sideshow—only to immediately fall flat on his face—barely comes close to matching my elation as his sorry ass was finally, finally being voted out of office late Tuesday night. Walker lost to Tony Evers, a kindly old former science teacher who’s like an even more wonky Bernie, which only sweetened the pie.
The schadenfreude is thick enough to choke on, and I sincerely hope Scott Walker does. He can eat a million ham sandwiches in hell. No: He’s too rotten for hell; he would get to attend out-of-state fundraisers with his cronies there forevermore. Throw him in a trash compactor and launch that tidey cube of ALEC bullshit and Koch bucks and that what’s left of that shit-eating grin into space, so he can circle the earth for all eternity and think about all he’s done. Just as long as he leaves and never, ever shows his face in my state again.