GOP Gov. Scott Walker has won the Wisconsin governor’s race, beating Democratic challenger Mary Burke, according to the Associated Press.
The race has been the subject of national attention for months, given Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential ambitions, as well as lingering political ill will over the restrictions on collective bargaining he approved over three years ago. The election will have a profound effect on education policy in Wisconsin, where union policy hasn’t been the only hotly contested topic in K-12 since Walker took office.
Walker’s victory cements the controversial law he championed in 2011, Act 10, that severely restricted the collective bargaining power of labor unions. Union membership has shrunk in Wisconsin over the last three years, and with Walker’s win, it’s hard to see that trend changing.
It also means that vouchers, which the state expanded on a limited basis in 2013 beyond Milwaukee and Racine, could grow again, possibly statewide. Finally, it means that the Common Core State Standards are in jeopardy next year—over the summer, Walker called for the state to repeal the standards, although it’s not clear how some of his GOP colleagues will respond to that demand in 2015.
More broadly, it means that in a closely divided state politically, Walker has won three gubernatorial elections in four years, having won a regular election in 2010 and a recall election in 2012. And it
keeps Walker on track to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016 if he so chooses.
Unlike the man Walker beat in 2010 and then in a recall election in 2012, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Mary Burke was able to emphasize her private-sector experience on the campaign trail—Burke is also a member of the Madison school board.
Although Act 10 was perhaps the most controversial gubernatorial initiative dealing with K-12 over the last four years, it arguably wasn’t as massive a campaign issue in Wisconsin this year as a might have been.
That’s because Burke’s relationship to the 2011 law restricting collective bargaining was nuanced. During her campaign, Burke said that she was opposed to Walker’s initiative in 2011, not necessarily on its substance, but on how it was debated and approved at the state level. She said that if she had been governor in 2011, she would have worked with the unions to achieve the savings to the state budget, instead of against them as Walker did.
Walker, meanwhile, had reason to feel confident from a purely political perspective after surviving the 2012 recall relatively easily. In his campaign rhetoric, he tried to turn the 2011 law to his advanage: He claimed that it saved the state $3 billion, a state that PolitiFact claimed was “Mostly True.”
It’s important to remember that Act 10 is still the subject of lawsuits in the state. There’s a fight in Burke’s Madison district over whether a teacher’s contract there is legal. However, the Wisconsin Supreme Court did rule earlier this year that Act 10 is constitutional, after a lengthy union challenge to the law.
Don’t forget to join us Nov. 12 for After the Storm: What the 2014 Election Results Mean for K-12 Policy, a live Education Week event at Gallup headquarters in Washington.
Photo: Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker speaks at his campaign party on Tuesday night after defeating Democratic gubernatorial challenger Mary Burke. --Morry Gash/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.