Scott Walker has chosen to finish his term as it began, by placing his petty ambitions ahead of a state that he never understood and never chose to lead as anything more than a partisan placeholder.
The defeated Republican governor of Wisconsin capped his tenure on a pathetic note: by signing a sweeping package of legislation designed by his legislative henchmen to grab power away from Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General–elect Josh Kaul—the Democrats who were elected on November 6. The measures do damage to democracy, but they do far more severe damage to Walker’s place in the long history of Wisconsin.
“Today, Governor Walker chose to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin,” said Evers. “This will no doubt be his legacy.” By signing the lame-duck bills, Walker sealed his fate. The outgoing governor will be remembered only for the harm he has done. And that is the most tragic legacy imaginable for a failed politician.
Walker’s determination to do the bidding of out-of-state campaign donors (such as the Koch brothers) and to implement the agendas of corporate policy mills (such as the American Legislative Exchange Council) had already identified his eight-year tenure as an assault on the working Wisconsinites—and on the state’s good name.
But the governor might at least have ended on a grace note. Vetoing the power-grab legislation would have suggested that he nurtured some small measure of regard for the voters of Wisconsin, and for the state’s tradition of political cooperation.
Scott Walker rejected the voters and the tradition with the stroke of a pen.
In time, that damage will be undone. Evers is an able and well-intended public servant who will begin the process of cleaning up the messes Walker leaves behind. The power grab will be undone, the roadblocks will be overcome. Evers will get much of the job done, perhaps all of it. And if it takes a little longer, then the next progressive governor—perhaps Mandela Barnes, the 32-year-old activist and former legislator who serve for the next four years as Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor—will complete the work.
Ultimately, Walker will be remembered as a deviant, an outlier who broke faith with Wisconsin in hopes of advancing his own political ambitions. Now, just as his 2016 presidential bid became a footnote to the broader history of that campaign, so Walker’s tenure as governor will be a footnote to the broader history of Wisconsin.
That does not mean that Walker will be forgotten entirely. Wisconsinites will remain wary of his assaults on worker rights, public services, public education and the Wisconsin Idea; along with his scheming to protect Republican power with over-the-top gerrymandering strategies and crude voter-suppression schemes. Savvy observers will, as well, recall Walker’s ineptitude, particularly when it came to job creation, and the scandals associated with his economic development “strategies,” which invariably benefited campaign donors and multinational corporations.
But time will heal the wounds created by Walker’s intransigence and his incompetence. And what’s remembered of his eight years in office will be his miserable disregard for the state he was supposed to lead—and his final rejection of the will of the people he was supposed to serve.