For UW Election Eye, it has been an epic two weeks traveling to every nook and cranny of the most divided state on America’s political landscape. Now that Scott Walker has secured a decisive victory, the once recalled — now redeemed — governor of Wisconsin has a second, more important mandate: heal his embittered electorate.
WAUKESHA, Wisc. — Scott Kevin Walker brought something to the victory podium last night that few folks had seen him exhibit on the campaign trail: some humility.
I’ve made mistakes, he said, and I’ve learned from them. I didn’t communicate as well as I should. I wish I’d taken more time to work through disagreements.
It seemed a remarkable turnaround for a governor nearly done in by his own wince-worthy words: “divide and conquer.” If Walker keeps his pledge from that podium, it’s now going to be “unite and overcome.”
Desiree Jones sure hopes so. She was pretty worked up toward the end of her shift waiting tables at a restaurant in Walker’s hometown of Wauwatosa.
“I couldn’t believe it. I kept hearing how Tom Barrett was going to win this [election] and get rid of Walker,” Jones said shortly past midnight. “Now I’m wondering who’s going to be looking out for me. Who’s going to help me take care of my six-month old baby when he gets sick? I mean, that’s why I was voting for Barrett.”
Jones, a 20-year-old single mom barely making ends meet, looked down at the floor. “You know what else? I didn’t even get out to vote today.”
Therein lay the death knell for the embattled mayor of Milwaukee. Barrett just wasn’t very inspiring where and when it mattered most — along the campaign trail in those final days leading up to Tuesday’s loss.
Barrett showed in two debates that he is the superior debater, but he couldn’t match Walker’s magic touch with everyday people.
I saw Walker charm the mother of two preschool boys in Hudson by talking about their shared baseball card of a Minnesota Twins player he liked growing up. I saw him slap a struggling plant worker on the shoulder in southeastern Wisconsin and encourage him to not give up even though his wife had just lost her job.
And on Monday in Stevens Point, I saw Walker joke with a woman who appeared too starstruck to describe a bottled beer in a brewery there.
So how does all this translate to a new and improved governor of Wisconsin? Well, a more visible sense of humor would be a good start.
Enter Tonette Walker, the wife of the only governor ever to survive a recall. “Ladies and gentleman,” she said from that same podium, here he is, “the first man ever elected governor twice in his first term.”
The crowd roared. You could almost see the eyes of independent voters sparkling around Wisconsin.
That is the secret to Walker’s future as both governor of Wisconsin and possible presidential material.
He must make people forget about his political resume which features breaking the back of collective bargaining, legislative end runs in the middle of the night to accomplish it, and a propensity to shoot himself in the foot like the day he took a phone call from a radio show prankster doing everything he could to make Walker look bad.
Remember “divide and conquer?” It could have been a turning point for his administration if he’d confronted his gaffe head on.
Instead Walker went into virtual isolation, unwilling to take the phone call of even the state’s longest serving mayor who wished only to speak with him about a controversial mining bill that would affect his small county in northwestern Wisconsin.
Even those last days on the campaign trail, Walker had a habit of sneaking in and out of places through rear and side doors to avoid protesters at all costs — as if his proven ability to elicit warmth from folks could not possibly have been his saving grace with a few picketers here and there.
This must change: he has no business ducking constituents.
The potentially most challenging one will be Barrett, who made clear in last night’s concession speech it was time to put down the swords and start working together for a brighter future.
Then, as if ignoring the words he had just spoken, Barrett kept referring to how hopelessly divided Wisconsin is.
Walker knew and did better. The governor made clear his awareness of mistakes made, his wish to atone for them, and reaching out to political enemies by inviting them over for barbecue.
This was the Walker Wisconsinites need; this was the Walker for whom they’d voted the first time around 19 months ago.
Yes, this was the Scott Walker his wife thought she had introduced back in November 2010.
This time, though, she hopefully got it right.