When it comes to the intensifying whispers that Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., will be courted as a possible 2012 presidential running mate, Byron Shafer put it best: “If you had suggested that about Scott Walker 10 days [ago] it would have seemed incomprehensible,” the University of Wisconsin (Madison) political science professor told National Journal.
The Republican governor materialized to a level of stardom virtually overnight when he waged a war with state union workers just weeks after taking office in an effort to preempt the projected two-year budget shortfall. The kerfuffle has ignited a new partisan battle on the national stage, with Republican leaders and presidential contenders racing to Walker’s side.
But Walker’s insta-fame raises questions about just who this new governor is. National Journal uproots this Colorado-born preacher’s son who was fighting for a balanced budget—without a college degree—long before his days in the governor’s mansion.
1977: Cheesehead for Life
A cheesehead from an early age, Walker, now 43, moved with his family from Colorado to Wisconsin when he was 10 years old. He grew up the son of a prominent preacher in the 8,000-person town of Delavan, Wis., and has remained true blue—or green—to his football team, the Green Bay Packers. In honor of their Super Bowl win, Walker declared February “Packers month.” (The team has since come out against his proposal to strip union workers of their collective-bargaining rights.)
1985: A Reaganite Before It Was Cool
More than a decade before Republicans would take the stage at CPAC and draw comparison after comparison between themselves and former President Reagan, Walker had already chosen the economic icon as his political idol. At 17, Walker was selected as one of two boys to represent Wisconsin in the nation's capital for Boys Nation, a program that instructs standout young leaders “on the structure and function of federal government.” While in Washington, Walker met Reagan, whom he cites as having “played a big role in inspiring me.”
1986: Walker’s Balanced Budget, Collegiate Edition
After graduating high school, Walker enrolled at Marquette University in 1986. He ran for student body president as a sophomore, promising to balance the school’s budget problems, but lost following an alleged infringement of campaign guidelines. During his senior year, he was offered a lucrative job in marketing with the American Red Cross, and left Marquette before receiving his degree.
1990: ‘A Proud, Vain Union Buster’
Walker’s first attempt at government office was for the state Assembly in 1990. He lost to Democratic incumbent Gwen Moore, who now occupies a House seat. In a recent interview, Moore called Walker a proud, vain “union buster,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
1992: Family ‘More Important Than Getting a Degree’
When he was 25, Walker met his future wife Tonette, who is 11 years his senior. They went on to have two sons, Matthew and Alexander. “In the end, I figured I was in school to get a good job,” he said. “So once I had one, family became more important than getting a degree.”
1993: A Veteran of Labor Disputes
In an ironic premonition, Walker’s campaign to fill a vacant Assembly seat in 1993 included a push to reform the arbitration law used to resolve local-government labor disputes, as well as a cap on state spending. Walker won that election and four thereafter, serving until he became Milwaukee County executive in 2002.
2002: Mixed Reviews
Walker won a special election to replace former county executive Tom Ament, who resigned after becoming ensnared in a pension fund scandal. True to his platform of fiscal conservatism, Walker promised to voluntarily give back part of his own salary, arguing that doing so gave him moral authority to make budget cuts. Though he reduced the county’s deficit by 10 percent, the Associated Press claimed that overall county spending increased 35 percent during his tenure.
2006: Gubernatorial Pipe Dreams
In 2006, Walker tossed his hat into the state’s gubernatorial election ring. He dropped out after 14 months of campaigning, citing fundraising problems, and shifted his support to Republican Mark Green, who was ultimately unsuccessful.
2010: Second Time’s a Charm
Walker became an instant favorite when he entered Wisconsin’s 2010 gubernatorial race in spring of 2009. Keeping in step with his signature mantra of fiscal responsibility, Walker’s campaign included proposals to slash the state budget and reduce wages and benefits for state employees. Despite mounting concerns on the left, Walker won the general election with 53 percent of the vote.
2011: A Star Is Born
Just weeks after moving into his term, Walker announced his proposal to cut union benefits and strip union members of their collective-bargaining rights in an effort to shore up the projected two-year $3.6 billion budget shortfall. The resulting brouhaha, including state worker protests and a disappearing act by several Democratic state senators, has brought Walker’s case to the national spotlight—and made him an instant hero among fiscal conservatives, including potential 2012 presidential contenders who may or may not be scouting him to see if he's running mate material.