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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is entering into a new phase of his still-unannounced presidential campaign -- scrutiny. He has catapulted to the top of early presidential polls in a very short amount of time, won three tough statewide elections in four years and has become a Republican star in taking on public employee unions in Wisconsin.
Walker's rapid rise has left behind a fresh and plentiful record on a variety of issues that are now getting a closer look.
Since he came into the national spotlight, some of Walker's positions have shifted to the right as he seems to be situating himself to the more conservative end of the Republican spectrum in an effort to gain the Republican nomination.
He has changed his position on immigration and has shifted on half a dozen other issues. As a result, Walker is getting some pointed questions from some on the right. A “member diary” on the conservative website Red State wrote, “Spoiler alert: you may conclude that Walker is a flip flopper.”
But shifting and evolving in positions is also part of the process of transitioning from a state-level candidate to a federal one, Mark Graul, Wisconsin-based Republican strategist, said. “Let’s give this guy some time to develop his intricacies on federal policy,” said Graul.
Here are some issues where Walker has moved recently:
Scott Walker has recently declared his opposition to “amnesty.” While amnesty can be defined in a number of different ways, it is mostly defined as giving an undocumented immigrant living in the U.S. citizenship or legal residency. Walker has completely changed his position.
In 2002, as county executive, Walker, according to Politico, approved a resolution that expressed “support of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors for a new program similar to the Federal amnesty program enacted by Congress in 1986 to allow undocumented working immigrants to obtain legal residency in the United States….”
In the same position but four years later, Walker signed a resolution in support of comprehensive immigration reform that passed the Senate, according to the National Review.
As recently as 2013, Walker told a local paper called Wausau Daily Herald that “it makes sense” for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship after penalties and a waiting period.
Since then, Walker has admitted to changing his position. After being pressed on Fox News Sunday, Walker said, “My view has changed. I’m flat out saying it. I’m – candidates can say that. Sometimes they don’t."
At the Iowa Ag Summit in early March, Walker said he’s “not a supporter of amnesty. I know there’s some out there and I respect their views on that but I’m not a supporter of amnesty.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave Walker a “full flip” for his shift.
Renewable Fuel Standard -- Ethanol
Walker's most recent shift in position is the renewable fuel standard, which is a federal policy that mandates a certain percentage of ethanol be added to gasoline. At the agriculture summit in Iowa over the weekend, Walker said “it’s something he’s willing to move forward on.” He previously broadly said he didn't support government mandates.
Ethanol is an important issue to Iowans, who are also influential in the presidential nominating process as the first state to chime in on the nominee. And the issue is especially important to Bruce Rastetter and his business interests. The wealthy agriculture entrepreneur gives hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates each election cycle and who hosted the summit.
While Walker has now specifically weighed in with support for the standard, during his first campaign for governor in 2006, which he lost, Walker was against mandates, saying “mandates hurt Wisconsin’s working families, and whether they are from Washington or Madison, we as fiscal conservatives should oppose them.”
Also at the Iowa summit, Walker said he wants “as many different energy…options as possible out there.” He added that the wind energy tax credit “served a purpose.”
But Walker’s record as governor paints a different picture. During his first term, he proposed a bill that wind energy advocates said would be ”the biggest regulatory barrier" to wind energy in the country, according to a quote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The measure required an 1800 foot barrier between any wind turbine and property line.
More recently, in his latest budget released in February, Walker proposed $250,000 to study the health impacts of wind energy on residents who live close to turbines. Critics say it's a way to stall further production of wind energy.
Right to Work Legislation
On Monday, Walker signed into law so-called right to work legislation that would ban union workers from the requirement of paying union dues. But last October, in the midst of his reelection campaign, he told the Journal Sentinel, “I’m making it clear in this campaign, as I’ll make it clear in the next (legislative) session, that that’s not something that’s part of my agenda.”
While his spokesperson points out that Walker was a co-sponsor of similar legislation when he was a member of the legislature, that was in 1993. On Fox News Sunday, Walker defended himself, saying “It’s not a flip…. I never said I’d veto it.” Walker signed it into law.
Walker came into office in 2011 after Wisconsin had already adopted the Common Core standards. In his first budget, he supported its implementation. But since then his position, like many Republican governors who are potentially running for president, changed.
Walker started to move away from Common Core when he said in 2013 that Wisconsin should “have its own unique standards,” and then in July of 2014, a couple months before his reelection, he said he supports the “repeal of Common Core and replace it with standards set by the people in Wisconsin.” In January he threw his weight behind a proposal that would set up a commission to review Common Core, which Common Core opponents say gives mixed signals. It's not a repeal and they say his review commission doesn’t go far enough.
Walker announced last week that he would sign a bill that bans abortion after 20 weeks. “I was raised to believe in the sanctity of life and I will always fight to protect it,” he said in a statement. In the statement, he also noted that he defunded Planned Parenthood and prohibited abortion from being covered in the health insurance exchanges.
While Walker has always been anti-abortion, during what was expected to be a close reelection against Democratic challenger Mary Burke in 2014, Walker released an ad where he chose his words carefully and made it seem like he would not support abortion bans. In the ad, he said he “support(s) legislation to increase safety and provide more information for a woman considering her options. The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.”
Walker has said he's opposed to the Affordable Care Act, but Walker has used the program. He transferred tens of thousands of Wisconsin Medicaid recipients to the exchange program where they are eligible for federal subsidies. Wisconsin’s generous Medicaid program included people who made enough money to qualify for federal support.
Walker also rejected the financial support the federal government offered to the states to expand its Medicaid program, but Walker expanded Medicaid to another tens of thousands of people below the poverty line anyway, with the state picking up the entire bill.