Scott Walker Doesn’t Get Wisconsin

His placenta is definitely not buried here

Rebecca Ryan

Rebecca Ryan

Last year about this time, Marti and I were at the bedside of her longtime neighbor, Eleanor, who lay dying in hospice. Marti knelt at Eleanor’s bedside smoothing her hair, talking softly in her ear. You could feel the deep affection passing between them, an invisible energy that lifted Eleanor over the last hill. Within ten minutes, Eleanor was gone.

I’m thinking of Eleanor now, as Governor Walker faces recall.

I’m thinking of her because several weeks before she died, Eleanor told Marti that she was so excited about the protests at the Capitol that she wanted to join them! Cheeks flushed, she turned to Marti and said, “I want to go down there!”

Marti considered it, but Eleanor was having a hard time walking to the bathroom. Walking around the Capitol was a bad idea. So Marti redirected the conversation. What exactly had gotten Eleanor so worked up?

Eleanor, who was full of opinions but never talked politics, said emphatically, “It’s important to always stand with the workers.”

That alone is enough of a reason to vote against Scott Walker. But I have other, more nuanced reasons. I just don’t feel he’s good for Wisconsin. Not because he’s a union buster, or because he likes to bash Madison. I just have a sense—in the same way I know when my friends are dating the wrong people—that Walker’s not good for us.

Here’s my take.

First, Walker doesn’t have Wisconsin in his bones. He doesn’t “get” Wisconsin.

There’s a Native American saying that your home is where your placenta is buried. Mine was buried in Green Bay, right outside Bellin Memorial Hospital. I get this state; Wisconsin is in my blood. I know the exact mile marker to open my windows on a drive to St. Germain to get the first whiff of the pines. I know where to take out-of-towners for the best German potato salad (Mader’s), deviled eggs (my house) or fried cheese curds (Craft). I will drive thirty miles out of my way to pick up a coconut cream pie at Norske Nook. I came of age in Wisconsin, I can feel her in my being.

Scott Walker doesn’t feel Wisconsin. He wasn’t born here. He was born in Colorado Springs. And my guess is that his placenta was buried in the parking lot of Focus on the Family. His family moved to Iowa and then landed in Wisconsin when Scott was ten. By ten, sociologists tell you, your impressions are pretty well set. And by ten, Walker didn’t have Wisconsin in his bones.

It’s clear that he doesn’t understand that rifle-toting huntsmen also want to protect the land. He doesn’t understand that water protection ensures we’ll be able to teach our grandkids to slalom ski on our lakes. He doesn’t understand that union wages and machine grease are what gave many Sconnie kids the opportunity to attend college.

He doesn’t understand that in Wisconsin, we look past what other states are doing and invent our own path forward.

And that brings me to the second reason I don’t think Walker’s good for us.

Maybe it’s because he is a preacher’s son and his dad was away a lot on weekends … but Scott is looking for affirmation from outside. He’s been on more national TV talk shows than local shows. He’s accepted more than half of his re-election campaign money from outside the state. Scott is looking for approval from an external authority. A daddy figure. A dead Ronald Reagan, or a living Koch brother.

Either way, he’s not setting his own compass. He’s relying on other people’s compasses and affection and approval to give our state a direction. And I don’t like it one bit.

Warren Buffet says that people have two orientations: an internal scorecard or an external scorecard. Buffet trusts leaders who have a strong internal scorecard. But Walker doesn’t seem to have one. He lifts policy ideas from ALEC, relies on big money from non-Wisconsinites and glams for Beltline pundits. Walker’s not of Wisconsin. And that makes me question whether he’s for Wisconsin.

There’s an old adage, “Power is not given, power is taken.” But in a democracy—through elections—power is given. It is bestowed. It is a gift, a stewardship.

Our governor’s first stewardship must be to Wisconsin. To our long-running history of fairness—toward the earth, toward workers, toward each other.
Scott Walker is wrong for Wisconsin. His type of politics might belong somewhere … but it’s not here.


Rebecca Ryan misses Eleanor, loves Wisconsin and has a hankering for deviled eggs. 



Madison Magazine August 2014 - August 2014 $19.95 for one year - Subscribe today