Did Gov. Scott Walker Pull a Tracy Flick?

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[For up-to-the-minute updates on the situation in Madison, Wisconsin, check out Mother Jones’ Explainer article.]

It’s well-known among Wisconsinites that their embattled, union-busting governor, Republican Scott Walker, never graduated from college. But in four years at Milwaukee’s Marquette University, he got plenty of campaigning practice—running for student body president and confessing (eventually) to multiple electioneering violations, according to the school’s paper. “For Walker, a questionable campaigning strategy is apparently nothing new,” the Marquette Tribune reported at the height of Walker’s contentious campaign for governor last October.

According to the Tribune, when Walker was a student from 1986 to 1990—a period in which he earned a GPA of 2.59 and left at least 36 credits shy of a degree—he spent much of his sophomore year running for president of the university’s student government—and amassing campaign violations left and right, reminiscent of Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick character in the 1999 film Election:

  • He “was found guilty of illegal campaigning two weeks before his candidacy became official.”
  • Later, one of his campaign workers was caught stuffing brochures under doors at the school’s YMCA, violating the school’s ban on door-to-door campaigning.
  • He initially denied the brochure-stuffing allegations, then admitted to them, losing campaigning privileges at the Y.
  • The school paper initially endorsed Walker’s opponent, John Quigley, but said either candidate would be a good president. The paper rescinded that editorial the following day, however, calling Walker “unfit for presidency” based on his mudslinging brochures against Quigley…and the fact that Walker’s campaign workers were seen snatching up and trashing copies of the previous day’s Tribune that had included the Quigley endorsement.

Now, it’s easy to make too much of this. School elections are just that, and mature adults shouldn’t be judged solely by their adolescent character. But the Tribune‘s story took place in the midst of another Walker campaign in which dirty tactics abounded. And when the paper interviewed a Marquette campus supporter of Walker’s, Stephanie Marecki, her defense sounded anything but certain: 

Marecki also said the most important thing to remember is Walker’s plans to solve economic problems in Wisconsin.

“I cannot say how this information will affect the public,” Marecki said. “I would just urge voters to pay attention to the issues at hand.”

Given the current backlash surrounding his economic plans for the state, Walker might just prefer that people start talking about his college years again. Marecki said something else on that subject: “Anything that happened, he undoubtedly learned a lot from it.” True, no doubt; but as Walker holds his ground against state workers, it remains to be seen just how he’ll apply the lessons that he took away from that bumpy campaign back at Marquette.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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