SCOTT WALKER- 07-12212016135255 (copy) (copy)

Gov. Scott Walker at the exectutive residence last December.

PHOTO BY SAIYNA BASHIR

Scott Walker would like another chance.

The Republican governor will ask on Sunday, and in the days that follow, for a third — or fourth, if we're counting on a purely electoral basis — opportunity to lead the state of Wisconsin. 

"I've got to tell you, I'm now, where I sit today, more optimistic about the future of the state than I’ve ever been before," Walker said in an interview with the Cap Times ahead of his re-election campaign launch, set for Sunday in Waukesha.

Walker's re-election bid, following months of hints, is rooted in his assertion that there is "more to be done."

Walker, who was first elected in 2010 and re-elected to a second term in 2014 after surviving a 2012 recall attempt, listed his most significant accomplishment while in office as the so-called "reform dividend" he has touted since the beginning of the year.

The argument, as Walker makes it, is that the policies pursued during his tenure have lowered the state's unemployment rate, brought down taxes and allowed for significant investments in education.

Opponents argue that wages have not risen in conjunction with employment numbers, that the tax cuts implemented under Walker are unsustainable and disproportionately beneficial to the wealthy, and that the K-12 education investments in the 2017-19 budget come after years of cuts in the name of plugging deficits. 

"While he has been focused on courting or wooing wealthy donors and targeting tax breaks for the top 1 percent, he has ignored local families and their needs, he has cut worker wages, he has driven up health care costs and put more debt on the state’s credit cards," said state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, an early Democratic favorite for governor who opted not to seek the party's nomination.

Among the accomplishments Walker cites are Wisconsin's labor force participation rate — nearly 69 percent — its highly-ranked health care system, its recently achieved ranking as a "top 10" state for business according to Chief Executive magazine, and the $8 billion in tax cuts enacted since he took office. 

Under the "more to be done" category, Walked said, is making sure "everyone shares in our economic prosperity," no matter their location or background, ensuring all Wisconsin children have access to a quality education, finding ways to increase household income and finding better ways to treat addiction while stopping the spread of opioids and other illegal drugs.

Walker's announcement comes after a drawn-out state budget process that brought to light strains and fractures within the state Republican Party — prompted in large part by disagreements over how to fund the state's roads. He signed the budget in September, two months past its due date. 

"Sometimes it takes a while for things to fall apart," said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, drawing a comparison to pollution clean-up efforts that only come once the air or water turns brown. "The cracks are showing in our actual infrastructure."

The most recent Marquette University Law School poll, conducted in June, found Walker's approval rating to be 48 percent among Wisconsin voters. A more recent survey conducted by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling last month put Walker's approval rating at 43 percent, and showed him trailing a generic Democratic opponent by 5 points. 

Walker was quick to dismiss the still-growing field of Democrats who have thrown their hats in the ring to challenge him. 

"For me, it really doesn't matter who comes out of that primary; it’ll be more of the same," Walker said. "It’ll be about as clear a contrast as you can get between continuing to move forward or moving backwards."

What gives Walker pause, he said, is not the candidates running against him, but the national groups that will likely spend money in hopes of defeating him. Those include the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, backed by former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Service Employees International Union.

The Democratic field at this point includes Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik, Eau Claire state Rep. Dana Wachs, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, Alma state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Milwaukee attorney Matt Flynn, political activist Mike McCabe and political newcomer Bob Harlow. Several others, including Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, firefighters union president Mahlon Mitchell and Sheboygan businessman Kurt Kober, are considering bids. 

While Walker jokes "every elected Democrat in the state might run for governor this year," Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairwoman Martha Laning said she is pleased to have so many people talking to voters about what Democratic leadership would offer in contrast to Walker. Wisconsinites feel "betrayed" by Walker and other Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, Laning said.

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"For the past seven years, Gov. Walker, he’s neglected our state while he has pursued his own personal, political ambitions," Shilling said.

Walker's approval rating hovered below or near 40 percent for nearly a year after he ended his presidential campaign in September 2015, hitting 37 percent at its lowest point.

The governor has spent the last two years reintroducing himself to voters, through a series of invite-only, closed-door listening sessions and events promoting the state budget. 

The response has been "tremendous," he said, adding that one of his favorite parts of the job is traveling the state to see people's schools, homes and businesses.

"I am absolutely committed to serving out my term as governor for the next four years," Walker said when asked about his future ambitions. "I have no interest during that time in running for president or any office for that matter. For any of the chatter out there, it’s pretty obvious, when your party holds the White House, as a Republican I'm not going to run against a fellow Republican who’s in the White House."

Walker hinted last fall that he would not seek a fourth term as governor, joking that Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson's record as the state's longest-serving governor is safe.

But he did not commit to a third term being his last, when asked if Thompson should worry about that record. 

"If I was ever going to consider running for governor again after this term, I'd probably assess it as I am right now: Have we done all we can do or is there more to be done?" Walker said. "And right now, there’s more work to be done."

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.