On two hot-button issues, it's been tough to pinpoint where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker stands during his campaign for re-election.
The Republican governor has declined to say whether his position on abortion has changed, after he ran an ambiguous advertisement that called it into question. And in June, after Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban was found to be unconstitutional, Walker said his own opinion on the issue didn't matter.
But a letter Walker wrote to the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action as he sought its endorsement offers more concrete answers to those questions than he's given in public interviews and debates.
In the letter, dated Sept. 5, Walker trumpets a page-and-a-half of accomplishments during his four years as governor. They include his rejection of the federal Medicaid expansion, the expansion of the state's school voucher program, his "A+" rating from the National Rifle Association and a variety of tax cuts.
Walker also touts his defense of the state's ban on same-sex marriage, even after a federal court overturned it.
"I support marriage between one man and one woman," the letter reads.
The governor's public face on gay marriage has been hard to read in recent months. In addition to his insistence that his opinion is irrelevant, his response to a Supreme Court order allowing same-sex marriage to resume in Wisconsin and other states was to stop fighting and move on.
Unlike U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a fellow potential Republican presidential hopeful in 2016 — who plans to keep fighting same-sex marriage — Walker said of the order, "For us, it’s over in Wisconsin."
"I'd rather be talking in the future now more about our jobs plan and our plan for the future of the state," Walker said earlier this month. "I think that’s what matters to the kids. It’s not this issue."
When Walker did appeal the federal court's decision to strike down the ban, he argued that he was legally obligated to support the state's constitutional amendment.
"It wasn't my law," Walker told reporters after the Supreme Court order was issued. "It wasn't something the governor had to do with, no. The bottom line is … I voted for the amendment in 2006 like the majority of the voters in the state of Wisconsin did … Any governor, Democrat or Republican, is obligated when they take the oath of office to support the Constitution of the state of Wisconsin and to support the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution in the state of Wisconsin was clear, and until a federal court ultimately said it wasn't, any governor — not just myself — would be obligated to support that."
But Walker's support for the amendment banning gay marriage in the state was deeper than a vote and a constitutional obligation; in 2005, he "strongly" urged the state Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as "a commitment between one man and one woman."
"Many years ago, I concluded that we must change the Wisconsin State Constitution to say that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. My belief in this position is even stronger today," Walker wrote in a 2005 news release.
He echoed that belief in his September letter to Wisconsin Family Action.
In the letter, Walker also touts the aggressive anti-abortion measures passed under his leadership.
"We prohibited abortion from being covered by Wisconsin health plans in a health insurance exchange. We passed pro-life legislation that provides women with more information and health protections when they are considering an abortion. We also cut off state funding for abortion providers while maintaining health services for women throughout Wisconsin," Walker wrote.
Walker's recent answers to questions about abortion, along with an ad directed at women, have indicated a desire to appear moderate among voters on an issue where he's held an absolutist stance throughout his career.
The governor has, as recently as 2012, indicated support for a complete ban on abortion and the adoption of a personhood amendment in the state Constitution. A personhood law would effectively halt all abortions and could also make some forms of birth control illegal.
As a state lawmaker, in 1998, Walker co-authored a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks, even in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s health was in jeopardy. Physicians who performed the procedure would have faced life in prison. And in 2010, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board that he is completely opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest.
He has shied away from specifics during his current campaign — a move that has invited criticism from the left and right.
"My position is that I’m pro-life, and the bottom line is that, as I pointed out the other day, that that position relates to what the United States Constitution ruled more than 40 years ago," Walker told reporters last week. "So in terms of issues that are brought up in the future, we're going to focus on the things that the state has the legal right to look at."
Wisconsin Family Action announced its endorsement of Walker on Tuesday afternoon, after publishing his letter that morning. The organization noted that Walker had declined to fill out its candidate survey, but had sent a letter requesting endorsement.
The 21-question survey covers a variety of issues. It asks candidates to respond to statements including:
- Efforts to bring Islamic law (shariah) to America do not pose a threat to our country and its Constitution.
- Human life begins at conception and deserves legal protection at every stage until natural death.
- Marriage is a union of one man and one woman. No government has the authority to alter this definition.
- Judeo-Christian values established a framework of morality which permitted our system of limited government.
Walker's decision not to answer the survey holds with his response to the conservative Pro-Life Wisconsin: that he would not fill out any interest group surveys or interviews. Declining to complete Pro-Life Wisconsin's questionnaire made him ineligible for an endorsement.
"Time and time again we've seen Scott Walker say one thing and do another," said Melissa Baldauff, communications director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. "With this election locked in a dead heat it's no surprise he's trying to misrepresent his radical record on women's health and marriage equality, but the facts are the facts. Scott Walker's beliefs are extreme, lacking compassion, and far outside of the mainstream. Walker needs to quit ducking and dodging and own his extreme record."
Democratic candidate Mary Burke has accused the governor of trying to "have it both ways" by avoiding specific answers on abortion questions. Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal One Wisconsin Now, said the same of Walker's avoidance of candidate surveys.
"Just like his wink and nod with the radicals at Pro-Life Wisconsin, Gov. Walker's trying to have it both ways," Ross said. "It's a pattern of deception from Gov. Walker, a career politician who is willing to mislead the people he's supposed to serve to advance his own political ambitions."
Pro-Life Wisconsin Victory Fund PAC director Matt Sande said in an email that his organization has not received a similar letter from the governor.
"Time and again over the last four years, Scott Walker has shown that he understands that Wisconsin’s best resource is her married dad-and-mom families. When these families are strong and independent, Wisconsin is strong," said Wisconsin Family Action PAC director Julaine Appling in a statement.