We did not know the full extent of the threat Milwaukee-area businessman Andy Gronik posed to Gov. Scott Walker until the Republican Party of Wisconsin had a meltdown following the Democrat's announcement that he would challenge Walker's apparent desire to become governor for life.
Walker, a career politician who has supported himself with taxpayer-funded jobs for a quarter century, is preparing to bid for another four-year term as governor and he's evidently feeling vulnerable. The governor, whose run for the 2016 Republican nomination for president sputtered out after two months of spending other people's money, lost interest in governing Wisconsin a long time ago. He can't even be bothered to focus on getting a state budget in place.
It is clearly time for Walker to cash out and take a job working for one of the out-of-state billionaires who have so amply endowed his campaigns. But players always have a hard time giving up the game, so Walker is by all accounts planning to ask the taxpayers for another term — and well over another half-million in total pay — he would earn $146,597.88 annually for four years, plus health care benefits, plus a generous pension, plus free transportation, plus free housing.
Walker's re-election run is going to be a tough sell. After the better part of a decade with Walker at the helm, Wisconsin continues to trail neighboring states in measures of economic strength and social accomplishment.
But we did not know how tough a sell Walker's backers think his latest bid will be until the Republican Party confirmed that the governor is running scared.
That confirmation followed the announcement by Gronik, a newcomer to politics who is only starting to get known statewide. Republican Party operatives lost it. In an unhinged tantrum, they attacked Gronik with the same fury — and blatant disregard for the truth — that their hero, Donald Trump, reserved for his assaults on Hillary Clinton.
They poured resources into developing deliberately deceptive mailings and a website attacking Gronik, a veteran business leader whose campaign has caused the GOP establishment to become unglued simply by making this statement about Gronik: "He’s running for governor because it’s going to take a different kind of progressive leader to solve Wisconsin’s challenges after eight years of Gov. Scott Walker putting politics over people and Wisconsinites paying the price. Andy will stop the exodus of young people by inviting them to be the architects of Wisconsin’s future. He’ll give Wisconsin a real foundation that supports Wisconsin families, entrepreneurial investment, and statewide community and economic development for years to come, regardless of who you love, where you’re from, what gender you identify as, or your racial or ethnic background."
In a series of press releases and statements, Republican operatives tried to spin wild fantasies about the businessman and ripped into him for taking entirely legitimate stands on major issues.
One example of the frenzied response came from Alec Zimmerman, a paid mouthpiece for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Spewing a slurry of insults — "It's easy for an out-of-touch con artist like Andy Gronik to spout off ..." — Zimmerman went ballistic after Gronik expressed support for restoring the collective bargaining rights that were afforded hardworking teachers, nurses and snowplow drivers under Republican governors such as Warren Knowles, Lee Sherman Dreyfus, Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum.
Apparently unaware even of recent Wisconsin history, Zimmerman accused Gronik of seeking to return power to "the big government special interests who controlled Wisconsin before Gov. Walker put taxpayers in charge."
Someone should tell the spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin that our state had Republican governors for 16 of the 24 years before Walker was elected. It sounds like Zimmerman is suggesting that when responsible Republican governors ran the state — during periods when it experienced growth and prosperity — the shots were being called by "big government special interests." Just as that was not the case when Republicans such as Thompson were in charge, it wasn't the case when Democrats such as Jim Doyle were in charge. For Zimmerman to make such a suggestion is not just factually wrong, it suggests profound ignorance.
But it also indicates that the Walker team feels threatened. And they are likely to feel more threatened — and frenzied, and delusional — as additional candidates enter the competition. Gronik is a serious contender, but he is not as well known as Democratic prospects such as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who was just re-elected with 70 percent of the statewide vote; Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, a nationally recognized administrator with expertise in budgeting who has repeatedly been elected to lead the state's second largest city; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, an expert on budgeting who has a strong rural following; state Rep. Dana Wachs, a well-regarded legislator from Eau Claire who has been busy developing a statewide network of supporters; or Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, a veteran prosecutor who earned high marks as the Democratic nominee for attorney general in 2014.
We do not know who all will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Walker, nor do we know who this newspaper's preferred challenger will be.
But we are pleased that Gronik is in the running and we're pleased that he has started his campaign with a commitment to respect Wisconsin educators and public employees as they were respected under past governors of both parties — and as they are currently respected in other states run by Democratic and Republican governors. Gronik merits consideration on his own merits and because his decision to run has so rattled Republicans, whose desperation over Walker's vulnerable circumstance has been made abundantly clear by their own screeching.
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