Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has been at the center of a series of controversies over the years, but his latest mess was hard to predict. It deals, of all things, with the governor’s proposed budget for the state university system.
The initial problem was Walker’s plan to slash state funding in higher education, which itself raised questions about his priorities. But while plenty of GOP governors have cut education spending, what sets this story apart is Walker’s gratuitous decision to use his budget to alter the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement.
For over a century, the University of Wisconsin has committed itself to some simple principles, such as, “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” Under Walker’s budget, those words would be deleted from the school’s stated mission, along with the university’s commitment “to educate people and improve the human condition” and “serve and stimulate society.”
All of this language would be replaced with a new phrase: the university, under the Walker’s administration’s vision, would focus on “the state’s work force needs.”
When even Republicans balked at the governor’s move, Walker’s office offered an explanation that the editorial board of the New York Times described as “ridiculous.”
The citizens of Wisconsin, clearly more appreciative of the state university than is their governor, erupted through social media and news outlets, sending Mr. Walker into retreat a day later. His office attempted the ridiculous excuse that the pernicious editing of the university’s mission was simply “a drafting error” in the budget text and that the Wisconsin Idea would be left intact after all. But a December email showed clear instructions from the administration to make the deletions.
Going after “the search for truth” was a bad idea. Justifying the move with falsehoods was worse.
At face value, the “drafting error” excuse was hard to take seriously – it’s tough to accidentally delete a handful of specific phrases while inserting preferred alternative language – but it’s since been discredited through documented evidence. Digby’s piece on this added:
After the changes were revealed publicly Walker made a hilariously fatuous claim worthy of Rosemary Woods and the 18 minute gap: somehow those changes just appeared and he didn’t know nothin’ about how they got there and anyway it was the University’s fault for “overlooking” it. He has had to backtrack from that as well, admitting that his people did make these changes and the university official argued vociferously against it. But none of it is his fault because well, it just isn’t. Or anyone else’s.
So to recap:
1. Walker proposed gutting higher-ed funding, while simultaneously editing a university mission statement to make it more ideologically satisfying to the far-right governor.
2. Walker blamed a “drafting error” for the ham-fisted mistake.
3. Walker, confronted with reality, was forced to concede his own excuse wasn’t true.
Behold, your apparent frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
The NYT’s editorial board concluded: “All of that may be red meat for conservative zealots in the caucus and on the presidential primary circuit. Yet it is hard to see such a clumsy attack on education going far with a general electorate concerned about their children’s chances in life. If nothing else, Mr. Walker is sharpening the debate within the Republican Party about whether it can win despite its own extremists.”
Our pals at “All In with Chris Hayes” had a good report on the other day: