MAPLE BLUFF, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker isn’t apologizing for having never toured the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison, even as it’s been under state and federal investigation for nearly two years.
Walker said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press that mistakes were made at the prison 30 miles north of Wausau, but he doesn’t know whether anyone should be charged as a result of state and federal investigations.
Walker also said it’s reasonable to raise entry and camping fees for Wisconsin state parks, but he’s not excited about a proposal to require random drug testing for high school students participating in extracurricular activities.
Walker also promised that his two-year state budget to be released in February would receive a “sizeable increase” in state funding, with a particular emphasis on helping rural schools.
On Lincoln Hills, Walker deflected criticism he’s received for having never toured the prison.
“I’ve never gone to any of the prisons as governor,” Walker said. “You don’t see anything on a visit anything different than what you’re going to hear about.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jen Shilling responded by saying the workers and children there feel like they’re being ignored by Walker.
“I would encourage Gov. Walker visit Lincoln Hills, talk with the workers there and take a more active leadership role addressing these issues,” Shilling said.
The FBI has been investigating a variety of allegations - including prisoner abuse, child neglect and sexual assault - since February.
Walker said mistakes made at the prison have been “well outlined,” but he doesn’t know whether any criminal charges should be filed. Walker said “significant action” has been taken to improve the Department of Corrections since Jon Litscher took over as secretary in February, though more work needs to be done.
Walker spoke on a variety of issues during the interview at the governor’s mansion, where he sat next to one of several Christmas trees on display there during the holiday season. Governors for years have invited reporters to the mansion for year-end interviews. Walker resumed the tradition this year after skipping it in 2015 shortly after he ended his ill-fated run for president.
Walker’s budget will be the focus of activity next year in the Legislature, where Republicans are returning with even larger majorities than they had the past two years. The GOP has been in control of the Legislature and governor’s office since 2011, when Walker’s first term began.
Other topics Walker discussed include:
Walker said the question of raising park fees and increasing vehicle registration or gas taxes are “two completely different issues.” Walker has been steadfastly opposed to tax or fee increases to pay for roads unless there’s a corresponding cut elsewhere. But Walker said park and camping fees are different because people have a choice over whether to go to parks or camp there. Walker said he “probably won’t include all” of the fee increases floated by the state Department of Natural Resources, but it’s reasonable to “have some adjustments.”
Add Walker to the list of politicians not thrilled with the idea of requiring random drug tests for high school students participating in sports or extracurricular activities. That is a recommendation of an anti-heroin task force comprised of state lawmakers and others. But Walker said that mandating drug tests is not something he’s heard from people studying how to fight the spread of heroin and prescription drug abuse. Instead, Walker said he’s focused on the “most effective tools” to combat drug abuse. His comments come after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Tuesday said he didn’t see a “groundswell of support” for the idea and he didn’t want to mandate drug testing for all schools.
Walker will be headed to Washington next month for Donald Trump’s inauguration as president. Walker previously attended George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001 and 2005, but Trump’s will be the first one he’s gone to as governor. Walker skipped President Barack Obama’s 2013 swearing in.
Walker reiterated Wednesday that if he were to seek a third term in 2018, he would not run for a fourth term. Walker has said in the past that he’s imposed term limits on himself by not serving in any one office more than 10 years. He would hit the decade mark as governor in 2020, if he were re-elected.
“I’m not going to leave midterm if I get elected,” Walker said. “Ten to 12 has always been my ballpark.”
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