After Gov. Scott Walker won re-election in 2014, the Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association donated $30,000 to his inauguration celebration, hoping to win the governor’s ear and patch things up from a first term full of labor-union acrimony.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the attempts at reconciliation have come to naught. The association is all-in for Mr. Walker’s opponent, Tony Evers, donating $20,000 to the Democrat’s campaign.
“The state of Wisconsin has been under complete Republican control for the last eight years,” said Terry Hayden, president of the association. “And within the last four years specifically, the construction trade has seen significant attacks on our business model.”
That unions are angry at Mr. Walker is nothing new. They opposed him in 2010, tried to oust him in a failed recall election in 2012, spent heavily to try to defeat him in 2014 — and are now back again, hoping the fourth time’s the charm.
It’s the size of their opposition that’s striking. They’ve donated more than $600,000 to Mr. Evers — more than 100 times what unions have given to Mr. Walker — and that doesn’t include contributions to outside groups that are spending to unseat the incumbent.
Joe Heim, professor emeritus at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said that after eight years under the Walker administration, unions have felt targeted.
“Tony Evers is not an exciting candidate,” Mr. Heim said. “One can say he’s pretty bland, but he’s getting the advantage amongst the unions of simply being not Scott Walker.”
Mr. Walker angered the unions early on, becoming the face of the 2010 GOP governors-wave election, and their subsequent push to rein in the power of public-sector labor unions.
He led the passage of a law to limit public unions’ power to negotiate anything except wages. Mr. Walker also signed legislation in 2015 making Wisconsin a right-to-work state.
Teachers took the changes particularly hard, while public-safety industries, such as law-enforcement or firefighters, were exempt.
Union membership dropped, from 15.2 percent of the Wisconsin work force in 2009 to just 8.3 percent in 2017.
Ousting the governor would be a major victory for labor unions, who believe they’ve got the perfect candidate in Mr. Evers, the state superintendent.
Also weighing on Mr. Walker, Mr. Heim said, is that he’s bidding for a third term — something that’s only been done once before. And he’s doing it in what’s shaping up as a Democratic year.
“He’s running a little bit of an uphill battle against tradition in the state,” Mr. Heim said.
Mr. Evers is also tapping his own staff for campaign cash. Records show top officials at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction have contributed about than $4,000 to his campaign.
Though receiving donations from employees is prohibited on the federal level, it is legal in the state of Wisconsin — though it still sparks partisan sniping.
“A lot of the discussion here has been less about ‘let’s really talk about the ethics and how they might apply to both parties’ and more of this partisan back-and-forth,” said Paul Nolette, who teaches American politics and law at Marquette University.
Mr. Walker’s operation says he does not accept donations from his office staff.
The governor does have the backing of one public labor union this year. The Milwaukee Police Association made at least three separate donations to his re-election campaign totaling about $6,000.
His campaign says it isn’t fazed by massive opposition from other unions, saying Mr. Evers’ donations are a sign he would be beholden to them.
“This is proof Tony Evers is a liberal bureaucrat who rewards his political cronies with taxpayer dollars and would take Wisconsin backward to the days of big government unions and higher taxes,” campaign spokesperson Austin Altenburg told The Washington Times.
“Scott Walker has reformed state government and cut taxes, taking power away from the big government unions and liberal special interests and returning it to hard-working Wisconsin taxpayers,” he added.
Mr. Evers’ campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.