Walkers relax as political whirlwind settleBy: Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel
Saturday, June 9, 2012
On the night of his greatest political triumph, as he bounded up to the podium at the Waukesha County Exposition Center, Gov. Scott Walker was at the center of all the noise from thousands of his supporters, and all the lights of television crews drawn to a riveting political story.
Later, a friend asked Walker what he thought of it all, and the governor said, "It's funny, it's not what you think."
"I just honed in on the three of them," Walker said of his wife, Tonette, and sons Matt and Alex. "And I thought, 'Thank God, thank God, it's over for them.' The three of them had just gone through so much and they didn't ask for it. They didn't ask for the job. I did."
One chapter in the life of an American politician ended Tuesday night when Walker became the first governor in American history to survive a recall election.
And another chapter had begun.
Walker has emerged from the most contentious period of modern Wisconsin politics and become a hero in the national Republican Party.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was the first person who called Walker after the first television network declared the governor had defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
In the hours and days after the election, other calls followed from the likes of Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia, as well as other governors, Walker said. And there were texts and notes from longtime friends.
"So many people sent me text with Scripture in it," he said. "So many people sent me congratulation notes with their devotional for the day. It wasn't just a, 'hey, high-five, you've done it,' it was, 'this really moved me, this touched me.' "
On Friday morning at the governor's office in Milwaukee, Walker and his wife discussed the emotions of the past 17 months - and Tuesday night's triumph - during an interview with the Journal Sentinel.
Sitting side-by-side on a sofa, they were playful and affectionate; just what you would expect from a couple married 19 years.
Like any other family, they celebrate the joys in life even as they face their share of challenges.
This is a big weekend for the Walkers. On Saturday, their 17-year-old son, Matt, graduated from Wauwatosa East High School. The governor said the school's principal, Nick Hughes, looked out for his sons and the teachers "were great." Many teachers in the state were opposed to Walker's reforms.
"It was very revealing about their professionalism," Walker said. "Their hearts were with these kids."
On Sunday, the governor was primed to ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, hitting the open road for the first time in a very long time.
Much lies ahead. Matt Walker will attend Marquette University in the fall. Alex Walker will become a high school senior.
"He won't admit it, he'll miss his brother being around," Walker said of his younger son. "He's missed him in the past when Matt goes on a mission trip or has gone away to camp. Sometimes it's like watching a dog when an owner's gone. They run around the house. They just don't know what quite what to do."
Tonette Walker, rolling her eyes, told her husband, "You just called your son a dog. I don't think he's going to like that. Alex is very capable. He has lots of friends."
"He has tons of friends," the governor said.
"He's not going to run around the house like a dog," Tonette Walker said.
Back to normal
The Walkers are getting back into their routines, savoring little moments, such as when the governor and his older son drove over Thursday night to Sonic Drive-In for burgers.
After he was elected in 2010, the Walkers did not move into the governor's residence in Madison. They stayed at their home in Wauwatosa. And they're now a three-generation household. The governor's parents, Pat and Llew Walker, a retired American Baptist minister, live with the family.
Llew Walker has diabetes and in the past year had two mini strokes, the governor said.
"He has some challenges," Tonette Walker said. "It's good for him to be with us. The boys keep him active."
So did the campaign. Pat and Llew Walker ferried to campaign offices across the state care packages of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Llew Walker regaled volunteers with stories of his son growing up.
Llew Walker loves reading and watching sports, especially basketball. The night of his son's "state of the state" address this year, he asked if the speech would end in time for the opening tip of a Duke University basketball game.
"The boys were laughing, and said, 'Really Grandpa?' " Walker said.
The governor was constantly on the road during the campaign.
"If anyone wants to know how this has affected us, our home in Wauwatosa is a wreck," Tonette Walker said. "There's so much weeding and yard work, and the house needs to be painted."
It's not as if the governor could take off a day and mulch or touch up some walls.
"I'll be doing a lot of painting this summer," Walker said.
One day, while Barrett was holding a community gathering nearby, Tonette Walker said she was outside "mowing the lawn."
"Someone should have come down and taken a picture of me," she joked.
The Walkers realize their lives have changed. Two years ago, Walker was the Milwaukee County executive, making a run for governor. Now, he's a national figure.
"It's surreal," Walker said.
The national media is asking him about his interest in becoming a vice presidential running mate for Romney, a question he recently deflected by saying that the best pick from Wisconsin would be U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.
"It's a bit overwhelming to have all that brought up," Walker said.
"I'd like to have some impact on the debate, not as a candidate but as a voice."
A couple of national narratives have grown around his victory in Wisconsin. One is that Walker won because of his overwhelming edge in fundraising. The other is that the results in Wisconsin mark the beginning of the end for public-sector unions, which battled the governor fiercely after they lost most collective bargaining.
Walker said neither narrative is correct.
"The mayor could have had $50 million more, it wouldn't have made a difference," he said. "I think if you ask most voters today, everybody knew what was at stake. Everybody knew where I was, they knew what the mayor offered. There was no confusion. One of the positive things I looked at, this was one of those few elections where it wasn't based on some goofy sidebar issue. It wasn't based on some personality issue. It was fundamentally, here's where this side stands, here's where that side stands. Who do you pick?"
He said voters in the middle "ultimately tipped it our way." And he added that voters were well-informed.
Walker said he is intent on bringing the state together, although state Democrats remain wary. And unresolved is an ongoing secret John Doe investigation stemming from his time as Milwaukee County executive.
Now that the election is over, Walker said, there are no longer opponents - just Wisconsinites.
"We're not going to compromise our principles or anything like that," he said. "People shouldn't read this and say that nothing bold is ever going to happen again. But it's really a sense that people want to move on from this and we're really committed to doing that for everybody."
Part of the healing process may take place during a beer, brats and burger summit at the governor's residence Tuesday. All the legislators, Republicans and Democrats, are invited. Tonette Walker came up with the idea, and her husband ran with it during the victory speech.
Early Wednesday morning, the family gathered around the television set to watch excerpts of the speech. One commentator led up to Walker's invitation for the summit and said it was brilliant.
Tonette Walker said when she heard that comment, she got up and danced.
"Of course, those guys, always three against one in our house," she said. "There's the three of them and I'm the short one, I'm always the slow one, so they're always cracking jokes about. So when I got up and did my little 'brilliant' dance, they said, OK, go lay down."
With Tuesday's victory, Tonette Walker said that she now hopes "people will take a second look at Scott . . . stop listening to all the outside voices and just kind of sit back and wait and see what is going to happen with the state."
In the coming months, Wisconsin will likely emerge as a battleground for the presidency. Walker is often asked what lessons Romney can learn from the recall race.
"If people look at him and say the R next to his name isn't so much about Republican as Reformer, then he has a shot," Walker said. "Because for those people who crossed over the line a little bit to vote for me, it wasn't because I was a Republican, it's because they liked the reforms, liked the way we pushed it."