Before he was governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker was Milwaukee county executive. Foreshadowing how he’d govern the state, Walker spent his time as county executive slashing Milwaukee’s safety net. As governor, he can do that by pushing and signing laws that lower the bar the state is trying to clear in taking care of its needy residents; as county executive, hemismanaged and neglected and fought back against the basic standards the state had laid out, to the point where the state had to take over Milwaukee county’s welfare programs:
At the height of the recession, in 2008 and 2009, requests for aid in Wisconsin, and throughout the country, soared. But in Milwaukee, where 41 percent of African Americans live below the poverty line, people had trouble getting help. Roughly 95 percent of calls to the county’s client-intake call center went unanswered in 2008, a state probe later found.The social services department budget funded 25 positions at the intake center, but a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter found only seven staffers working among empty cubicles when he visited. […]
But the problems weren’t just at the call center. In 2008, one out of five food stamp recipients dropped for ineligibility were in fact eligible, and wrongly cut from the program. In 2007, 60 percent of county decisions to cut food or other aid were overturned on appeal within two months. Roughly 30 percent of needy applicants were waiting more than two weeks for aid. Two-thirds of all complaints received by state welfare agencies involved Milwaukee County residents having problems obtaining Medicaid, food aid and child care services. And while the state paid a higher share of Milwaukee’s income-maintenance program costs than in other counties, Walker complained that state funding was inadequate.
Walker’s answer to his own mismanagement was, predictably enough, privatizing the services. And he used these battles—his drive to hurt Milwaukee’s most vulnerable residents—to appeal to Republican voters statewide in his 2010 gubernatorial run. Walker may just be the purest embodiment of the Republican divide-and-conquer strategy, always looking for the next poor black person or union member to attack as a moocher who has it too easy, chipping away at one group after another as long as he and millions of dollars of Republican dark money can keep a big enough chunk of voters convinced that they are the fine upstanding citizens who will be immune to his attacks. But he will always have his eye on the next target.
This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on March 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.