Yes, it’s only January. But no, you won’t get much relief from politics, even though the elections are months away. We’ve already seen some mega-matchups shaping up for seats on the state Supreme Court, governor’s office and U.S. Senate. Here are five issues you can expect to hear a lot more about from candidates in 2018.
1. The fate of Foxconn. Depending on who you talk to, an incentive package to bring LCD screen manufacturer Foxconn to Wisconsin is either the smartest and most lucrative investment the state has ever made or a massive corporate giveaway that will employ far fewer people than promised. While this issue doesn’t fall precisely along party lines, you probably won’t be able to tell that from the political ads. Expect every discussion of the state incentive plan and the development of the Racine County facility to be political.
2. Where are the jobs? Gov. Scott Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term. Those numbers have still not materialized—and the Democrats running against Walker have not forgotten. Expect the jobs discussion to continue as it did in 2014, but with some new themes—like whether Foxconn will be the economic engine the governor has promised. Walker has been touting that there are “more people employed in Wisconsin than ever before,” and he points to the state’s 3.2 percent unemployment rate as proof that the state’s economy is doing well. Democrats are likely to return to their familiar themes—arguing that the state has not created jobs quickly enough and is low in job growth compared to other states.
3. The Trump effect. Every tweet. Every news conference. Every new initiative. Whatever President Donald Trump does in 2018—as well as many things he’s done since 2016—will be an issue in Wisconsin campaigns. This will likely be especially true in the race for U.S. Senate, where Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is facing a challenge from state Sen. Leah Vukmir and businessman Kevin Nicholson. From immigration to taxes to health care—the adage “all politics is local” will likely hold true and bring most Washington, D.C., fights into our backyard.
4. Act 10 (again). It’s been nearly seven years since the passage of Act 10, the measure that restricted collective bargaining for public employees. But it remains a hot-button issue in state campaigns, especially in the race for governor. Many Democrats running for the executive office continue to discuss who signed a recall petition and who didn’t. And Walker takes every chance he can to point out that Democrats who want to repeal Act 10 want to take the state backward.
5. The place of politics. Should politics play a role in the judiciary? That’s a sticking point in the race for state Supreme Court. At a forum last summer, candidates—including attorney Tim Burns and Judge Rebecca Dallet—disagreed on whether judicial candidates should take public political stances on issues like voter ID or Act 10, or whether it’s appropriate to say as a judge you’d fight for “progressive values.” But both of those candidates, as well as self-described conservative Judge Michael Screnock, have been endorsed by politicians and partisan groups. While the race for the state’s high court is officially nonpartisan, there will still be plenty of politics in play.
Jessica Arp is assistant news director and chief political reporter for WISC-TV.