Did Gov. Scott Walker Pull a Tracy Flick?


Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

[For up-to-the-minute updates on the situation in Madison, Wisconsin, check out Mother Jones’ Explainer article.]

It’s well-known among Wisconsinites that their embattled, union-busting governor, Republican Scott Walker, never graduated from college. But in four years at Milwaukee’s Marquette University, he got plenty of campaigning practice—running for student body president and confessing (eventually) to multiple electioneering violations, according to the school’s paper. “For Walker, a questionable campaigning strategy is apparently nothing new,” the Marquette Tribune reported at the height of Walker’s contentious campaign for governor last October.

According to the Tribune, when Walker was a student from 1986 to 1990—a period in which he earned a GPA of 2.59 and left at least 36 credits shy of a degree—he spent much of his sophomore year running for president of the university’s student government—and amassing campaign violations left and right, reminiscent of Reese Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick character in the 1999 film Election:

  • He “was found guilty of illegal campaigning two weeks before his candidacy became official.”
  • Later, one of his campaign workers was caught stuffing brochures under doors at the school’s YMCA, violating the school’s ban on door-to-door campaigning.
  • He initially denied the brochure-stuffing allegations, then admitted to them, losing campaigning privileges at the Y.
  • The school paper initially endorsed Walker’s opponent, John Quigley, but said either candidate would be a good president. The paper rescinded that editorial the following day, however, calling Walker “unfit for presidency” based on his mudslinging brochures against Quigley…and the fact that Walker’s campaign workers were seen snatching up and trashing copies of the previous day’s Tribune that had included the Quigley endorsement.

Now, it’s easy to make too much of this. School elections are just that, and mature adults shouldn’t be judged solely by their adolescent character. But the Tribune‘s story took place in the midst of another Walker campaign in which dirty tactics abounded. And when the paper interviewed a Marquette campus supporter of Walker’s, Stephanie Marecki, her defense sounded anything but certain: 

Marecki also said the most important thing to remember is Walker’s plans to solve economic problems in Wisconsin.

“I cannot say how this information will affect the public,” Marecki said. “I would just urge voters to pay attention to the issues at hand.”

Given the current backlash surrounding his economic plans for the state, Walker might just prefer that people start talking about his college years again. Marecki said something else on that subject: “Anything that happened, he undoubtedly learned a lot from it.” True, no doubt; but as Walker holds his ground against state workers, it remains to be seen just how he’ll apply the lessons that he took away from that bumpy campaign back at Marquette.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend