MADISON — Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers both delivered well-rehearsed, sharp attack lines on hot topics in the governor's race in their first debate Friday. Walker and Evers, the state superintendent, are locked in a tight battle for governor with the election just over two weeks away.
Takeaways from the debate hosted by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association:
Both Walker and Evers addressed the issue of their credibility with some of the sharpest criticisms in the debate.
On Thursday, a fourth former Walker Cabinet secretary came forward to harshly criticize him and signed a letter with two other former secretaries calling for the election of Evers. And just hours before the debate, Evers admitted that four sections in the budget proposal he submitted for the state education department was taken from other sources without credit.
Walker discounted the criticism from his former top administration officials, saying he welcomed having people with diverse opinions.
Evers said the real issue was "about how you govern and how the people of Wisconsin trust you." He said their allegations that Walker put his political aspirations ahead of the people of Wisconsin "is something, frankly, that is very frightening to me."
Evers also shrugged off the charges of plagiarism.
"If this is the best Scott Walker has, he doesn't have very much," Evers said. "We dropped a few citations from the back pages of a budget. ... The last thing I need in my life is to have Scott Walker lecturing me about the issue of plagiarism, frankly."
He accused Walker of signing conservative national model legislation into law with few changes.
Walker said he didn't know of any student who could turn in a term paper with plagiarism like what was in the budget Evers submitted.
Walker repeated his argument that Evers will raise property and income taxes and the gas tax as much as $1 per gallon.
"You better hang on to your wallets and purses because he's going to raise your taxes," Walker said.
Evers has not proposed a dollar per gallon gas tax hike and said Friday he wouldn't do that and was hoping not to raise any taxes, but was open to it.
"Holy mackerel is what I say," Ever said. "Of course, the people of Wisconsin understand, except Scott Walker keeps repeating it, a dollar a gallon is ridiculous and isn't going to happen."
Evers said Walker's decisions to cut taxes at the state level forced local communities to raise taxes and fees, like wheel taxes on vehicles.
"That's a Scott Walker tax," Evers said.
Evers supports the Affordable Care Act, which has a pre-existing condition coverage guarantee, while Walker is a longtime opponent of the law. Walker this year authorized the state to join a federal lawsuit seeking repeal of the law. Walker has called for the Legislature to pass a bill providing state protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but it didn't pass in the Senate.
"We can protect people with pre-existing conditions without protecting the failure that is 'Obamacare,'" Walker said.
Evers called Walker's explanation of his position a "breathtaking soliloquy." Evers said Walker was "talking out of both sides of his mouth" when he calls for repealing the national health care law while claiming to support guarantees for pre-existing condition coverage.
Evers defended his proposed budget that includes a 10 percent funding increase for schools, with the state paying for two-thirds of costs. His proposal did not say how the $1.4 billion increase would be paid for.
Walker this week also said he is committed to two-thirds state funding for schools, something that hasn't happened in 15 years. Walker has similarly not said where the roughly $130 million a year to pay for it would come from.
But Walker said he proved that property taxes can be cut while education funding is increased, like it was in his last budget that Evers praised. Evers said he supported Walker's education budget last year because it was largely what Evers had proposed.
"My definition of plagiarism is when Scott Walker takes my budget and calls it his own," Evers said, a sly reference to the uncredited passages from his state budget.
Walker and Evers will debate for a second and final time on Oct. 26, just 11 days from the Nov. 6 election.