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Wisconsin Chief Tony Evers Upsets Incumbent Scott Walker in Governor's Race

By Lisa Stark

Tony Evers, Wisconsin's Democratic state superintendent who campaigned on a promise to restore respect for the state's teachers and financially bail out its public school system, upset two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker early Wednesday morning, in a hard-fought, nail-biter of an election.

"Tony Evers provides us with a new direction that a lot of people want to go," said Danielle Moehring, 27, a scientist from Madison.

Ellen Martin, a 67-year-old retired occupational therapist from Madison, said she voted for Evers because he will "save our state, especially the environment, education."

Martin said she thought voters in Wisconsin were tired of Walker after eight years in office.

"I never liked him," Martin said. "He's shamed our state, embarrassed our state, ruined our politics."

This race had close from the start, pitting candidates who are opposites in nearly every way. Scott Walker has been the darling of tea party conservatives during his eight years in office. As governor he slashed taxes, cut funding to schools, and did away with bargaining rights for most public employees, including teachers. Walker, who can be a charismatic politician, survived a recall election in 2012 and was elected to a second term in 2014, despite the efforts of those who denounced his move to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

His opponent, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, is a long-time educator without Walker's political panache. That said, he has won three statewide elections to Wisconsin's top education job.

Education was a key issue in this midterm election battle. Both candidates called for more money for schools, and Walker even boosted school funding by $636 million in his most recent two-year budget. He now calls himself "the education governor." Evers argued that the funding increase doesn't made up for the deep cuts Walker enacted in earlier years and denounced the move as an election year "flash in the pan."

The two also disagreed over private school vouchers. Walker has increased the state's voucher program, while Evers, who supports traditional public schools, has indicated he wants to freeze voucher enrollment.

Walker had touted the state's economic boom and low unemployment rate. He promised to increase funding for schools and roads, and continue a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze.  Evers argued that the economic good times have left many in the state behind, and he assured voters he supports the Affordable Care Act and its protection of those with pre-existing conditions. Under Walker, Wisconsin joined a federal lawsuit opposing the health care law. 

Wisconsin is considered a purple state, although in the last presidential election Trump barely won the state in 2016, becoming the first Republican to do since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

The Associated Press and Education Week staff writer Daarel Burnette II contributed to this report.

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