During the 160 days between introducing and signing the latest state budget, Gov. Scott Walker traveled outside of Wisconsin at least 78 days, and likely more, according to a State Journal analysis.
Walker announced his short-lived presidential candidacy July 13, the day after signing the 2015-17 budget. He introduced his spending plan Feb. 3.
Before officially getting in the race, Walker spent a significant amount of time laying the groundwork for a campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere, plus 19 days on state-sponsored trade missions in Europe and Canada, and a six-day political trip to Israel.
His travels took him across the country, including a barbecue at the Wilmette, Illinois, home of Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, an audience with 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney at a Rocky Mountain resort, a sunset dinner cruise on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee and a motorcycle ride with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst through cornfield-lined stretches of Iowa.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers back home complained about having to deal with what one termed a “crap budget” while Walker’s job approval rating fell to 39 percent, according to an August Marquette Law School Poll. A new poll is due out Wednesday.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick defended Walker’s budget, saying it “is a great budget that puts taxpayers first, focusing on growth and prosperity for all, while implementing common-sense reforms to ensure state government is more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the public.”
She also said that he is in contact with lawmakers and his executive staff no matter where he is, and that much of his travel outside of Wisconsin had to do with official business, including trade missions and a governors association meeting.
Of the 78 dates identified by the newspaper, 23 involved those trips. His trade missions to Europe and Canada were also widely seen as vehicles for Walker to burnish his foreign policy credentials.
Last week, after abruptly ending his campaign in the wake of two disappointing debate performances, declining poll numbers, donor unrest and looming financial troubles, Walker acknowledged that the way to rebuild his standing in Wisconsin is to “be there.”
“All of us know with relationships you can say all you want, but the best way to make that case is to be there,” Walker told reporters.
Walker said Friday he plans to spend the coming weeks and months traveling across the state to visit schools, clinics, small businesses and farms.
On Saturday, he attended the funeral of Supreme Court Justice N. Patrick Crooks and the Badgers’ football game in Madison. On Monday, he spoke at a Wisconsin State Patrol awards ceremony which included a memorial for slain Trooper Trevor Casper and planned to attend the Packers’ game in Green Bay.
On Tuesday, he is scheduled to read to students at a charter school in Waukesha County. His office didn’t provide a list of other upcoming events he plans to attend.
Official calendars released
To compile a list of Walker’s out-of-state travel, the State Journal reviewed Walker’s official calendars from February through July. The newspaper also kept track of Walker’s public and private appearances during that period through press releases from his official office and his campaign as well as news reports, some of which chronicled out-of-state appearances Walker did not previously announce.
The newspaper tallied 78, or about half, of the days during the budget process when Walker was traveling out-of-state. On some of those days, Walker also attended events in Wisconsin before or after traveling outside the state.
On another 34 days, it couldn’t be determined from his official calendar if he was traveling or not. In the past, Walker’s office has referred questions about his travels to his campaign, which declined to comment on his previous travel schedule.
On many of those days, Walker may have been traveling to or from Wisconsin. His calendar includes significant stretches of what is identified as “hold time,” which office schedulers use as a “functional term ... to indicate blocks of time to keep clear,” according to spokeswoman Laurel Patrick. Walker’s political events in other states occurred during periods of “hold time.”
A tally from Walker’s calendars shows on weekdays he scheduled about 970 hours of “hold time” during the budget period, compared with 425 hours of scheduled state-related business. Including weekends, the “hold time” hours totaled 1,313, compared with 540 for state-related business.
Walker scheduled most of his state-related business on Wednesdays, including meetings with lawmakers and his staff, bill signings and a final review of the budget on July 8. On most weekday mornings, he scheduled a 15-minute conference call with staff before much of the day was taken up by non-state-related business.
On average during weekdays, Walker scheduled 3.75 hours of state-related business, and 8.5 hours of “hold time.”
[Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect Todd Ricketts' role with the Chicago Cubs.]