Walker Campaign's First Attack Ad Returns To Teacher Porn Case

Sep 6, 2018

Wisconsin’s candidates for governor touted their education priorities at back-to-school events this week. They're also continuing to criticize each other.

Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign released its first attack ad against Democrat challenger Tony Evers. It claims that as state superintendent, Evers failed to protect children from a teacher who viewed pornography at work.

The story is one of the main lines of attack Republicans backing Walker are using against Evers.

But unlike previous TV and radio spots about the issue, this week’s ad is from Walker’s official campaign.

The ad refers to Middleton middle school teacher Andrew Harris. In 2009, Harris and six other teachers were investigated for looking at inappropriate material in school. The investigation found that teachers viewed and sent raunchy emails on school computers.

Harris was the only staff member fired. He and his union fought back, and the district was forced to reinstate him a few years later.

That’s where Evers and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) come in.

The Middleton school district and local parents asked DPI to intervene and revoke Harris’ teaching license.

DPI investigated, but decided there were not legal grounds to proceed. At the time, state law said teachers’ licenses could be taken away if their ‘immoral conduct’ endangered students.

In Harris’ situation, no students were exposed to the pornographic images.

Gov. Walker says Evers still should have gone through with the revocation.

“Parents asked for that, I said that at the time,” Walker told reporters at a press event Wednesday. “And what’s frustrating to me is that [Evers] didn’t even try.”

The Harris case helped motivate lawmakers to relax rules around stripping teachers of their licenses. The state is now allowed to take away licenses for certain offenses even if students were not hurt.

But Harris is still teaching. And Walker’s campaign blames Evers. 

DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy says the department can’t retroactively revoke Harris’ license.

“We have to evaluate his behavior in the moment and situate it within the laws of that time,” McCarthy said.

The attack ad also brings up accusations that Harris made crude comments about female students. McCarthy says those claims were not substantiated in an investigation.

He says the story is more complex than a 30-second ad.  

“There are times when the truth is complicated,” McCarthy said. “And it’s disappointing that this is being used over and over again in the political theater in a way that does not do justice to the truth.”

Evers’ campaign had stronger words.

“Without any ability to run on his record and troubling poll numbers, Walker's re-election strategy is clear: rely on disgusting, dishonest and increasingly desperate attacks to try and distract from his eight years of failure in Wisconsin,” campaign manager Maggie Gau said in a written statement.

Evers has repeatedly said that Walker has hurt Wisconsin’s public education system during his time in office. He told reporters this week that Walker’s proposal to give five years of $1,000 tax breaks to college grads who stay in Wisconsin could not make up for the damage he has caused.

“He’s running for re-election and he’s scared,” Evers said. “To say to young people that have mountains of debt, ‘oh we’re going to give you $1,000 if you stay in Wisconsin,’ -- that’ not going to cut it. He’s running for re-election. That’s why he’s saying that.”

Polls show Evers and Walker in a tight race for the governor’s seat.

Education is expected to remain one of the central issues in the campaign.

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