Iron County Progressive


From The New Yorker Magazine

Did Scott Walker and Donald Trump Deal Away the Wisconsin Governor’s Race to Foxconn?

As the public has become aware of the spiralling costs associated with building a new Foxconn plant in Wisconsin, the deal has become something of a political liability for the governor.


November 3, 2018

In September of 2017, Governor Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin, signed a contract that would make his state the home of the first U.S. factory of Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer. The company, which is based in Taiwan and makes products for Apple, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, among others, would build a 21.5-million-square-foot manufacturing campus, invest up to ten billion dollars in Wisconsin, and hire as many as thirteen thousand workers at an average wage of fifty-four thousand dollars a year. For Walker, whose approval had fallen to the mid-thirties after his aborted Presidential run, the deal was seen as a crucial boost to his reĆ«lection prospects. “The Foxconn initiative looked like something that could be a hallmark of Walker’s reĆ«lection campaign,” Charles Franklin, a professor and pollster at Marquette University Law School, told me. “He could claim a major new manufacturing presence, one that would also employ blue-collar workers in a region where blue-collar jobs are more scarce than they used to be.”

The idea of putting the plant in southeastern Wisconsin originated in April of 2017, during a helicopter ride President Donald Trump took with Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin native and Trump’s chief of staff at the time. Flying over Kenosha, Priebus’s home town, they passed the empty lot that once held the American Motors Corporation plant. “Why is all that land vacant?” Trump asked, according to an account Priebus gave to a Milwaukee television station. “That land should be used.” When Terry Gou, Foxconn’s chairman, came to the White House to discuss Foxconn’s desire to build a U.S. factory, Trump suggested the site in Kenosha. It wasn’t big enough, but the town of Mt. Pleasant, fifteen miles north, pursued the company aggressively, and was ultimately selected by Foxconn in October of 2017.

The project moved quickly. Last June, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Mt. Pleasant to celebrate a political triumph for Trump and Walker. After depositing a couple scoops of earth with a gold-plated shovel, Trump called Foxconn’s future campus “the eighth wonder of the world” and hinted that its promise of well-paying manufacturing jobs could be a model for other states in the Midwest, which were, like Wisconsin, crucial to Trump’s narrow Electoral College victory in the 2016 election. “I recommended Wisconsin, in this case,” Trump said. “And I’ll be recommending Ohio, and I’ll be recommending Pennsylvania, and I’ll be recommending Iowa.”

But as the public has become aware of the spiralling costs for these jobs, the Foxconn deal has become something of a political liability for Walker, particularly among voters outside of southeastern Wisconsin. Those costs include taxpayer subsidies to the company totalling more than $4.5 billion, the largest subsidy for a foreign corporation in American history. Since Wisconsin already exempts manufacturing companies from paying taxes, Foxconn, which generated a hundred and fifty-eight billion dollars in revenue last year, will receive much of this subsidy in direct cash payments from taxpayers. Depending on how many jobs are actually created, taxpayers will be paying between two  hundred and twenty thousand dollars and more than a million dollars per job. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, a nonpartisan agency that provides economic analysis to the Wisconsin state legislature, the earliest citizens might see a return on their Foxconn investment is in 2042.

There are other costs that have contributed to public skepticism over the Foxconn deal. At Walker’s request, Scott Pruitt, then the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, overruled the objections of his staff to grant most of southeastern Wisconsin an exemption from limits on smog pollution. (Walker declined to respond to interview requests for this article.) The Wisconsin state legislature passed a bill granting Foxconn special court privileges; unlike other litigants, the company can make multiple appeals of unfavorable rulings in a single case, and can even appeal an unfavorable ruling directly to the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court. But few costs have caused more outrage than the manner in which Mt. Pleasant’s Village Board of Trustees secured the twenty-eight hundred acres of land, roughly four square miles, necessary to build the Foxconn campus.

To make space for Foxconn’s development, which will also necessitate many miles of new roads, the Village Board has been buying properties, sometimes using the threat of eminent domain to force reluctant homeowners to sell at a price determined by the village. Several weeks before the groundbreaking, the seven-member board went further. By a 6–1 vote, the board designated the entire twenty-eight-hundred-acre area “blighted,” which will allow Mt. Pleasant to issue bonds that are exempt from both federal and state taxes, and may also grant the village a more expansive use of eminent domain to seize the property of the few remaining holdouts, a small if highly visible group, whose property-rights fight embodies a wider sense of disenchantment with the Foxconn deal.

The agreement’s high cost, estimated at nearly eighteen hundred dollars per household, has created a heavy burden for taxpayers, and a political risk for Walker. After the terms were announced, last year, Governor John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, said, “I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not going to take us forty years to make back the investment we make. We don’t buy deals.” A majority of Wisconsin voters have never believed the state was getting its money’s worth, according to polls conducted by Franklin at Marquette. His polling has also consistently shown a majority of voters believe that Foxconn will not help businesses in their area. “The governor’s fortunes are so tied up with his backing of Foxconn,” Franklin said. “When it was first announced it was, in the short term, perceived as this major victory for Walker, the thing that might solidify its hold on the election.” Now, Foxconn is one of the main reasons Walker has trailed his Democratic opponent, Tony Evers, the state superintendent of schools, in nearly every poll since the August primaries.




There are other costs that have contributed to public skepticism over the Foxconn deal. At Walker’s request, Scott Pruitt, then the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, overruled the objections of his staff to grant most of southeastern Wisconsin an exemption from limits on smog pollution. (Walker declined to respond to interview requests for this article.) The Wisconsin state legislature passed a bill granting Foxconn special court privileges; unlike other litigants, the company can make multiple appeals of unfavorable rulings in a single case, and can even appeal an unfavorable ruling directly to the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court. But few costs have caused more outrage than the manner in which Mt. Pleasant’s Village Board of Trustees secured the twenty-eight hundred acres of land, roughly four square miles, necessary to build the Foxconn campus.

To make space for Foxconn’s development, which will also necessitate many miles of new roads, the Village Board has been buying properties, sometimes using the threat of eminent domain to force reluctant homeowners to sell at a price determined by the village. Several weeks before the groundbreaking, the seven-member board went further. By a 6–1 vote, the board designated the entire twenty-eight-hundred-acre area “



Friends and Supporters:

It’s hard to believe there are just a couple days left in an election cycle that changed my life.  

I began the journey I never saw coming more than a year before President Obama made his last speech in office where he said, “If something needs fixin’, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing.”  

I saw a lot in Wisconsin that needed fixin’ and I’d spent my entire career successfully taking on challenges where things were broken.  So, I laced up my shoes and started traveling the state to listen to the people directly confronted by the complicated social issues holding our state back to inform the kinds of solutions that would make living in Wisconsin better for everybody.
I spent 18 months meeting with more than 700 people all over the state and advanced innovative plans to create jobs and improve education.  It became increasingly clear to me that if I was disappointed with the state of our affairs in Wisconsin then it was time for me to “…grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office…” myself. So, I did.  

I found goodness in people whether or not they agreed with my ideas and/or positions on issues.  

I was invited in to see people’s lives close up and I was energized and inspired by these amazing people every day. Together, we built great statewide momentum and support, but I still lost the battle of name recognition as someone who’d never spent a moment in the political arena.  While this was deeply disappointing, it is impossible for me to un-see all that I’ve seen and un-experience all that I’ve experienced.    

We have a lot of work to do and that’s what this election is all about for me.  

I may not be carrying the banner for our party or state, but democrats have a lot of enormously talented, committed and tenacious candidates who are ready to “…show up, dive in and stay at it...” so we can become a Wisconsin That Works for everybody.  Tony Evers is one of those great candidates.  This Tuesday you and your family, friends and neighbors have the power to elect Tony our next governor and put more than 100 other amazing democratic candidates in office to work for you so we can get back to being Wisconsin. Introduce them to your friends by forwarding this email and tagging (see below) your candidates on Facebook with your endorsement. 

“If you’re tired of arguing with people on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.”  

Try engaging that person at the grocery store, gas station or diner in a real conversation about the future of our state.  Listen more than you speak.  Search for that common ground around the things we all care about – our families and our futures.  

Instead of living the tribal politics designed to rip us apart, engage your neighbors in a conversation about living a quality life in Wisconsin and you’ll quickly find that we’re all part of one tribe.

When I began this journey, I had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t expect to find a state filled with hugs and smiles; I didn’t expect to find myself witness to dreams and tears; I didn’t expect to make so many new friends that now feel more like extended family to me.  And, I didn’t expect to find myself in a room with President Obama and experience him stopping to give my daughter Maria a hug.  

Every day of this incredible journey has been energizing and inspirational and my faith in all that’s possible in our state and in our country has been confirmed.  Thank you all for sharing your hopes and dreams with me. 

Now, let’s all get out and vote for people throughout our state and country who will hope and dream right along with us and get the kinds of things done that will make all of our lives better.  

With gratitude for everything,

Andy Gronik

Former Candidate for Governor of Wisconsin

P.S.  Please take some folks with you to the polls!