Gov. Scott Walker and others are remembering the man who preceded Walker as Milwaukee County executive. The passing of Tom Ament prompts some to look at a controversy that boosted Walker's political career.
Ament died Monday at age 76, 12 years after his decade as Milwaukee County executive ended. Conservatives became angry that Ament approved a county pension change; Ament retired instead of facing a likely recall election. Then-state Rep. Scott Walker won the special election to replace Ament.
UW-Milwaukee governmental affairs Professor Mordecai Lee says Walker had some luck. “That this pension scandal happened, that Tom Ament decided to retire rather than face a recall, that not many people jumped into the race early,” he said. “Scott Walker saw the opportunity and jumped into it fast, went up on TV very quickly, to be the sort of reform candidate and the anti-tax candidate, and launched his career. That's an indication of how quick footed he was, but also how lucky he was.”
But Lee also says it was an example of the skills Walker later showed as governor, getting the crackdown on collective bargaining passed and surviving the 2012 recall.
Walker says he doesn't regret jumping into the county executive race after Ament quickly retired, but also says if Ament had not gotten into trouble, who knows if he would have become governor.
“Well, I wouldn't have been county executive, I didn't have any interest in that,” Walker said. “I ran at the time because I felt somebody needed to step up and do that.
“I don't know what the future would have held if things had gone differently there, but from that standpoint I don't spend a lot of time looking back: I like to look forward,” Walker continued.
Walker sends his sympathies to Ament's family. A state nurse's union credits Ament for helping create a regional medical center and says Ament, who also served 24 years on the Milwaukee County board, provided decades of admirable public service.