Walker, Evers spar over teacher who viewed porn in school

MILWAUKEE -- A teacher who viewed porn at school has become the central focus in Wisconsin's governor race, with Democrat Tony Evers and Republican Gov. Scott Walker facing dueling attack ads.

In 2010, the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District said middle school teacher Andrew Harris had looked at photos of nude women, showed at least one photo to a female teacher, and made crude comments about middle school girls to his co-workers. Evers, the state schools superintendent, eventually decided not to revoke Harris's license.

Evers' decision has become the first major issue in the fall campaign. The Republican Party of Wisconsin is spending at least $500,000 on a TV attack ad, while two Democratic groups have countered with ads accusing Walker of lying about the case.

"As superintendent of public instruction, Tony Evers is supposed to keep our children safe. But he didn't," the Wisconsin GOP ad says.

The case itself is complicated. Evers said he couldn't revoke Harris's license because of the way state law defined "immoral conduct" at the time.

Before 2011, immoral conduct was "conduct or behavior that is contrary to commonly accepted moral or ethical standards and that endangers the health, safety, welfare or education of any pupil."

Evers said Harris's actions did not put students in danger. The initial Middleton-Cross Plains district investigation said there was "potential for student exposure if a student had come into the classroom."

In 2011, Evers' Department of Public Instruction endorsed a change to state law giving him the authority to revoke a teacher's license for using school district equipment to view pornographic material. The measure became law that year.

Two Democratic groups, Greater Wisconsin Committee and A Stronger Wisconsin, have pushed back by accusing Walker and the GOP of lying about Evers' role in the case.

"After 25 years in office, Scott Walker is desperate to stay in power, so he’s attacking Tony Evers and not telling the truth," the Greater Wisconsin Committee ad says.

Harris was fired from his teaching job, but an arbitrator and two courts later said the school district had to give him his job back. He currently teaches in Middleton.

Evers said last week that the GOP's ad was "ridiculous" and that he had complied with state law, then worked with the Legislature to "fix a loophole."

"Simple as that," Evers said during a news conference. "I was following state law as a constitutional officer."

But Walker has long contended that Evers had the power to revoke Harris's license.

"I believe legally could’ve done it, as I spelled out at the time," Walker said. "He didn’t. If you can’t do you job, you shouldn’t be asking for a promotion."

The ads are among a remarkable blitz of TV attack ads in the first week of the general election. At least five of the ads are education-related, totaling at least $6 million in spending.

The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is accusing Evers of doing little to improve dozens of failing schools. Americans for Prosperity is promoting Walker's most recent budget, which included an increase for K-12 schools after cuts earlier this decade.