Tonette Walker’s role as Wisconsin’s first lady has been slow to evolve, overshadowed by the controversy swirling around her husband’s tumultuous months since being sworn in as governor in January. But she emerged from Scott Walker’s shadow this month when she ventured onto the trails of a state park to launch her initiative promoting a healthy lifestyle and the Badger State’s natural beauty.
|Tonette and Scott Walker started their courtship in 1990 at a karoake night at a Milwaukee restaurant where he eventually proposed to her on a napkin. (AP Photo)
Dubbed “Walk with Walker,” the program is one of several on her agenda while living in the Governor’s Mansion, with others including social issues such as foster care awareness, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
The newspaper’s profile of the first lady on Sunday noted the stress she has endured amid the protests that have dogged the Republican governor since controversy erupted over his budget proposals in February.
"When a governor is elected, in many ways, his whole family is elected," Charles Franklin, UW-Madison political science professor, told the State Journal. "Dealing with the fallout of the governor's policies is just part of the game."
It was anything but a game for Tonette, who told the State Journal that the stress prompted her to break down in tears several times.
“We got through it with a lot of prayer and family and friends," she said.
Walker, 56, who divides her time between the family's home in Wauwatosa and the governor's residence in Madison, hails from a working-class family in northwest Milwaukee, the profile story reported.
She never was all that interested in politics, which makes it all the more ironic that she’s the first lady.
Scott and Tonette married in 1993, a few months after he was elected to the Assembly. Their courtship had begun three years earlier,
during a karaoke night at a Milwaukee restaurant where he eventually proposed to her on a napkin.
Scott served nine years in the Assembly before Milwaukee County voters named him county executive in 2002, a departure from the familiar pattern of liberals in that position.
His fiscal restraint earned him enemies as county executive, but he still managed to win re-election not only there but also, eventually, as governor.
The controversy surrounding Walker’s positions as governor doesn’t surprise his bride.
"I knew that Scott would be bold, and . . . the promises he made, I knew that he would keep," Tonette Walker told the State Journal. "I just didn't know they were going to happen so quickly. So soon. I was busy trying to move our family and the next thing I know, I had 4,000 people outside my home in Wauwatosa."
Such incidents gave her pause. "I would say to Scott . . . ‘Is this really, really what you have to do?'" she said. "And after he would explain it to me, I would be better again."
Stepping out into the role as first lady, she says, "You just don't want to leave here having done nothing. You have got to go away having bettered the state, or helped some organization, or some family or made life better for someone in Wisconsin."
She was motivated to initiate her "Walk with Walker" program because she is a diabetic and therefore knows the importance of exercise.
She also is promoting literacy and continues to work with Teen Challenge, a faith-based program that steers addicts toward recovery and Christianity.
Tonette’s interest in helping people is a natural fit, says Anne Genal, her best friend for a dozen years. "The thing about Tonette is that she has this big, kind heart," Genal told the State Journal. "If she sees people in need, she wants to help them."
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