MADISON (AP) -- State Superintendent Tony Evers on Wednesday became the latest Democrat to join an increasingly crowded primary field for governor, touting his years of experience leading Wisconsin schools as making him the best Democratic candidate to challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Evers, 65, said his experience makes him even more qualified than Walker to be governor. Evers said he could bring about bipartisan solutions and unite the state in a way that Walker can't, both because of actions he's taken as governor and his allegiance with President Donald Trump.
"They work out of the same playbook as far as pitting people against each other," Evers said of Trump and Walker. "I feel driven to make sure that we have a state where people, families are not pitted against each other."
Evers becomes the fifth Democrat to say they are running in the 2018 election, but at least 13 others say they are considering getting in. The primary is just under a year away on Aug. 14.
Two of the highest profile Democrats to officially declare their candidacies are Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik and state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire. Both said through their campaigns that they respect Evers and welcomed him to the race.
During an interview Tuesday at his downtown Madison campaign headquarters, not far from where he lives, Evers said his three statewide victories as state superintendent show he can gather the support needed to defeat Walker. Evers has served as state superintendent since 2009 and was re-elected to the officially nonpartisan post with 70 percent of the vote just four months ago.
Evers said he sees having spent his career in education -- working as a teacher, district superintendent, regional administrator and then state superintendent -- as his biggest asset in the race.
"Education is the cornerstone of our economy, our democracy," he said. "Having that be my wheelhouse is an advantage."
Republicans immediately went on the offensive Wednesday against Evers.
Walker campaign manager Joe Fadness said Evers can't run the state Department of Public Instruction let alone the entire state. Fadness pointed to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report this month that found a data-reporting error left the department unsure about how many high school students had graduated in four years in 2016.
Alec Zimmerman, a spokesman for the state GOP, accused Evers of failing to stand up for children and families, noting DPI allowed a Middleton teacher fired in 2010 for viewing pornography at school to retain his teaching license. Walker had sent Evers a letter asking him to revoke the teacher's license.
Evers officially announced he was running at a Fitchburg park on Wednesday morning with children playing behind him. He told reporters afterward that DPI's graduation data is "relatively sound" but sometimes school districts don't send the agency information "in an appropriate way."
Evers' campaign referred questions about the Middleton teacher to DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy. He said the agency didn't have the statutory authority to revoke teacher licenses for immoral conduct until lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 giving it that ability. The Middleton incident took place before then, McCarthy said.
Evers pledged during his interview with The Associated Press to invest more in education from kindergarten through college and also took issue with several major Walker decisions, including:
Evers blasted the $3 billion tax incentive deal Walker brokered to bring Foxconn Technology Group to the state, saying the amount of money being given to Foxconn was "excessive," the 25-year break-even estimate was too long and other improvements are needed to give preference to workers and businesses from Wisconsin. He said after the park announcement that he would try to renegotiate the deal with the company if he became governor.
- Collective bargaining
Evers said if given the opportunity, he would sign a bill restoring collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public workers lost under the Act 10 law Walker championed and signed.
- Lincoln Hills
Evers said Walker has failed to act quickly enough to address conditions at the state's youth prisons that are the subject of a federal investigation and multiple lawsuits over alleged abuse. Evers said he would have immediately visited the prison; Walker has never been.
Walker plans to announce his plans for re-election in the next month or two but there's little doubt he will run. He's been busy raising money and laying the groundwork for a run.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond in contributed to this report.