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What a new governor means for Wisconsin’s controversial Foxconn factory

As candidates across the country scrapped for control of Congress, last night’s midterms were particularly dramatic in Wisconsin. After eight years and a failed recall effort, Governor Scott Walker lost to Democratic candidate Tony Evers, in a closely fought race that remained a dead heat until 1:30AM local time. Evers, the superintendent of the state school system, ultimately pulled ahead by roughly 30,000 votes.

The surprise win could have a significant impact on Wisconsin’s new Foxconn plant, which had been championed by Walker. The deal, which provided $4 billion in subsidies for just 13,000 jobs, had been criticized as corporate welfare by a number of local figures. That criticism has only intensified amid reports that Foxconn would transfer some of its Chinese workforce to work in the factory. (Foxconn has denied the reports.)

Evers in particular had been broadly critical of the subsidies and Walker’s conduct in making the deal. “Just about anyone could’ve cut a better deal with Foxconn than Scott Walker did,” Evers told the Racine Journal Times in September. “It’s a lousy deal, and we’re going to have to hold Foxconn’s feet to the fire going forward.”

Still, it remains to be seen how effectively Evers will be able to push back once in office. The most controversial part of the deal is the price tag — but it may be too late for the governor-elect to make any changes on that front. Few Wisconsin Democrats have pushed to cancel the deal entirely, particularly with construction and staffing already underway. As a state superintendent, Evers seemed resigned to the tax breaks, saying it would be difficult to “un-ring that bell.” Instead, he recommended improving the deal gradually, using later transportation projects tied to the factory as a way to extract more concessions on wages and local hiring. “I would really focus on compelling them to be good corporate citizens,” Evers told a local publication at the time.

As governor, Evers could also push Foxconn more aggressively on environmental issues. The Walker administration had exempted Foxconn from Wisconsin’s usual environmental rules, allowing the new factory to discharge materials into nearby wetlands and draw as much as 7 million gallons a day from nearby Lake Michigan. Evers will have broad leeway to change those terms through the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Whoever he appoints as director of that agency will be able to set new rules on air pollution, water pollution and, most importantly, water withdrawal, which could have a significant impact on how Foxconn operates in the state.

Evers has expressed particular interest in revising the rules around air pollution. “I’ve had many scientists look at that approval process and they’ve found many flaws with that decision made by the Department of Natural Resources,” Evers told the Wisconsin State Journal during the campaign. “So I would take that information and the approval and say, ‘How can we get from here to here?’”

But less than 24 hours after the polls closed, even the fact of Evers’ election remains controversial. The preliminary margin of victory is too high to trigger a recount, but even after the race was called by numerous media outlets, the Walker campaign has refused to concede, citing damaged ballots. “Thousands of ballots were damaged and had to be recreated,” Walker senior adviser Brian Reisinger said in a statement. “Until there is a comparison of the original ballots to the recreated ballots, there is no way to judge their validity.”

Foxconn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Additional reporting by Colin Lecher.


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