Behind every candidate -- well, almost every candidate -- is a rock: the spouse that holds the candidate together and often provides a humanizing component to the candidate’s national image. That’s no less true for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Tonette Tarantino Walker is known for being particularly fortifying for the conservative governor and has helped him through some tough political battles in Wisconsin. Below are five things to know about Wisconsin’s first lady after her husband announced Monday that he was running for president.
1. She has gotten her hands dirty as first lady in several advocacy roles. Lately, Walker has been getting a bit of press for her advocacy for Wisconsin’s tourism industry, but her advocacy role goes further than that. During her tenure as first lady, she has worked on behalf of domestic trauma victims -- including children -- with the hopes of establishing Wisconsin as the national leader in trauma-informed care, and she also works regularly with Teen Challenge, a faith-based substance abuse treatment organization for teenagers. Following the devastating 2011 Japanese tsunami and earthquakes, she led an ongoing relief program to provide Japan with financial aid.
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) July 13, 2015
2. She has 12 years on her hubby. Tonette Walker’s life is not free of tragedy. She was married once before she met the governor. Her first husband died of kidney failure when she was 30, a year in which her only sibling and grandmother also died. Years later, she met a 24-year-old Scott Walker at karaoke night in a bar known for its barbeque food in Milwaukee. No, the story doesn’t include an impromptu duet. But he did leave her a note on a napkin asking her to dinner. They hit it off, though her parents were worried about the age difference: she was 36 at the time. But, in spite of that, they agreed to have children immediately, and he proposed by sliding over a napkin with the question at that same bar. They now have two children, both of whom are in college. Their wedding was on former President Ronald Reagan’s birthday, and they celebrate it every year with a Reagan-themed celebration.
3. Her husband may be an emerging conservative figure, but she doesn’t always tow that line. Walker grew up in a pro-union, Democratic household in a working-class community in Wisconsin. While a staunch supporter of her husband, there have been some moments where the two don’t see 100 percent eye-to-eye. In June, following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on gay marriage rights in the country, Gov. Walker was highly critical. Tonette Walker later said she was torn on the issue: her female cousin is married to a woman, and her two sons are both supportive of gay marriage rights. She told one of her sons to talk to their dad about it. Walker notably didn’t bring it up quite as much when he spoke to a conservative audience the next day in Colorado.
4. Her career. Walker spent about 20 years working in the insurance industry handling claims. She went from there to the American Diabetes Association. She has Type 1 diabetes, but she’s not always interested in discussing it at length. She also does work for the American Lung Association’s development arm. Her father died of lung disease.
5. She got some horrifying letters during her husband’s recall election. One of the things that thrust Gov. Walker into the national spotlight was his highly publicized battle with the state’s unions, and, while he ultimately won the recall election, things got ugly along the way. Tonette Walker received her share of death threats during that time, as did her husband, and some were particularly menacing. A letter mentioned in her husband’s book, "Unintimidated," detailed one of those letters. The letter addressed to her read, “Has Wisconsin ever had a governor assassinated? Scott's heading that way. Or maybe one of your sons getting killed would hurt him more. I want him to feel the pain. I already follow[ed] them when they went to school in Wauwatosa, so it won’t be too hard to find them in Mad. Town. Big change from that house by ------ Ave. to what you got now. Just let him know that it’s not right to ---- over all those people. Or maybe I could find one of the Tarantinos [Tonette’s parents] back here. Lots of choices for me.”