Governor Scott Walker is keenly aware of both his political peril, and the larger stakes that surround him. Despite an incredibly successful couple of years in office, he’s the target of a union-organized recall election. The union bosses are desperate to succeed, because they need to send a message to other governors looking to rescue their states from the insanity of public-sector collective bargaining. Also, previous efforts to thwart or punish Walker have ended in disaster for the unions. They have both important strategic goals, and prestige, on the line.
Walker knows exactly what he’s up against. He’s been watching unions and their leftist allies pour money and manpower across the borders into Wisconsin. The polite and affable governor seems like an odd target for rabid hatred, but that doesn’t stop protesters from caricaturing him in the most vile terms… and doing it right in front of his personal home, where his kids and parents live, not the governor’s official residence. Both his wife and elderly parents have been verbally harassed in public.
“People say, ‘how do you put up with that?’” Walker related in his CPAC 2012 keynote address, at the Reagan Banquet. “Well, I’ve got to tell you, for every one person who goes out of their way to be obnoxious, there are nine or ten people who come up to us – not just at events like this, Republican events or the Chamber of Commerce – but every week, when I’m out visiting the factories, farms, and small businesses of my state, every week there are people who come off the line at those factories and say, ‘Governor, we’re praying for you and your family.’ And I’ve got to tell you, that means the world to us.”
In the War on Taxpayers, the other side has the loudest artillery. The people Walker is talking about have day jobs. They don’t get phony doctor’s notes to join protests, as many of the union forces did, when they were protesting Walker’s budget reforms last year. They don’t get to flee the state and hole up in hotels, like Democrat legislators. The noisy Left are the ringmasters, and the unions know exactly what stakes they’re playing for. They’re banking on ordinary people succumbing to protest fatigue and throwing in the towel.
Walker is one of a group of small-town Wisconsinites, including RNC chairman Reince Preibus and congressman Paul Ryan, who came of age in the 80s, and drew their inspiration to public service from Ronald Reagan. “His story is an essentially American story,” said Walker. “When you think about it, he was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things, not only for our country, but for freedom-loving people around the world. He was a man true to his convictions.”
Walker views his election as the result of a successful “job interview with the people of Wisconsin,” having won their trust as “the CEO of the state government.” He described the looming economic and fiscal crisis facing Wisconsin to his voters, then told them exactly what he planned to do about it. Maybe he had an old-fashioned notion that after the people of Wisconsin expressed their will through the election, he’d have a chance to do what they “hired” him to do. Instead, he faces a resistance that intends to hold that election over and over again, every couple of months, until Walker finally loses.
He didn’t feel he had time to sit around Madison and wait for the unions to digest their loss. “Anybody who’s the CEO coming in and taking over a company that’s been failing doesn’t wait a year, or six months, or even a month to start taking action,” he recalled telling a reporter who marveled at how quickly he moved after his election. “You start fixing your company right away. And that’s exactly what we did in Wisconsin.”
Walker took the same approach to his state’s fiscal crisis that many would like to apply to the even greater national disaster looming over all fifty states. “We lowered the tax burden on job creators, entrepreneurs, and investors in our state that were willing to invest in Wisconsin-based companies. We made it easier to create jobs in the private sector, not through the government. We moved forward on pulling back the excessive regulations that got in the way, adding more and more red tape to our small businesses, to make it easier for them to create jobs and opportunity, now and into the future. We passed some of the most aggressive tort reform in the country, understanding that one of the best ways to fuel our economy is to lower the cost of frivolous lawsuits on our manufacturers and our small businesses, and our family farmers.”
He also repealed a state tax on health savings accounts, introducing market forces into health care reform. “I wanted to show that when we said Wisconsin was ‘open for business,’ it was more than just a slogan, or a sign, or a banner.”
Many responded to that “open for business” philosophy, creating thousands of private-sector jobs, and giving Wisconsin its lowest unemployment rate since 2008. The state Chamber of Commerce saw the percentage of small businesses who thought Wisconsin was headed in the right direction rose from 10 percent to 94 percent in just two years. A majority of those businesses are now planning on further growth. Wisconsin rose 17 spots in the ranking of states by job creation, the fastest rise of any state in the Union, and a sharp contrast with the collapse of Democrat-dominated, tax-raising Illinois, “The Greece Down Below.”
Walker’s pro-business policies have been good for state government as well, leading to a credit-positive budget, fiscal solvency combined with tax reduction, and fully-funded pension plans. Long-term structural reforms took the place of accounting tricks to balance the state budget. “We thought more about the next generation than we did about the next election,” said the Governor. Small wonder the Left has targeted him for destruction. Their ideology could not endure is forty-nine more Wisconsins, or Walker-style reforms in Washington.
Part of Walker’s philosophy involves viewing the people as something more than a revenue source for Big Government and its satellites. He wanted to “make sure government served the people, and not the other way around.” The union bosses were not happy at the notion of power devolving to the taxpayers. Their pet politicians, up to and including the current President of the United States, acted forcefully to convey their displeasure.
The unflappable Walker politely reminded Obama that his own vast federal workforce didn’t benefit from the “collective bargaining” privileges the alleged union-busting ogre of Madison was stripping from his noble public servants, and Obama’s employees already paid double what Walker was asking from Wisconsin public employees for health insurance benefits. That’s what happens when the President “gets his talking points from the big government union bosses in Washington.”
“Collective bargaining is not a ‘right,’” declared Walker. “In the public sector, collective bargaining is an expensive entitlement.” The taxpayers normally have little to say about how much that entitlement costs them. Middle-class taxpayers always end up shouldering the brunt of the expense for the massive expansion of government. Putting power back in the hands of taxpayers is, in Walker’s view, the best step a governor can take to protect the middle class.
Empowered taxpayers demand not only smaller government, but better government. Walker recalled how, prior to his administration, school districts in Wisconsin were forced to buy fabulously expensive health insurance policies from a company affiliated with the teachers’ union. Introducing a dash of competition to this corrupt arrangement saved tens of millions of dollars, and that money went right back into the classrooms. Ending union “last-in, first-out” seniority policies allowed good teachers to keep their jobs, instead of sacrificing them to protect under-performing teachers with long tenure.
For any other governor, those results would be “a pretty good campaign for re-election,” as Walker put it. Instead, he’s campaigning to avoid de-election. “Why is that? Simply put, it’s about the money. You see, the other thing I did, which has the big government union bosses really upset, is something that is fundamentally pro-worker, something that is essentially about freedom. I gave nearly 300,000 public servants in my state – the good, decent men and women who work in our state and local governments – the right to choose.”
The “right to choose” he’s talking about is the right to choose not to belong to a public employee union. That is not a choice the Left believes people should have. The loss of their guaranteed, state-collected income stream drove the unions into a frenzy against Walker. He fully understands those lost union dues “are what this is all about… in the end, they’re afraid that if you give workers a choice, they’re going to choose to keep their own money.”
The unions have already spent tens of millions of dollars trying to recall Walker’s allies in the state legislature, and they might be willing to blow another $70 million taking out the Governor himself. There’s something even bigger than the Wisconsin governor’s office, or even the 2012 presidential election, at stake.
“You see,” explained Walker, “I believe what’s at stake is fundamentally about courage.”
If he prevails, it will “send a powerful message to every politician in America, that if you stand up and do the right thing, if you tackle the tough challenges, if you make the tough choices, there will be men and women in every state and every part of this country who will stand up shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-to-arm with you and say ‘yes, we will support you, if you do what is right and courageous.’ This is that time. And Lord help us if we fail.”