When conservatives gathered in Washington D.C. earlier this month for the 50th Anniversary of the Conservative Political Action Conference, most of the potential 2016 presidential candidates were in attendance. The most notable absence was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
By all accounts, Walker is focused on running his state and running for re-election in 2014. Walker pops his head up from time-to-time, but lately he seems to be purposefully avoiding the national spotlight. It’s a wise move. While other potential 2016 candidates seem desperate for attention, Walker seems to understand that a defeat this November could easily derail any presidential ambitions he may or may not have.
Washington politicians and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seem to have captured the national media’s attention as far as 2016 presidential candidates go, but it’s Walker who catches my eye. TheIowaRepublican.com’s Patti Brown recently reviewed Jason Stein’s and Patrick Marley’s, More Than They Bargained For, which documented Wisconsin’s historic recall election of 2012.
The 2016 presidential race won’t start in earnest until after the 2014 election is in the books, but should Walker seek the Republican nomination in 2016, the irony is that it’s the recall election that Democrats used to try to get rid of Walker that made him a national figure and shaped him into a potential presidential candidate.
Below is Patti Brown’s review of More Than They Bargained For.
Journalism is the literature of politics, and veteran journalists Jason Stein and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have written a thoroughly engaging, page-turning account of the political maelstrom that brought Wisconsin state government to the boiling point in 2011 and forced a gubernatorial recall vote in 2012.
More Than They Bargained For chronicles Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s tumultuous first 18 months in office, which began January 3, 2011. Walker immediately faced a short-term budget deficit of more than $100 million over the next six months and a biennial budget shortfall of more than $3 billion beginning July 1.
His solution was a budget-repair bill—“2011 Act 10—that would repeal collective bargaining for most public-sector unions in order to scale back bloated wage and benefit packages. Additionally Walker proposed making public-sector unions face annual recertification elections among all the workers in a workplace, not just for those who were union members, and to make union dues voluntary not compulsory.
Walker’s efforts met with fierce opposition in what became a perfect political storm. Elected in 2010 with 52 percent of the vote, the same year that the Tea Party came to the fore as a political movement of limited-government fiscal conservatives, he also came into office with new Republican majorities in both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature. Walker saw this as an opportunity to take bold measures to tackle the state’s budget problems.
Wisconsin, however, has a long history with labor unions and happens to be the birthplace of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Not only did the unions push back but the state capitol is also home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the state’s largest university and historically a seedbed of leftist politics. The UW-Madison student body provided a ready repertoire of protesters eager to reenact 1960s-styled protests.
Between mid-February and the end of March 2011, the Wisconsin State Capitol became the scene of demonstrations involving crowds estimated at times to be as large as 70,000, with as many as 24,000 inside the capitol building. The protestors took to shouting “this is what democracy looks like.” Hundreds of protesters refused to leave the building and wound up staging a camp-in that lasted for weeks. From February 17 to March 11, Senate Democrats eloped to Illinois in an attempt to prevent a necessary three-fifths quorum to vote on Walker’s budget-repair bill. The absent Senators, however, were found to be in contempt and the Senate Republicans adopted a bill that did not require a three-fifths quorum. The Senate bill then passed the Assembly and the governor signed it into law before the run-away Democrats returned to Madison.
More Than They Bargained For reads like a fast-paced historical novel with a myriad of plot twists including lawsuits and Supreme Court rulings, a John Doe¹ investigation into irregularities and illegal activities of several people involved in Walker’s campaign, and the recall elections of four Republican state senators, the governor and the lieutenant governor. For those who aren’t from Wisconsin or didn’t follow the events as they occurred, the authors have included a chronology table and a brief biography of the characters.
Great writing and attention to detail make the story lively and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. When the Senate Democrat went on the lam, one legislator had to contact a neighbor to go to his house and turn off a crock-pot that was cooking that night’s dinner. Two members of the state Supreme Court got into a bizarre physical altercation, each accusing the other of being the provocateur. The governor took a prank phone call from a man claiming to be billionaire David Koch, but who was in fact a left-wing blogger Ian Murphy seeking to embarrass Walker. Murphy released the recorded conversation to the chagrin of the governor and his staff. A handful of celebrities, the national media, social media, and even a camel—courtesy of The Daily Show in a ridiculous attempt to compare the protests in Madison to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East— all played a role in the Wisconsin political theater.
Walker stood for recall in June 2012, a year and a half after being elected. Not only did he win, but he won by a slightly larger margin—53 percent—than he did in 2010. If Walker wins his 2014 reelection bid, he will be a formidable GOP presidential candidate should he decide to run in 2016. Not only did he take on the unions and win, but his reform measures turned Wisconsin’s statewide and local economic problems around, producing an estimated surplus of a half-billion dollars.
In anticipation of a possible presidential run, Walker has just released his own account of his experiences during his first term. Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge was written with Marc Thiessen, a former speech writer for George W. Bush. Unintimidated is written in the first person and blends Walker’s perspective on the events in Madison in 2011 and 2013 with a lot of horn blowing. But as the only governor in the country to win a recall vote and the first to win “twice in one term,” in addition to successfully scaling back the power of the public-sector unions in negotiating, Walker has some horn blowing to do.
Unintimidated provides Walker with a vehicle to lay out his political philosophy about limited government, fiscal restraint, and his belief that public-sector collective bargaining is “the enemy of good government.” In his inaugural address, Walker referenced the “Frugality Clause’ in the state’s constitution: “It is through frugality and moderation in government that we will see freedom and prosperity for our people.”
It is little wonder that his actions as the state’s executive would take the direction that they did.
Rather than to raise taxes, layoff thousands of public employees, or cut Medicaid—none of which he wanted to do— Walker set out to cut state aid to schools and local governments and to require most public workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries toward their pension and 12.6 percent towards their health insurance premiums. Base wages would still be subject to collective bargaining but capped at the Consumer Price Index. By eliminating the chokehold of collective bargaining schools and local governments would be empowered to find fiscally sound, frugal solutions that union contracts prevented. And to further help this plan along, Walker proposed making union membership optional for public sector employees, a move which would allow workers to realize more of their own money in their paychecks if they chose to no longer belong to the union.
That’s when Wisconsin liberals and union bosses threw a tantrum that almost brought the state’s government to a halt. The siege of the Wisconsin state capitol building brought a stench of “unwashed humanity” to the historic building which, according to an architect “who participated in the 2004 renovation” “experienced three to five years of wear within a two-week period.” The cost of security at the capitol alone during the protests cost more than $7.8 million.
Expletives were hurled, civility waned, and security for Walker and the members of the Wisconsin legislature became a serious issue. Death threats were made against the governor and his family members. One threat against Tonette Walker, the governor’s wife, suggested gutting “her like a deer.” Other threats spoke of following and hurting Walker’s sons or targeting his in-laws. Based on the antics of the more extreme protestors, to echo their signature chant, “this is what democracy looks like.”
Walker faced and won his 2012 recall election by framing it as a choice to “go backwards to the days of billion-dollar budget deficits, double-digit tax increases and record job losses. Or we could keep moving Wisconsin forward—balancing our budget without raising taxes or massive layoffs while creating tens of thousands of new jobs for the people of our state.”
Like many campaign book, Walker’s book provides the reader an opportunity to see events through a politician’s eyes. He uses the book as a platform to critique problems inherent in the public pension system, specifically targeting the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago as exemplars in need of adopting an “Act 10” to reign in debt.
Walker also uses his book to critique the GOP presidential campaign of 2012. While praising the person of Mitt Romney, Walker breaks Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment by saying Romney failed to distinguish himself as a reformer and to show himself as a candidate who cared about the people. “You can’t win the presidency when nearly two-thirds of the country thinks who don’t care about their struggles.” Walker characterizes Romney as tone deaf to the message of the Wisconsin reforms and to the vision of leadership laid out by Reagan, “We have to move ahead, but we’re not going to leave anyone behind.”
Walker’s potential as a 2016 GOP presidential candidate hinges first on winning a second term as Wisconsin’s governor and also successfully clearing a second John Doe investigation dealing with campaign finances. If he does that, Walker will be among the top tier of potential POTUS candidates. For anyone wanting to get to know him better, these two books provide an excellent introduction.
¹ In Wisconsin, a John Doe investigation is similar to a grand jury inquiry but the proceedings operate before a judge behind closed doors, and prosecutors have the ability to grant witnesses immunity in exchange for testimony. Over the past three years, two John Doe investigations have been pursued by a Democrat District Attorney from Milwaukee County aimed at Walker, his campaign staff, and his backers including Americans for Prosperity, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and the Republican Governors Association. The John Doe investigation has been referred to as “a taxpayer-funded, opposition-research campaign,” according to the Wisconsin Reporter.
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