Walker’s Wisconsin recall: As important as November?

The measures taken by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin are the very policy initiatives conservatives have fought for years to implement. That's why conservatives need Walker to win

Governor Scott Walker faces a tough recall election
Ewan Watt
On 30 April 2012 10:05

“After tonight’s speech from Scott Walker,” said one conservative, “I’m starting to feel like only one election really matters for Republicans this year.”  In their remarks before the conservative faithful, the Republican presidential candidates disappointed at CPAC this year.  They talked about the importance of removing President Barack Obama from Washington only to be outdone by the guy who is walking the walk in Wisconsin.  And Governor Scott Walker certainly did not disappoint. 

On June 5, Governor Walker will face one of the most brutal recall elections in American political history.  Having only just entered office 15 months ago on a platform of fiscal conservatism, pro-growth economics, and public sector reform, earlier this year a coalition of state Democrats, unions, and progressive activists collected the requisite number of signatures to force a recall.  Outside of the presidential race in November, the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall is expected to shatter records, becoming the most expensive in the nation.  $100 million is a conservative estimate. 

The left’s disdain for Walker is like none other.  It’s palpable, even more so than the professional left’s hatred of George W. Bush.  Wisconsin progressives have accused Walker of being a modern day dictator in the mould of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, a somewhat perplexing accusation when one considers how his “controversial” reforms embody the principles of choice and individual liberty, rather than forcing individuals to enroll against their will in a union.  As I have documented on these pages before, given that Wisconsin is truly ground zero for the progressive movement, it’s hardly surprising that their opposition to Walker is backed with such vitriol.  This is not just personal; it’s an affront to America’s entire progressive movement. 

Public sector workers such as teachers were asked to contribute 12.6 percent (up from 6 percent) and 5.8 percent (up from 1 percent) to their health insurance plans and retirement accounts respectively.  Private sector workers often pay as much as 25 percent of their earnings towards health insurance.  Having inherited almost an almost $4 billion budget shortfall (it’s now $143 million) when he took office, this move was nothing but common sense and is already reaping dividends.  But the most controversial aspect of Walker’s reforms stem from his moves to rein in collective bargaining rights to some public sector workers.  Thus, public sector workers such as teachers now have the liberty to remain in the union or operate their classrooms outside of the union. 

Walker’s prudent reforms ultimately saved Wisconsin taxpayers billions, in addition to saving the jobs of thousands of teachers who would have faced certain redundancy.  The scare stories emanating from the public sector unions have failed to ever materialize.  Schools are still open, pupils are still graduating, and good teachers are actually receiving merit pay.  In fact, the only school districts witnessing overwhelming teacher lay-offs have been in Milwaukee, which is still under a collective bargaining agreement until 2014.  The Weekly Standard recently reported that Milwaukee schools “make up 13.3 percent of the state’s educational staff but accounted for 42.5 percent of staff reductions.”  The state teachers’ union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, was forced to cut 40 percent of its staff because workers were no longer being forced to give up part of their pay slips to an organization they wished not to be part of.

Although the most recent projections give Walker a slight edge in his rematch against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the polls have been extremely volatile and the race is expected to remain tight.  What’s clear is that this election won’t be about teachers or whether unions can force someone to hand over hundreds of dollars a month in dues.  It’ll be about jobs, the economy and overall leadership. 

Although Governor Walker’s record on job creation in the state has been exemplary, recent figures released indicate that Wisconsin’s numbers have disappointed, a fact that progressives jumped on with great fervor.  With only weeks until Election Day, Walker will have a considerable task on his hands convincing anxious voters that his initiatives to help stimulate the state’s economy have not run out of steam. 

A great amount of ink is expended on analyzing not just the budgetary catastrophe facing Washington, but also to highlight the very real fiscal calamities that exist, and threaten to engulf, both the states and municipalities.  The woes facing Wisconsin before Walker entered office are no different.

But for all the criticism – and bile – that Walker has encountered since entering office, it’s clear that he’s a governor willing to take difficult decisions while others are all too happy to continue the hand outs to special interests from the state’s tired bank account.  Walker’s measures are the very policy initiatives conservatives have fought for years to implement.  It’s a very clear choice:  bankruptcy or solvency.  That’s why June’s election is so critically important.  And that’s why conservatives need Walker to win.  

Ewan Watt is a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs consultant. The views expressed here are strictly his personal views. He can be followed on @ewancwatt

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