Walker Wins Again
. . . and has some advice for Mitt Romney.
Jun 18, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 38 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES & JOHN MCCORMACK
Moreover, the central issues at stake in the recall—spending, taxes, public education, unemployment, and the “rights” of government unions—had been widely debated in the press and among voters. The final Marquette poll found a highly informed electorate: Eighty-four percent said they regularly discuss politics with family and friends, and more than 8 out of 10 had watched the local news in the past week.
If Walker’s budget had harmed public schools, as union activists and Democrats warned last spring, voters would have known, and there’s little doubt that Walker would have lost. But the opposite happened. Before the 2011 school year began, story after story popped up in the Wisconsin press about how schools used Walker’s reforms to balance their budgets without laying off teachers or making painful program cuts.
“Everything we changed didn’t touch the children,” the finance director of the Brown Deer school district in the Milwaukee suburbs told The Weekly Standard last July. Under a collective bargaining agreement, she said, “We could never have negotiated that—never ever.” A few days before the election, the president of Brown Deer’s teachers’ union told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Overall morale is not bad because of [Walker’s collective bargaining law]. We didn’t lose any jobs and class sizes are the same.”
In Neenah, the school district saved $1.8 million by adopting a new health insurance plan—savings that allowed the school board to avoid layoffs and to raise the base teacher pay by 18 percent.
After a full schoolyear with Walker’s reforms in effect, his opponents couldn’t explain why they were bad. Six days out from the election, Tom Barrett couldn’t name a single school hurt by Walker’s reforms. After two attempts to dodge the question, he finally gave up. “We can do an analysis and get back to you on that,” Barrett told The Weekly Standard. The mayor also refused to say how he would have balanced the budget and couldn’t name a single initiative he’d pursue to spur job creation as governor.
Walker’s reforms achieved enough savings that when property tax bills went out around Christmas, many taxpayers saw their taxes significantly drop for the first time in over a decade. Though Walker’s opponents claimed his policies were an assault on democracy, in a very real sense they expanded democracy—something many in the national media failed to understand. With the restrictions to collective bargaining, unions had lost the power to veto changes to their benefits. That power now resided with elected school boards. Before Walker, the state’s property tax cap essentially allowed automatic tax increases. Under Walker, tax increases became subject to local referenda.
Ultimately, Walker won for a simple reason: He proposed policies, implemented them, and they worked.
Walker agrees with those who believe the results last week make Wisconsin a potential Republican pickup in November. But in order to win the state, Mitt Romney will have to campaign in a way that’s consistent with what Wisconsin voters approved with their retention of Walker. He wants Romney to run as a reformer, to campaign on bold policy proposals, and to resist the temptation to run safe. “It’s not enough to just be the other guy,” says Walker. “He has to offer a plan, he has to show a willingness to take on the big challenges facing the country. I think he can win here if he does that.”
Walker says he hopes Romney will propose deeper tax cuts than he has laid out thus far. “I’d like to see him slash marginal tax rates so that we could see the kind of growth that we saw under Ronald Reagan after the recession in 1981 and 1982,” Walker says.
Walker rejects the advice Romney is getting from many Republican strategists to make the election a simple referendum on Obama and the economy. “The consultants will tell you that—hands down. But I think he’s got to run on a bold plan and on big ideas.” Romney needs to win “on a mandate, if you will, to govern. Romney has that background. He’s capable of doing big, bold things. . . . He can’t say I’m a Republican like Scott Walker and hope to win. He has to say that I’m a reformer like Scott Walker. The ‘R’ after his name has to stand for ‘reformer,’ not just ‘Republican.’ ”
Romney might want to listen. There is no doubt Walker is in a much stronger position having survived the recall than he would have been without it. Even before the election he was a huge draw for Republican and conservative groups. When he headlined a Heritage Foundation dinner in Des Moines last October, the organization raised more money than it had at any event outside of Washington, D.C.
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