Scott Walker won for a simple reason: He did what he promised to do as a candidate and it worked.
Walker’s 2010 campaign focused broadly on fiscal responsibility and balancing the state’s budget. One of the first things Walker did as governor, long since forgotten, was to return some $800 million in federal money designated for high-speed rail in Wisconsin. His argument was not complicated: The state doesn’t need it, and taxpayers cannot afford it. He was right on both accounts and his decision to return the money, even as Obama administration officials sought to force it on the state, sent a message that Walker was serious about doing business in a different way. The messy fight over high-speed rail in California, and the ever-increasing cost projections, suggest he was wise to avoid the headache.
Walker’s reforms expanded that effort. He has told me several times – and mentioned in his speech Tuesday – that he wishes he’d spent more time making the arguments about the need for reform before he set about formally proposing them. Fair point. And it’s possible some voters would have been persuaded by those arguments.
But the Democrats who fled to Illinois would have done so anyway. The protestors in Madison would have gathered and chanted and occupied just as they did. And the unions would have fought the same way.
They understood two things from the beginning: The reforms would work and they would thin the ranks of public sector unions. That is precisely what happened. Public sector employees, given a choice about union membership, are opting out.
Walker turned a $3.6 billion deficit into a $154 million surplus. Unemployment is down. So are property taxes. Businesses, even with uncertainty about the U.S. economy, are optimistic about the direction of the state. Even with the political divisions, it’s hard to imagine a more successful 16 months as governor.
Results matter. And that, more than anything else, explains why Scott Walker won.