One year from now Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will run for Governor for the third time.
Scott Walker was first elected in November 2010 alongside new Republican majorities in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate. The reforms he signed into law on March 11, 2011 so threatened the government labor unions that they sent mobs to occupy the state Capitol. When physical intimidation and violence failed, they forced a recall against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and failing that, tried to recall six Republican State Senators. After waiting the required 12 months, they forced a recall-vote trying to oust Governor Walker. The combined might of the labor union bosses nationwide failed.
Scott Walker is the only American Governor to have survived a recall election.
Wisconsin is known as a progressive state—the home of Robert M. La Follette, Sr. It has not cast an electoral vote for a Republican presidential candidate since Reagan’s re-election in 1984. It was the first state to allow state workers to unionize. It was one of only two states, along with Illinois, that banned its citizens from having any form of concealed carry permit for handguns.
Walker and his Republican legislature did not raise taxes to pay the bills run up by decades of Democrat overspending. They did not punish teachers and cops and firemen with across-the-board layoffs. Walker followed President Eisenhower’s recommendation that it’s best to solve a problem by solving a bigger problem. The challenge was not this or that spending program or budget. The problem was the political power of the public sector unions that demanded contracts that prohibited firing incompetent workers, created work rules that hurt public services, drove up costs with unfunded pension promises, and gold plated benefit plans denied to taxpayers who paid for all of this. And the union bosses took mandatory dues running as high as $1,000 a worker and plowed millions into electing politicians who would bend to even more expensive union demands.
The public sector union reform legislation, Act 10, that earned the wrath of union bosses from coast to coast did the following: limited public unions (exempting only fire and police, a small fraction of total state and local employment) to negotiating pay increases to no higher than the rate of inflation, forbade negotiations over pensions, benefits or work rules. It required government workers to pay 5.8% of their pay to fund their pensions (they had been paying nothing) and actually to pay 12.6% of the cost of their healthcare premiums—up from six percent. And Act 10 made union membership and dues payment voluntary. No longer could school districts sign contracts that had the government remove $1,000 in dues from the paycheck of a teacher earning $50,000 and hand it over to the union bosses. Union dues collected by government have a zero percent cost of fundraising and a 100% response rate—something not available to any other political entity.
The union bosses went berserk. Tens of thousands of protestors — many imported from unions in Illinois or from the leftist campus at Madison — surrounded the capitol building. Thousands actually broke into the capitol and camped out threatening legislators and trashing the building. (A judge finally required them to leave in the evening, but allowed hundreds to stay each day chanting and harassing.) Conservatives often wonder if the men they send to Washington are tough enough to face down the special spending interests that defend their hard won spoils like a mother bear defends her cubs. That is not a question likely to be asked about Scott Walker by anyone in Wisconsin or anyone who reads Walker’s book “Unintimidated”, the history of this first two years as governor. Political biographies are often boring, self-serving and boring. “Unintimidated” reads like an combination action movie and spy thriller. You know the good guys are going to win, but you hang on each shift in the correlation of forces as this battle was almost won and almost lost several times.
And while the fight to decide if the union bosses or the citizens of Wisconsin would control their state government raged Walker and the GOP legislature also passed a reform agenda that by itself was stronger and deeper than the resume of any Republican who has run for president in a generation or two: Walker signed a “shall issue” concealed carry law ending Wisconsin’s history as (tied with Illinois) the most anti-Second Amendment state in the nation. Parental school choice vouchers were increased in number and available beyond Milwaukee to Racine and then statewide. Tort reform was passed. Planned Parenthood defunded. To limit voter fraud, photo identification was required to vote. Taxes were cut by one billion dollars. Regulations reformed to allow job creating iron mines to be developed.
For two solid years Scott Walker waged political warfare against the heart and soul and muscle of the American Left: public sector union bosses.
Scott Walker has earned the respect that generals with medals show to soldiers with battle wounds.
Ronald Reagan often cited Calvin Coolidge, then governor of Massachusetts who won nationwide attention and admiration when he stared down striking policemen: “There is no right to strike against the public interest”
He went on to become a reasonably successful president.
Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform – follow him on Twitter at @GroverNorquist