Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a political careerist who has never taken one elected office without beginning to position himself to run for the next, made a wild play for the national stage just weeks after being sworn in last winter as a Republican governor with Republican majorities in both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature.
Using a supposedly minor “budget repair bill” as his vehicle, Walker proposed to scrap most collective bargaining rights for state, county and municipal employees and teachers, to radically restructure state government to concentrate power in the governor’s office and to use that power to limit access to healthcare for working families and seniors while bartering off public assets in no-bid deals with favored corporations.
If he could pull it off, Walker told himself and his closest associates, he could be what Republicans have been looking for since the mid-1980s: a new Ronald Reagan. It was a dream he outlined In an extended conversation with a caller who he thought was billionaire conservative campaign contributor David Koch. “Ronald Reagan, whose 100th birthday we just celebrated the day before, had one of the most defining moments of his political career, not just his presidency, when he fired the air-traffic controllers. And, uh, I said, to me that moment was more important than just for labor relations or even the federal budget, that was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism because from that point forward, the Soviets and the Communists knew that Ronald Reagan wasn’t a pushover,” Walker chirped, in the midst of a self-serving soliloquy. “And, uh, I said this may not have as broad of world implications, but in Wisconsin’s history—little did I know how big it would be nationally—in Wisconsin’s history, I said this is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history. And this is why it’s so important that they were all there. I had a cabinet meeting this morning and I reminded them of that and I said for those of you who thought I was being melodramatic you now know it was purely putting it in the right context.”
Now, almost four months into the fight, Walker does not look much like a new Reagan.
His anti-labor agenda has been blocked by the largest and most consistent pro-union demonstrations the United States has seen since the 1930s, along with legislative maneuvers and court orders. His personal approval ratings have flat-lined, and runs the risk of losing control of the state Senate to Democrats who are determined to block his initiatives.
Yet Walker refuses to compromise. So beholden is he to political paymasters such as the Koch brothers and the De Vos family, which has steered millions of dollars into the state to promote his extreme proposals to replace on of the nation’s strongest public education systems with voucher programs and privatization schemes, that the governor continues to pressure his legislative allies to enact a biennial budget that slashes spending for education and local services. Like his national counterpart, Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, Walker spins the fantasy that he is interested in balancing budgets. But his initiatives actually shift spending away from the public sphere and toward the accounts of major campaign contributors. To protect themselves politically, Walker and friendly legislators are busy seeding the budget proposals with anti-union proposals, which are designed to weaken organized labor as an electoral check and balance on corporate-tied Republican politicians. At the same time, they are rushing to enact draconian restrictions on voter participation and local democracy.