[Note from Scott Ott: The presidential primary process doesn’t help us to decide who’s qualified to bear the party standard, and to serve as chief executive, but rather who’s disqualified. It’s just our way of crushing the hopes and dreams of anyone who dares poke head from hole. Because you already know all of the reasons why every candidate, and potential candidate, has no right to expect the nomination, I’m going to write an utterly one-sided series on why each one should get it. If you’re concerned that I’m not providing fair and balanced analysis, I’m sure the folks in the comment section will compensate for my deficiency. So far, I’ve done this for Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio.]
Today’s nominee: Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Scott Walker has not yet announced his candidacy for president.
I just finished reading his 2013 book, Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge, co-written with Marc Thiessen. It’s a page-turner, and believe it or not, a tearjerker…at least if you’re as passionate about good governance as I am.
For most of the book, Walker recounts the struggle to pass Act 10 in Wisconsin, a law which limited government unions’ collective bargaining rights, freeing municipalities and school districts from expensive healthcare and pension plans, and a host of other union demands that drove costs up and quality down. The law also released employees from mandatory union membership, freeing up cash so they could contribute more to their own health insurance and pensions.
You may recall that massive crowds of union supporters took over the capitol building in Madison for weeks (the genesis of the Occupy movement), shouting, banging drums, blasting horns and even spitting on GOP legislators who came within range. The union bosses then staged a series of costly recall elections, all of which resulted in Walker’s reelection (twice) by a larger margin, with a stronger majority in the state legislature. The Act 10 reforms worked, allowing governments and schools to increase their effectiveness, yet cutting taxes for Wisconsinites, and turning a $3.6 billion deficit into a $1 billion surplus, all while growing jobs.
Why Scott Walker Should Be the Republican Nominee
1. Tested Courage: They urinated on his office door, trespassed on his property, threatened him (and his wife and sons), wrote his political obituary, and marshaled national resources in an attempt to destroy him. But Scott Walker knew that he was right about Act 10, and if his reforms were given a chance, the voters would know it too.
“I wanted to win, but I also wasn’t afraid to lose. I cared more about getting things done than getting reelected. That liberated me to take bold actions I might never have taken if my first priority had been political survival. Too many people in politics today spend their time trying not to lose instead of trying to do the right thing. I often say that politicians need to spend more time worrying about the next generation than the next election. The irony is that politicians who spend more time worrying about the next generation than the next election often tend to win the next election because voters are starved for leadership.”
— Scott Walker, “Unintimidated,” 2013, pg. 226
The vicious attacks by union bosses and their street minions provided him innumerable opportunities to back down. But he stood firm. As Ronald Reagan firing 11,000 air traffic controllers showed his steel to our enemies and allies alike, Scott Walker’s courage in the face of political, and physical, assault will send a signal to the world.
2. Practical Politics: Walker initially wanted to eliminate all collective bargaining by government workers, but his advisors suggested that if police and firefighters walked out, it would jeopardize public safety, so Walker compromised, exempting them. The Wisconsin governor devoted months, and even years, to studying public policy questions, directing his staff to generate as many options as possible. He understood that pure ideas rarely survive a trip down the septic pipe of politics. He knows when to persuade, and when to compromise, and he manages to do the latter without sacrificing core principles.
His Act 10 solution was nothing short of politically brilliant:
- Cut more than a billion in state funding to schools and local governments, but
- Eliminate the unions’ stranglehold, freeing local boards to save more money than they lost, and
- Require government employees to pay a bit for their health insurance and pensions, but
- Free those same employees from the mandate to join a union, so they’d have cash to do it.
No mass layoffs during tough economic times. No increase in class sizes. Fairness all around, unless you were a union boss accustomed to owning politicians.
3. Blue-State Winner: About one-in-10 Wisconsin voters could be called “Obama-Walker” voters. They cast ballots for both — not because Walker hews to Obama’s ideology — he’s far from it — but because Walker kept his promises. Perhaps as importantly, his reforms worked. Class sizes often got smaller. Tax bills went down. Municipal services improved. America is home to many voters who are essentially apolitical, but they respond to authenticity, and a positive message, and they don’t particularly care about party affiliation.
4. Positive Personal Vision: Austerity won’t sell, and Scott Walker knows it. His Act 10 plan worked largely because everyone benefited but the union bosses — and that includes thousands of union members. He’s lavish in his praise for hard-working government employees, and wants to give them an opportunity to do even better work. He connects with folks who are stuck in government entitlement programs, because he understands that the vast majority of them hate it, and want the dignity that comes with work and self-sufficiency.
Walker believes that Washington, D.C., can change because he was there when Madison, WI, did. He engineered it.
Despite years in government, Scott Walker is not a millionaire. Shocking, right? He still has that everyman appeal, and has put more than 20,000 miles on his 2003 Harley-Davidson Road King. His boys went to public school, and they helped him rake the lawn, even as union thugs subjected the family to drive-by shoutings, and obscene gestures. Walker is comfortable around normal people, and he understands their concerns.
Perhaps most importantly, he understands that logic and data only take you so far. People are emotional and moral creatures, and they make emotional and moral decisions, rather than political, or even economic, ones. They have a finely tuned sense of what’s fair, and Scott Walker knows how to connect his policies to their intuition about right and wrong.
5. Vetted: The presidential election process can be brutal, and some Republican candidates are going to fall by the wayside as legitimate, and illegitimate, concerns arise and brutal attacks commence.
But Scott Walker has been through it three times in four years — a special election, a recall election, and a regularly scheduled election. More than any elected official currently under consideration, he has been vetted for an executive post.
His recall election was nationalized by his enemies. Not only does this reduce the likelihood of some career-ending revelation, but it also means that he has a nationwide reputation and network of supporters. Many millions of dollars have been burned attempting to torch him. It all failed, and his victory margins grew.
All of the candidates are human. They all, doubtless, have embarrassing secrets. Anything can happen in a long presidential campaign, but Scott Walker’s files have been riffled, his videos eyeballed, and his personal life frisked more than any of them. He’s literally a Boy Scout. Eagle, in fact.
6. Humility and grace through faith in God: Prayer and the Scriptures have played a central role in Scott Walker’s life, and in his leadership. From his faith in Christ he seems to have drawn an extraordinary blend of tenacity and humility. He’s willing to admit his mistakes, and take a public beating if necessary. But he won’t sacrifice what he knows to be right, to reverse a sliding popularity poll.
You don’t have to believe in God to be president of the United States. But when serving as the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military, it’s useful to have a daily reminder that you, and your power, are finite, and that you serve at the pleasure of One who is eternal, who’s judgment is righteous, and whose power is without limit.
7. State-Centric: Former Gov. Mitt Romney missed an opportunity to convey a positive vision about Republican ideas that Gov. Scott Walker is unlikely to miss: the state-centric vision of a better America. Not only is Walker a big fan of his fellow conservative governors, he’s a vocal champion of their accomplishments. He likes to point out that they, and their state legislative colleagues, provide evidence that conservative ideas resonate with American voters, and they work. You don’t have to tack to the center to win. You have to tell the success stories of conservatism with genuine passion.
As a county executive, Walker rejected federal stimulus funds. As governor, he fashioned a Badger-State solution to providing healthcare for the poor, reducing Medicaid rolls, and moving more people into paying something for their own care.
Meanwhile, back at the White House, despite President Obama’s previous crowing about undying loyalty to unions, the president wisely avoided Wisconsin during the battle over Act 10, realizing that the rubber was meeting the road and he didn’t want tire tracks on his back.
It would be good to have a U.S. president who understands that, constitutionally, the federal government is restrained by enumerated powers, and that only the states have general legislative authority. Everywhere Republican principles have been put to the test, they leave in their wake a track record of success.
You’ll find no better champion for federalism and true republicanism than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.