Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is walking and talking a lot like he is running for President of the United States. The Wisconsin governor who famously told his cabinet that he was inspired by Ronald Reagan to kill Wisconsin unions is throwing his hat into the ring, and Walker is garnering kudos from good friends like government-slayer Grover Norquist.
Grover is banging the drum for a Walker presidency, writing rapturously about how Walker is much like Calvin Coolidge, who busted the police unions as governor of Massachusetts. He fails to note that Calvin’s minimalist approach to his presidency between 1923 and 1929 helped bring about the Great Depression.
Here are a few things that you need to know about the cheddarhead with Coolidge-like ambitions.
Walker Failed to Expand His Base: Walker won in 2010 with 52% of the vote. After $100 million spent by his campaign and outside interests to burnish his image, Walker won reelection in 2014 during a GOP wave with 52% of the vote. As John Nichols points out in The Nation, former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson won his first race with 52%, his second with 58% and his third with 67%. People can still name programs that Thompson started. What is Scott Walker’s signature achievement? Did he launch an impressive new initiative that sparked a job surge? Did he improve health care options for thousands of Wisconsinites? Have test scores in the state doubled? Not at all. Walker’s signature achievement was stripping public teachers, nurses and other state employees of their right to organize. To the public, he said the state was "broke" and local communities needed the "tools" to pay public workers less. To creepy billionaire donor Diane Hendricks eagerly asking him how Wisconsin could become "a completely red state," he explained the strategy to make Wisconsin a Republican stronghold is to divide and conquer:" first go after the public-sector unions, then go after private sector ones. Walker would later call his presidential campaign book "Unintimidated," a real "howler" of a title says Milwaukee historian John Gurda. "Walker threw the first punch, and the second, and the fifth; everyone else simply reacted." Bullies do not make attractive presidential candidates.
Walker Failed to Fix State Budget Problems: After demonizing state workers, slashing education and social welfare funding, dividing the state and sparking mass protests in the name of balancing the budget, Walker has failed to do so. In 2010 the state had a $2.3 billion dollar budget shortfall. Today, the state has a – wait for it – $2.2 billion dollar project budget shortfall. Wisconsin is still deep in the hole. Why? Because Walker was not actually serious about getting Wisconsin's fiscal house in order. If he was, he would not have given away over $760 million in tax breaks and other special interest perks to corporations and wealthy individuals, worsening the state's budget woes. The state now may be forced to pass another "budget repair bill" and implement more painful cuts in state programs. These cuts have real consequences for real people. According to a new report out of Georgetown, approximately 61,000 kids in Wisconsin were uninsured in 2013.
Walker's Job Rate Falls Far Behind National Average: After the 2008 financial crisis, Wisconsin lost 168,000 jobs. Walker was elected to office in 2010 as a friend of the working man. He carried his lunch in a brown bag and promised to create 250,000 jobs in four years. He fell 150,000 short. Walker likes to tout Wisconsin’s low overall unemployment rate which is 5.6%, but the facts are that the state’s economy is stagnating. During Walker's tenure federal statistics have regularly ranked Wisconsin among the worst in the nation and the upper midwest in new job creation, putting Wisconsin at 33 in September. Forbes ranks Wisconsin a dismal 32 for business climate. Walker’s privatized, flagship economic development agency the Wisconsin Economic Development Authority (WEDC) has been plagued by law breaking and incompetence. While the authority has been touting big numbers in its official reports (60,00 jobs "impacted" in FYs 2012, 2013), CMD’s analysis of the same period found only 5,840 actual jobs reported by companies receiving state aid. WEDC is so full of incompetence and bad news, its two top officials Reed Hall and Ryan Murray recently announced their departures, the second shake up in as many years. No doubt, Walker is trying to clean house before the national press corps gets a hard look at WEDC. Serious reporters, like NBC's Chuck Todd, point out that if Wisconsin had only kept up with the national average in wages and job growth it would be doing much better.
Walker is at the Center of a Long Running Criminal Investigation: Walker is at the center of a long running criminal investigation of illegal campaign coordination with outside independent expenditure groups. During the recall elections that followed Walker's bill to knock off public sector unions, millions of dollars flooded the state from outside groups with little disclosure. Wisconsin's nonpartisan elections board, which is run by a group of retired judges appointed by the governor, joined with a bipartisan group of five district attorneys to launch an investigation of potentially illegal campaign coordination during the recalls. Long standing law at the state and federal level, upheld by state courts and U.S. Supreme Court, holds that issues ads and independent expenditures must be in fact independent and not coordinated with campaigns. If the expenditures are coordinated, they would constitute a campaign contribution that needed to be disclosed. In Wisconsin, Walker raised millions for Wisconsin Club for Growth run by his top campaign aide RJ Johnson and ally Eric O'Keefe. CMD was the first to disclose that Wisconsin Club for Growth funneled that money to dozens of groups who cut ads for Walker and others up for recall. Wisconsin Club for Growth has challenged every aspect of the investigation in court before finding a friendly federal judge (the only Wisconsin judge to regularly attend Koch-junkets) to take the unusual step of intervening in a state criminal case. This year, the case will end up before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. If the Club's theory is allowed to prevail, unlimited, undisclosed money will flow into Wisconsin elections -- fully coordinated with campaigns -- completely destroying Wisconsin's post-Watergate clean elections laws.
Walker Succeeded in Becoming Completely Beholden to Out-of-State Special Interests: Scott Walker is an alumni of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) where he first encountered an array of deep pocketed special interests. Walker was an ALEC member in his early days in the state legislature, pushing ALEC’s "Truth in Sentencing" and other punitive measures. After becoming Governor, Walker signed 19 ALEC bills into law including anti-consumer "tort reform" bills, voter ID, castle doctrine, charter schools, virtual schools, concealed carry and more. That kind of agenda wins you some pretty important far-right friends on the national scene. Since becoming governor, Scott Walker has taken more money from out-of-state donors than any other politician in Wisconsin history. The Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity group spent some $10 million in the 2012 recall race, according to its leader Tim Phillips, double what was spent by Walker's Democratic challenger Tom Barrett. In 2014, AFP told the public it was spending another $900,000 in support of Walker, but the Koch total might be higher. Other big donors include a who's who of the far right including: school privatizer Dick DeVos, Texas builder Bob Perry, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. If elected, Walker may not be the first friend of David Koch’s in the oval office, but he would be America’s first ALEC president.