Walker opens lead de­spite la­bor union ire

Op­po­nent Burke faces al­le­ga­tions of pla­gia­rism

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

MADI­SON, WIS. | Gov. Scott Walker is cast­ing him­self as a turn­around artist, seek­ing re-elec­tion with a pitch to vot­ers that he revamped the state’s spend­ing and business cli­mate in just four years.

For a gov­er­nor with pres­i­den­tial as­pi­ra­tions, it’s a case he’s likely pre­par­ing for a na­tional au­di­ence as well — but first he’ll have to get through a tighter-than-ex­pected re-elec­tion race against Demo­crat Mary Burke, a for­mer state sec­re­tary of com­merce.

As if that wasn’t enough, an­a­lysts say that his race could also say a lot about the po­lit­i­cal strength of la­bor unions, given that they’ve made de­feat­ing Mr. Walker a top pri­or­ity since he took on pub­lic em­ployee unions in 2011.

“That’s what opens the door for him for a po­ten­tial 2016 bid, be­cause it gives him cred­i­bil­ity, and it gives him an ac­com­plish­ment he can hang his hat on,” said Ho­gan Gi­d­ley, a GOP strate­gist. “And the ac­com­plish­ment and vic­tory was over a for­mi­da­ble and in­fu­ri­at­ing op­po­nent in the unions.”

Mr. Walker went on to sur­vive a union on­slaught and a re­call elec­tion — the first gov­er­nor in U.S. his­tory to do so — but has had a bull’s-eye on his back ever since push­ing through leg­is­la­tion to re­vamp costly col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing over pen­sions and health care. Lead­ers from the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees (AFSCME) and the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (NEA) say they have a score to set­tle with Mr. Walker in the Novem­ber elec­tion.

“They con­sider me to be their No. 1 tar­get, and the rea­son is sim­ple: We took the power out of the big gov­ern­ment in­ter­ests, the big gov­ern­ment union bosses, and put it back into the hands of the tax­payer,” Mr. Walker said.

De­spite their ef­forts, a Mar­quette Univer­sity poll re­leased Wed­nes­day showed Mr. Walker has opened up a 5 per­cent­age point lead over Mrs. Burke among likely vot­ers — bol­stered in part by re­cent al­le­ga­tions that the Demo­crat pla­gia­rized part of her jobs plan, lifting it from other cam­paigns.

More than half of vot­ers had heard about the pla­gia­rism re­ports, with 18 per­cent say­ing that the ac­cu­sa­tions make them less likely to vote for the Har­vard Business School alum.

“Re­ally, this has been the worst two weeks of her cam­paign,” said Charles Franklin, di­rec­tor of the Mar­quette Law School Poll.

On the flip side, more than one in four vot­ers said the statis­tic that Wis­con­sin ranks 33rd out of 50 states in job cre­ation makes them less likely to vote for Mr. Walker.

That com­pli­cates Mr. Walker’s turn­around-artist pitch, with Mrs. Burke say­ing he has de­liv­ered less than half of the 250,000 pri­vate sec­tor jobs he promised to cre­ate in his first term.

“In Au­gust Wis­con­sin lost another 4,300 jobs,” Mrs. Burke says in a re­cent cam­paign ad. “That is prob­a­bly why, in Septem­ber, Scott Walker is at­tack­ing my jobs plan, say­ing it takes ideas from other states.

“Well you know what? Of course it does,” she says. “As gov­er­nor, I am go­ing to take the best ideas wher­ever I can find them, and if Scott Walker had done the same, maybe we wouldn’t be dead last in Mid­west job growth.”

Asked at a cam­paign stop why neigh­bor­ing Min­nesota, which raised taxes on the wealthy and in­creased the min­i­mum wage, has out­paced Wis­con­sin — which cut taxes and spend­ing and weak­ened the unions, in job growth — Mr. Walker blamed un­cer­tainty stem­ming from the fight with la­bor unions.

“I think you ask just about any em­ployer in the state, and they will tell you they were frozen for about a year and a half be­cause of the protests, the first wave of re­calls and the sec­ond wave of re­calls,” Mr. Walker said.

Low-key, key to suc­cess

Run­ning in his third elec­tion in four years, Mr. Walker, a mar­ried fa­ther of two boys, has built a loyal band of sup­port­ers in Wis­con­sin who say he has put the state back on track after in­her­it­ing a mess in 2011 from then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Demo­crat.

“He has got a base that is very com­mit­ted,” said Marc J. Marotta, a Demo­crat who worked in the Doyle ad­min­is­tra­tion, “He could go out and break [Green Bay Pack­ers quar­ter­back] Aaron Rodgers’ leg to­mor­row, and he would still have that base in­tact.”

The pro-Walker forces see the 46-year-old, who ap­pears to be bald­ing and whose rather or­di­nary look makes it easy for him to blend in with crowds, as an op­ti­mistic war­rior — one of the few politi­cians will­ing to stand his ground and fight for what he be­lieves in.

Tom Loren­zen, 65, a backer, said that Mr. Walker, “has lived up to what he said he would do.”

“That, to me, is huge, be­cause you have a lot of politi­cians who come up and say a lot of things, and when they get elected, they do the op­po­site,” Mr. Loren­zen said.

Other sup­port­ers said they like that he is a pro-life Christian and that he has not aban­doned his con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples.

Mr. Walker op­poses the Common Core ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards that have riled many con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists, and he re­fused to ex­pand Med­i­caid the way Pres­i­dent Obama wanted un­der the new fed­eral health law.

He signed leg­is­la­tion en­act­ing tighter voter ID re­quire­ments, ap­proved a bud­get that stripped fund­ing for Planned Par­ent­hood and signed a con­cealed weapons bill into law. And he signed leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing women seek­ing abor­tions to un­dergo an ul­tra­sound, and has pushed to ex­pand school voucher pro­grams.

“It would be hard to see a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date get­ting to his right across a wide range of is­sues,” Mr. Franklin said.

This week, Mr. Walker cam­paigned with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chair­man of the Repub­li­can Gover­nors As­so­ci­a­tion and another po­ten­tial 2016 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Mr. Franklin said Mr. Christie’s visit un­der­scored Mr. Walker’s low-key style.

“Walker blus­ters a lot less, but is per­haps more con­sis­tently con­ser­va­tive,” he said. “Where Walker is skill­ful is in not talk­ing about the most di­vi­sive is­sues that he nev­er­the­less takes con­ser­va­tive po­si­tions on, and that al­lows him to ap­pear more mild­man­nered, to ap­pear less stri­dent and less clearly con­ser­va­tive on is­sues — where if he talked about what he has done, what he has signed and the leg­is­la­tion he has sup­ported, it would be quite clear that he is among the most con­ser­va­tive gover­nors in the coun­try.”

Strate­gists from both par­ties say that style could prove to be both a strength and a weak­ness for Mr. Walker in a pres­i­den­tial race, where he is likely to be sur­rounded by con­ser­va­tive fire­brands like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as the blunt-talk­ing Mr. Christie.

Re­tired Army Veteran Thomas D. Nord, 68, likened Mr. Walker’s ap­proach to be­ing a “tiger in the grass.”

“He has the eyes for­ward, like a preda­tor gaug­ing the dis­tance be­tween him and the prey, and he has in­tel­lect and wis­dom to go with it,” Mr. Nord said.

Asked how his style com­pared to Mr. Cruz, Mr. Nord said the Texas Repub­li­can is more like a “lion in the grass.”

“The tiger in the grass is more of an op­por­tunist, in a good way, while a lion is ag­gres­sive and will come an­ni­hi­late you.”

Po­ten­tial 2016 ob­sta­cles

Mr. Walker needs to win re-elec­tion to re­main a vi­able 2016 can­di­date amid a field crowded with other gover­nors, se­na­tors and for­mer of­fice­hold­ers. “A loss sinks him,” Mr. Gi­d­ley said. And there are other dan­gers lurk­ing as well — in­clud­ing a lin­ger­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether Mr. Walker’s cam­paign il­le­gally co­or­di­nated its spend­ing with con­ser­va­tive groups dur­ing the re­call elec­tion.

There are also ques­tions about whether Wis­con­sin Rep. Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, will run, per­haps steal­ing some of Mr. Walker’s Bad­ger State thun­der.

And there are wor­ries about the state bud­get.

Ear­lier this month, the non­par­ti­san Leg­isla­tive Fis­cal Bureau re­ported that Wis­con­sin faces a nearly $1.8 bil­lion struc­tural deficit when it en­ters the next bi­en­nial bud­get de­bate.

The re­port comes after the state took in less rev­enue then it pro­jected last year and after Mr. Walker has pushed through an es­ti­mated $2 bil­lion in tax re­lief.

This year, the leg­isla­tive watch­dog is pro­ject­ing the leg­is­la­ture will have to plug a hole in the cur­rent bud­get of nearly $400 mil­lion.

Ad­dress­ing those short­falls could leave Mr. Walker with few good choices. In New Jersey, a sim­i­lar bud­get short­fall forced Mr. Christie to de­fer pen­sion pay­ments, caus­ing him po­lit­i­cal headaches.

Mr. Walker, though, says the fore­cast is off be­cause it as­sumes no changes in rev­enue growth or spend­ing, and says that the com­bi­na­tion of “rea­son­able” bud­get ad­just­ments and more tra­di­tional rev­enue growth will yield a half-bil­lion-dol­lar sur­plus.

The jury is out on whether he is right.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Repub­li­can Gov. Scott Walker is run­ning on his record of bring­ing business to Wis­con­sin.

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