By Tim Stanley
27 January 2014
There was a time when Wisconsin was headline news. You must remember the story? Wisconsinites elected some caveman called Scott Walker as their governor on a platform of drowning government in the bath. He wanted to reform the unions and bring spending under control – and the public sector came out onto the streets to stop him. It was a kind of velvet revolution led by teachers and social workers and the folks who shoot bears when they start eating out of trash cans. They tried to remove Walker from office, but that didn't work because he somehow won the recall vote, making him the only governor in US history to do so. And then it all went oddly quiet from the Badger state…
Which is a pity because it turns out that Scott Walker's conservative agenda has actually worked. Really, really worked. The American Spectator reports:
In 2011, Wisconsin had a whopping deficit of $3.6 billion dollars. But a corporate tax cut and collective bargaining reforms invigorated the state economy. Now, the state is boasting a $911 million surplus, credited to “good stewardship of the taxpayers’ money.”
Unemployment is down, too. It's hit 6.2 per cent, the lowest figure since 2008.
How did he do it? With a mix of conservatism and pragmatism. Walker's first moves were resolutely Republican. The controversial 2011 "budget repair bill" proposed major cuts with the goal of saving $300 million in two years, including welfare reform and changes to public sector employees' contracts. More recently, however, his fiscal policy has been cautious – a mix of targeted tax cuts and small rises in spending in the areas of workforce training and education. The fact is that Wisconsin's recovery is real but fragile, and Walker has balanced the books without trying to impose on his state the kind of pure libertarian economics that his opponents feared. It's an example of sensible conservative governance – not, as so much of the liberal media seemed to imagine, a Tea Party coup d'etat. No wonder he beat the recall effort.
Not only has he delivered the goods but (this is the best bit) Walker now wants to give those goods back to the voters in the form of a tax break. So the message to America, and the rest of the world, is this: get spending under control, cut business taxes, create a welfare system that encourages people to seek work and you will balance the budget, reduce unemployment and be able to let people keep more of their money. It turns out that conservative economics, applied with determination and care, can work.
Can Walker translate all of this into a run for the presidency? We know he probably wants to because he insists that the next commander-in-chief should be a governor and because he's written a book about how great he is – the necessary first step for someone to run. But he doesn't feature highly (if at all) in early primary polling and his national profile has dimmed since 2011-12. Nevertheless, it would be nice to think that practical people who do their job well can still be viable candidates for the presidency. So, many Republicans will be keeping their fingers crossed…