April 27, 2014

A WORTHWHILE DEFINITION:

Governor With Eye on 2016 Finds His Rise Under Scrutiny (MONICA DAVEY, APRIL 26, 2014, NY Times)

[I]f anything has defined Mr. Walker's political life over the past decade, it was his drive to limit unions just six weeks into his tenure as governor in 2011, a move foretold in his years as Milwaukee County executive. Although Mr. Walker had made it clear as a candidate for governor that unions could expect to see change, his critics say he never made clear the extent of his intentions until he was elected.

But as county executive, he also clashed with public-sector unions, calling for 35-hour workweeks instead of 40, with corresponding reductions in compensation. He pushed to privatize cleaning and food-service workers. He demanded spending cuts and battled openly with the Board of Supervisors in a county that leaned Democratic. At one point, he went so far as to suggest that the county government itself might be abolished as a way to spare waste.

"It came from eight years of being a county executive," he said in a recent interview in this southern Wisconsin village. "Nobody needed to tell me what needed to be done. Anytime I had a reasonable option, I'd get shot down by the public-employee union leaders who would rather lay off hundreds of people before they would take even a 35-hour workweek. So I had just grown so frustrated with them throughout the process that I said, 'Something's got to change.' "

Mr. Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher, was drawn to politics at seemingly every turn. An Eagle Scout, he came of age during the administration of Ronald Reagan, whom Mr. Walker describes as a hero of his.

He lost a hard-fought race for student government president at Marquette University, and eventually withdrew without a degree -- an issue that is now drawing extra scrutiny. The last president without a college degree was Harry Truman. Mr. Walker and his wife, Tonette, have two sons in college, and he has said lately that he was thinking about finishing the remaining credits.

After winning a special election for a State Assembly seat in 1993 and holding it for almost a decade, Mr. Walker looked to the Milwaukee County executive's office, which was engulfed in a scandal over pension payouts in 2002. He ran in a special election to finish the resigning incumbent's term -- an opportune moment for Mr. Walker's message of transparency and waste cutting.

"Honestly, I can't remember a time other than maybe that first year where we weren't in a fight with him," said David Eisner, who helped lead a union of county workers at the time. "He seemed like a guy on a mission."

By 2009, Mr. Walker said, frustrations led him to run for governor. "I just had had it with where the economy was," he said. "I thought the state was headed in the wrong direction."

Mr. Walker's practical message -- delivered in unadorned terms and his nasal, Wisconsin flatness -- matched the moment of financial crisis in a state that Barack Obama had carried in 2008 and would again in 2012. Mr. Walker regularly mentioned his daily lunch along the campaign trail: two ham-and-cheese sandwiches from home. Plain fare for austere times.

In fact, Mr. Walker had looked at the possibility of a run for governor earlier. His decision in 2006 to wait brought more good fortune: The national Republican wave of 2010 ushered not only Mr. Walker into office but also new Republican majorities in both state legislative chambers.

Posted by at April 27, 2014 7:02 AM
  

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