The GOP earned a momentous victory on November 2 by taking back the House of Representatives and making considerable gains in the Senate. However, most agree that significant reform is on hold until at least 2012, when Republicans can potentially win control of both houses and the White House. In some parts of the country, such a dramatic power shift has already taken place, and could offer instructive insights into an effective GOP strategy for 2012 and beyond.
Consider Wisconsin, a state President Obama won by 13 points. On November 2, it experienced the biggest party shift in the country, switching from unified Democratic control to unified Republican control. Scott Walker cruised to victory in the gubernatorial race to succeed outgoing governor Jim Doyle (D), and Republicans won significant majorities in both houses of the state legislature. In national races, the GOP picked up two House seats and knocked off three-term liberal icon Sen. Russ Feingold.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican party of Wisconsin, tells National Review Online
that the GOP’s success in the state could “certainly [be] a model for others to follow.” Like most states, Wisconsin has suffered economically over the past few years. “We’ve got some big problems here,” Priebus says. However, he is optimistic that the message voiced by voters on Election Day — less spending, less government — was so loud and clear that “I don’t think there’s any danger of the Republican-led legislature not listening.” (One might say the same about emboldened GOP members of the U.S. House and Senate, though the recent hiccup over an earmark moratorium in the Senate does not exactly inspire confidence.)
All eyes will be on Walker, who is widely considered a rising star in the Republican party, as he helms a unified Republican government to address the struggling economy. He has wasted no time: Though he doesn’t take office until January 3, last week he sent a hand-delivered letter to Dan Schooff, secretary of Doyle’s department of administration, requesting that a number of items be put on hold until the new government is sworn in. In the letter, which has caused a stir, Walker urged the outgoing governor to halt implementation of Obamacare in Wisconsin, as he intends to have Republican attorney general J. B. Van Hollen join the multistate lawsuit challenging the law.
Walker has also asked Doyle to stop negotiations with state workers over 2009–11 contracts so they can be considered as part of the upcoming state budget (and hence be on the table for spending cuts), and called for a freeze on civil-service hiring. He even requested that plans for a biomass boiler at the University of Wisconsin–Madison be scrapped in favor of a boiler that runs on natural gas, a move he says could save the state $100 million.