Walker Holds His Ground
Despite protests, the Wisconsin governor vows to keep pushing for reform.


Robert Costa

Madison, Wis. – Hundreds of protesters continue to occupy the capitol, and 14 Democratic state senators remain roosted in Illinois, stalling consideration of his budget-repair bill. But Gov. Scott Walker, a first-term Republican, tells National Review Online that he will not blink. “By the end of this week, we will have a bill passed,” he pledges.

Walker is confident that he can pressure the on-the-run politicians to return and secure passage of his plan, which would drastically reduce the collective-bargaining power of public-sector unions and force state employees to put 5.8 percent of their salaries toward their pensions and pay 12.6 percent of their health-care premiums.

“We are looking at legal options to compel the senators to come back,” Walker says. “They have no endgame. They don’t know what they are doing. They got caught up in the hysteria and decided to run, but that’s not how this works. You have got to be in the arena.”

Bringing up hot-button legislation while the Democrats are gone is another arrow in Walker’s quiver. Though the Wisconsin constitution requires three-fifths of the senate to be present to pass fiscal legislation, a simple majority of 17 members constitutes a quorum for other bills in the 33-seat state senate. So the 19 GOP senators who remain in Madison can pass any number of bills while their Democratic colleagues are on the lam, and Republicans are a majority in the assembly, too. “They can hold off, but there is a whole legislative agenda that Republicans in the senate and assembly can start acting on that only requires simple majorities,” Walker warns.“If they want to do their jobs, and have a say, they better show up.”

Non-spending bills and government appointments could see action early Tuesday. Walker says he will not yield as the standoff unfolds, especially since Wisconsin is facing a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years.

Noisy crowds of union sympathizers won’t dissuade Walker from using his bully pulpit if Democrats continue to avoid a vote. “Constituents should contact these senators,” he says. “Beyond the people who support my position, there are plenty of people in this state who may be up in the air about this bill, but firmly believe that their senators’ not showing up for work does not cut it.”

Over the past week, Walker’s crusade has stirred intense national interest. Activists of all political stripes have flocked to Madison. Washington politicos are abuzz, comparing Walker’s blunt budget fight to that of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who became a hero to conservatives last year after he tangled with state Democrats over spending. Others have compared his showdown to Ronald Reagan’s tangle with federal air-traffic controllers. Walker does not talk up the comparisons, but he acknowledges the overlaps.

The national spotlight has not fazed him. In an interview Sunday, Walker, the 43-year-old son of a Baptist preacher, was calm and easygoing, brushing off the heated, often personal, comments from protesters as political theater. A handful of protesters have likened Walker to Adolf Hitler and Darth Vader, among other villains. “Any time you challenge the status quo, any time you are bold, you are going to get a big reaction,” he chuckles.

But Walker is dead serious about his bill. He argues that the recession has hit every nook of the state, from Kenosha to Superior, so citizens are aware of the stakes. While the state’s unemployment rate is lower than the national average, Wisconsin is not in a position to avoid hard choices, he says. With the state “broke,” he sees his budget fix as the best way to balance the books, even if it makes the unions scream.

Republicans are confident that they have the votes to pass the plan. At a Saturday press conference, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters that GOP state senators continue to back the proposed reforms, in spite of the masses surrounding the capitol. “We are rock solid,” he said.