For Scott Walker, it was another night and another hit.
At 8:02 p.m. last Thursday, in a cramped Madison studio, he sat casually in front of the cold lens of a network camera. His shoulders were loose, his ruby-red tie slightly askew. Sean Hannity of Fox News beamed in, his voice crackling through the near-invisible earpiece.
A day earlier, on March 9, the GOP-controlled Wisconsin state senate had passed Walker’s budget-repair bill after an exhausting, three-week stalemate. The full-time occupation of the state capitol by labor activists was dissolving. Union armies had raised fists for nearly a month, with the gusto of Les Miserables extras, but they had lost.
Walker was Hannity’s A-block, the lead story, and the gregarious host was pleased to have booked Wisconsin’s Javert. Hannity turned first to the curbing of collective bargaining for public-sector workers, the keystone of Walker’s bill. “Governor,” he opened warmly, “I guess in one phrase, this wasn’t easy, but a win for you.”
Walker grimaced. He then launched into a low-key riff about how “the taxpayers” were the real victors, diverting the conversation away from talk of his political prowess.
The rookie Republican governor was smart to deflect. As his national profile continues to rise, Walker knows that his Badger State battles have only begun. Facing down on-the-lam Democrats — and winning — was a relief; closing a $3.6 billion budget gap will be a higher-order task.
Earlier this month, Walker took to the floor of the state assembly to outline his biennial fiscal agenda. The budget-repair bill was but an appetizer. Walker’s full menu features $4.2 billion in cuts, a near 7 percent reduction in state spending. If passed, over $700 million in education funds and over $1 billion in county and municipal aid would be carved out. The state’s Medicaid budget would be cut by $500 million. Over 20,000 government jobs would be eliminated. The state commerce department would disappear.
Enacting this package will be tricky. As Walker pivots, Democrats are scurrying to keep the fresh wounds open. Money from liberals nationwide is pouring into efforts to recall eight GOP state senators. Others are plotting to recall Walker when he is eligible next year. Thousands of protesters continued to swarm the capitol grounds on Saturday. The B-list of lefty stars — Jesse Jackson, Michael Moore, and Susan Sarandon, to name a few — continues to jet into Madison to bloviate beneath the white-granite dome.
Walker foes are also looking to trip up the new law as it kicks into gear. Democrats have filed a complaint with Dane County officials, charging that senate Republicans violated the state’s open-meetings law during passage. Secretary of State Doug La Follette, a Democrat and descendant of progressive hero “Fighting Bob” La Follette, is attempting to delay the bill’s implementation. Union bosses are hustling to complete deals with friendly municipalities before the law becomes active later this month.
In every sense, they are digging in.
Walker, in an interview with National Review Online, shrugs off the noise. As his incensed opponents turn up the volume, he says he will resist the temptation to do the same. Don’t expect any rhetorical echoes of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who gained fame last year for his frank combativeness with public employees.
“It doesn’t work so much in the Midwest if you are in people’s faces and going Jersey on them,” Walker chuckles. “You know you have to make the tough decisions, but you don’t relish it.”