Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge
By Governor Scott Walker (Wisconsin) with Marc Thiessen
Review by John E. Wade II
Governor Walker received national attention when he became the first governor in American history to win a recall election—and by a bigger margin than his original election. This happened after angry protesters actually occupied the capitol of Wisconsin, causing physical damage to the building and alienating the state’s voters, the Republican legislators, and the governor whom they were trying to influence.
This was a time of courage and leadership, but the real beneficiaries of this victory were the citizens, school teachers, administrators, and students of Wisconsin. Now, with only police and firefighters’ unions able to negotiate wages, local and state governments and schools are being run in a business-like manner.
A miracle has happened. A $3.6 billion budget deficit was turned into a surplus while all public schools now have the ability to operate like charter schools. Without the intimidation of union bosses, school principals are empowered to hire based on merit, pay based on performance, and spend professional development dollars on teachers who deserve it rather than on the basis of seniority.
Governor Walker is a courageous leader and innovator who served as Milwaukee County Executive from 2002 through 2010. It was while serving in this capacity that he learned the destructive nature of unions, specifically their inefficiency and their utmost desire to preserve union dues over teacher or other public employees’ jobs, tax considerations, or fiscal viability. When he became Governor of Wisconsin, with a majority of Republicans in the two legislative chambers, he moved boldly and quickly to disarm the unions by taking away collective bargaining rights and involuntary dues collections, except as mentioned above.
He also lowered taxes and initiated a multitude of reforms that have turned around the state economically, providing much-needed jobs. He wrote that he plans to cut taxes “over and over and over until Wisconsin is leading the country in economic recovery.”
Governor Walker is a courageous leader who is deeply in tune with the Innovation Age. I heartedly support him for President of the United States in the 2016 election.
Book Review and Commentary
The view from Washington appears bleak with the reelection of President Obama, an unlikely Obamacare repeal, massive tax increases, and spiraling national debt. “Family income has plummeted, and more than three quarters of Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck.” A study found that our country’s citizens believe our economy has “undergone a permanent change” which is the “new normal.”
But beyond the Washington beltway, with many states—including Wisconsin and other states with Republican leadership—“…conservative reformers are winning elections and policy battles in state houses all over the country.” Only one incumbent GOP governor has lost a general election since 2007; the number of GOP governors has risen from twenty-one to thirty, just four short of a record; Republicans have gained 606 legislative seats—from 3,220 in 2008 to 3,826 in 2013; gains have brought control in twenty-eight state houses of representatives and twenty-nine state senates; four years ago Republicans controlled both the legislature and governorship in just eight states and now that number is twenty-three, including sixteen states that are veto-proof.
Thus, at the state level, the GOP appears to be thriving. Why? Governor Walker states, “In the states, we are focused on improving education, caring for the poor, reforming government, lowering taxes, fixing entitlements, reducing dependency, and creating jobs and opportunity for the unemployed.” Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin are making the Reaganesque-type reforms which echo through Republican-led states, and there are countless other examples of reform.
Thanks to Walker’s leadership in Wisconsin, a $3.6 billion inherited deficit was turned into a $500 million surplus. Many teacher jobs were saved and education is improving through flexibility in administration. Property taxes decreased for the first time in over a decade. Unemployment has gone down and “…Wisconsin’s pension system is the only one in the country that is fully funded.” Clearly, Walker’s strong push for reform is working.
Governor Walker stated, “I firmly believe that the lessons we learned in Wisconsin can help conservatives win the fight for fiscal reform in Washington, D.C. and lead the way for greater prosperity for people all across America.” I fully agree, and I hope and pray that in 2016 Governor Walker will realize the presidency in order to lead the charge from pessimism to sustainable, sound optimism throughout America.
In 2002, Scott Walker was elected Milwaukee County Executive, the most Democratic-leaning county in the state. He was reelected three times, with bigger margins of victory each time. It was there that he learned of the perils of public unions. He stated, “I will never forget sitting at the conference table in my office across from…the head of ”…a union and “…explaining to him that without some of these modest changes we would have to lay off hundreds of workers…He looked me in the eye and said: ‘Go ahead and do it!’…I was stunned.” He stated that he didn’t care how many workers were laid off, he had no intention of giving up any benefits.
When the layoff notices went out, Walker was overcome with “…people streaming into his office, usually young workers in tears, pleading for their own job or that of a coworker.” The inflexibility of the union limited Walker’s ability to manage Milwaukee County and save the jobs of productive employees.
Walker makes a good point, “As conservatives, we believe that as many decisions as possible should be pushed down to the local level. This is not only a matter of efficiency, it is fundamental to our freedoms…For years, Americans have been presented with a false choice between raising taxes and cutting government services.” In a business, “…you don’t double the price of your product or cut its quality in half—at least not if you want to stay in business. You find ways to run your business more efficiently, and deliver a better product than your competitor at a lower cost.” Walker tried to do that as a county executive, but it was next to impossible with the obstructions of collective bargaining.
Collective bargaining “…denies hardworking taxpayers their ‘right’ to the efficient delivery of public services. It denies children their ‘right’ to a decent education. And it denies citizens their ‘right’ to a government that lives within its means…Rather than a right, collective bargaining has turned out to be an expensive entitlement.” These lessons at the local level were what taught Walker that a near-total statewide ban on collective bargaining could—and would—be the key to success in local and state government in Wisconsin.
Walker got advice from Indiana’s Governor Mitch Daniels, who had eliminated collective bargaining, saving “…buckets of money” but with the primary benefit of “flexibility to make state government run better.” Daniels advised Walker to go big, go bold; go fast; invest political capital; and never stop reforming. Indeed, Walker took Daniels’ advice. In Walker’s inaugural address, he quoted the Frugality Clause of Wisconsin’s constitution, approved in 1848, which states, “It is through frugality and moderation in government that we will see freedom and prosperity for our people.”
With the $3.6 billion budget deficit which he inherited, Walker faced grim prospects. States such as New York, California, and Connecticut were announcing layoffs to balance their budgets. Wisconsin could do the same, raise taxes and lay off teacher and workers. But Walker realized that this would take money from the poor, middle class workers, undermine education, and decimate government services. The unions would do this just to keep “…the automatic spigot of cash that was filling their union coffers.” Regarding his reforms, Walker explained, “We were not doing this to go after the unions…We were doing it to protect the schools.”
When Walker became governor he instituted the policy of meeting with Democratic leaders once a week, a practice he still continues, his office being open to individual members of either party. This reminds me of President Reagan and his open-door and across the political aisle policies, which are quite pointedly just the opposite of President Obama.
Walker presents some interesting facts. Most of the federal workers do not have collective bargaining and yet “…the average federal worker received total compensation 16 percent higher than the equivalent private sector worker.” I believe this disparity and our bloated federal government should be addressed—in a kind way that allows any displaced workers to receive outplacement services comparable to good citizen corporations.
When Walker assumed office he assessed his alternatives, and, fully aware of his inflexibility at the local level and Governor Daniels advice, he knew that with a Republican majority in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature, he could “…fix the whole system.” This was courageous, innovative, and the mark of a genuine leader. He faced a $3.6 billion budget deficit, property taxes that had gone up twenty-seven percent over the past ten years and were increasing every year, and the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. In two years, he produced a $342 million surplus, lowered property taxes, and the unemployment rate was brought down to 6.7 percent (and in 2015, unemployment is only 4.6%). He also backed reforms that would allow schools throughout the state to be run like charter schools.
I won’t dwell on the protests that eventually led to a recall campaign. At one point the capitol building “…was packed wall-to-wall with protesters. They banged drums and blasted horns day and night, harassed and spat on lawmakers as they made their way through the capitol, and turned our historic rotunda into a theater of the absurd….Protestors carried signs comparing [Walker] to Hosni Mubarak…and Obama bin Laden. Others read ‘Death to tyrants,’ ‘Don’t retreat, reload,’ and ‘The only good Republican is a dead Republican.’” There were death threats and harassment directed toward Walker and his family, as well as to other Republican leaders and their families. The unions’ goal was clear: to intimidate the senators and strike fear into them. But their smash-mouth tactics had the opposite effect. The more the senators were heckled, harassed, cussed at, and spat upon, the more their resolve deepened. Those who might have been wavering became increasingly determined not to give in.
Act 10, which banned collective bargaining—except for wages for police and firefighters—passed and was signed into law by Walker. It opened the doors for Walker and the Republicans to enact extensive and positive reforms in state government and the schools. Additionally, Walker won his recall by a larger margin than his original election, due primarily because his reforms were working, and Wisconsin voters were disenchanted with both the rowdy protestors and the teachers who interrupted schools all over the state to congregate in the capitol.
He explained some of his education reforms, “We gave every public school administrator in Wisconsin the same freedom and flexibility that charter schools enjoy. They can now change the curriculum, expand the school day, reward good teachers, and get rid of failing ones—all without getting permission from (or dealing with grievances from) the teachers unions.”
Walker wrote, “The message of Wisconsin was not that the American people want fewer teachers, or police, or firefighters. The message of Wisconsin was that Americans want leadership. And in times of crisis, they don’t care if it is Democratic leadership or Republican leadership—they will stand with those who offer bold ideas and have the courage to take on the tough issues.” Walker demonstrated the type of courage, leadership, and boldly innovative ideas we desperately need on a national basis. This is why I fully support Walker in the 2016 presidential election—and why I encourage everyone else to do so as well.
As mentioned earlier, Walker took to heart the advice that he got from Indiana’s Governor Mitch Daniels, “Never stop reforming—always have the next big idea ready.” This is just the right approach needed by our national leaders—most especially our president—during this Innovation Age. Walker stated, “We plan to cut taxes over and over and over again until Wisconsin is leading the country in economic recovery.”
Walker explains, “Republicans need to reclaim their position as the party of upward mobility and opportunity for all. We need to lay out a positive vision for an America where every one of our citizens—no matter what their race, creed, origin, political party, or station in life—has a chance for a better future. We need to offer innovative, free market alternatives to the permanent welfare state.”
Walker describes overcoming obstacles as “fun…I enjoy finding creative solutions to difficult challenges.” We need this public servant in Washington, as our president. He goes on the say, “Republican governors are succeeding because they are focused on…” relevant challenges to our people. Walker makes a very good point; Republicans often offer logical and empirical data to try to win voters whereas Democrats tell heartbreaking stories to appeal to the emotions. He states Republicans must always win the fairness fight.
In describing the current political trends, Walker states, “Across America, citizens are casting their ballots for fiscal responsibility. Courageous political leaders are taking on the entrenched interests, delivering reforms relevant to the lives of their citizens, and showing that they will not be intimidated by threats and scare tactics.” Governor Scott Walker has proven that he is this type of leader, one who will attract the votes and approval of citizens all across the nation. Why? He’s a genuine, innovative, courageous, capable, and honest leader.
Unintimidated is an extremely well-written and exciting book because it demonstrates to me that help is on the way, hopefully and prayerfully through Governor Walker’s election the 2016 presidential election. Of course, this must include Republican leadership at all levels throughout the nation. We don’t want our federal, state, and local governments to go the way of long-time Democratically controlled Detroit and other cities, states and our federal government, where challenges are avoided and “kicked down the road” to be addressed during the next election. We need Scott Walker’s strength of leadership—now and tomorrow!