The Recall Campaign Trail and Walker’s Road to Damascus

ImageAfter spending his first year in office forcing cities, counties and school districts to accept and enforce his worldview against public employee unions by gutting shared revenue and school aids while significantly defunding higher education, Gov. Scott Walker has miraculously rediscovered some constituencies that he had formerly abandoned, as he attempts to make his case in a looming recall election. It will be interesting to see who’s buying it. What seems clear is what he’s trying to buy; an election — and a succession of conveniently timed announcements are just another way to try to leverage the tens of millions he’s collected from right-wing donors across the country.

At the end of April, Walker unveiled a $100 million program to help revitalize Milwaukee’s central city. Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker’s Democratic opponent in next month’s recall, said he was pleased that the governor now wants to work with Milwaukee on job creation, reported the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“But I have to tell you,” Barrett said, “I question the sincerity of that when it comes 36 days before the recall election.  “Had this come during his time as county executive, had this come during the first 15 months of his term as governor, I may have felt he was more sincere. But the timing, one week basically after the state of Wisconsin was identified as the only state in the entire country that had a statistically significant decrease in jobs, raises the question of whether this is about creating jobs in Milwaukee or this is about saving Scott Walker’s job.”

In the seven years that Walker was Milwaukee County executive, Barrett said, Walker never showed any interest in promoting economic development in Milwaukee’s central city. Mr. Barrett is in a position to know that and I take him at his word. Gov. Walker is also in a position to know it, but taking him at his word is something that you just can’t do, unless maybe you’re a billionaire campaign donor like David Koch or Diane Hendricks and you’re asking about union-busting strategy.

Walker didn’t show much interest in helping Milwaukee with his state budget.  Cuts to Milwaukee’s shared revenue, street and transportation aids came out to nearly $20 million this year, with even more slashed from Milwaukee County. Tax credits and loans make up the bulk of the guv’s new initiative for Milwaukee. That’s not the same as saying that the state will be spending $100 million, which is what Walker said was happening, according to the coverage. In reality, it’s saying he hopes other people will spend money, which the state is willing to help make more attractive with loans and tax credits. It sounds like a pretty good start in a very troubled place. But what mattered to Walker was to roll it out a few weeks before his recall election.  He’s most certainly going to lose in Milwaukee on June 5, but he’s hoping that it won’t be by as much as it might have been. Whether the effort is ultimately a successful program or not doesn’t really matter, because it will be masquerading as a current accomplishment until we know better and it’s fair to be wondering if it would have happened at all without the backdrop of the recall.

“When Milwaukee’s doing better, not only does it help the rest of the state’s economy, it lowers the amount of resources that taxpayers statewide provide in terms of other services through state government. It just makes overall for a better state when we transform the city of Milwaukee,” said Gov. Walker.  That’s great, Governor — and it’s also very true.  Welcome back from the Road to Damascus. After spending more than eight years as Milwaukee County Executive and Governor reducing the promise and the prospects of our state’s largest city, perhaps this scheme to hopefully get other people to invest there will be enough for the Amen Corner at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board to endorse you, once again. They’ve never been ones to let your actual performance get in the way of being your dependable apologists.

Continuing in campaign mode, Walker’s business-friendly DNR is set to primp for the recall by purchasing a $17.2 million conservation easement in northwestern Wisconsin next week. Walker all but shut down the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program last year, but things are apparently different now. In April, the state’s Department of Transportation unveiled a $715 million highway project for I-39/90 from Madison to the Illinois border. Unlike most major highway projects where the federal government covers 80 to 90 percent of the work, the I-39-90 project will be 70 percent state funded and 30 percent federal, said John Vesperman, the Department of Transportation’s project chief, in a Wisconsin State Journal report. Does anyone wonder why that is? Remember the 100 percent federally funded $810 million rail project that was thrown overboard over $7.5 million in annual operating costs and train maker Talgo leaving the state? This lone road project will cost the state a half billion, in the unlikely event that it makes budget. Is it any wonder why the road builders like Walker?

But some of the best contortions surround Walker’s record on jobs. It is the worst among the 50 states, we’ve learned – and we’re still bleeding them. But that isn’t stopping the guv from trying to claim otherwise, with handy numbers coming in just-in-time fashion from his third (count ‘em) Department of Workforce Development Secretary, Reggie Newson, who assures us that the curious timing of the unusual release of numbers had nothing to do with the recall election. Of course, it’s true that he is a political appointee who will lose his job if Walker loses, but what’s that got to do with anything?

“The government just released final numbers,” says Walker in a campaign ad, earnestly looking into the camera as he desperately tries to nullify the fact that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked Wisconsin dead last in job creation last year. And no, “the government” didn’t just release FINAL numbers.  Walker’s own administration prematurely released PRELIMINARY numbers that can’t be compared to other states, at this point. Acting like “the government” is somebody else and saying that the numbers are “final” neglects the fact that the numbers won’t be confirmed in final form until well after the recall election.  Gov. Walker knows this. He is deliberately misrepresenting things and spending millions in campaign funds trying to muddy the waters in an effort to try to make it look like his policies are somehow helping employment in Wisconsin. They’re not. They dampen demand and hurt employment. He knows this. Tom Barrett has a degree in Economics in addition to a law degree. He knows this, too.

The announcement of Walker’s new and improved job numbers was designed to try to negate the next day’s report from the BLS that Wisconsin lost another 6,200 private sector jobs in April. But he already had a campaign ad in the can with a different story that his people worked hard to manufacture in time to be useful. Walker calls it ‘bad news for Barrett’ and that is entirely what it was about for him. But if it wasn’t for the fast-approaching election, I think Scott Walker and his supporters would be just as happy to have the soft labor market that his policies sustain, in which they can continue to reduce compensation to workers without interruption or the inconvenient need for any inconguous public posturing.

But here’s my real problem with the governor who has a growing legal defense fund, had a secret e-mail network in his county executive suite, keeps a spokesperson who is operating under immunity from the court and makes timely announcements of unusually timely “facts” during the ramp-up to June 5. I think about some of the things he says and does; his sketchy record that began when he was a student at Marquette who didn’t complete, his tenure as a county executive and the continuing John Doe investigation swirling around him. I think about the fact that most of his campaign money and donors come from outside of this state. I weigh the insights that we’ve gained from what he must have thought were his unguarded comments to big donors – things like ‘dropping the bomb’ and ‘divide and conquer.’ These aren’t political gaffes.  Rather, they are windows into a person’s integrity and character.

I think about the mental gymnastics involved in giving such a wide berth to the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and how that contrasts with an extremely narrow view on the fundamental right to vote or the right of consumers and women to have meaningful access the courts in the name of being “open for business.” I think about the aggressive attempts to ram legislation through in a capitol where rules were placed into effect to keep the public at bay and the open meetings law was flaunted with “special jobs sessions” that had little or nothing to do with jobs. I think about the crooked re-districting process, its secrecy oaths and its outcome. I consider the outrageously inflated claims of millions of dollars in damages to the capitol that his administration tried to lay on peaceful protestors who had every right and reason to be there. I think about his extremely limited availability to the general public; a fellow that even wanted to introduce the public budget on private property.

And I come to a very uncomfortable conclusion. It doesn’t really even have so much to do with any of the specific things he’s done, as serious as I find some of those matters to be. It’s more of a gut feeling that I have about people when I see them as manipulative schemers with agendas that are transparently contrary to what they represent them to be. It’s about Wisconsin harboring one of the country’s more prominent extremists in what has become a party dominated by extremists, who can rationalize away just about anything and will tell you that no matter what, “it’s working” – because for the people bankrolling his politics and policies, it is. You just can’t trust people like that. And you get what you deserve if you allow them to remain.


True to form, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board refuses to admit they blew it in 2010; endorses Walker weeks in advance of the vote:

A powerful 2-minute ad about “Divide and Conquer”:

An outrageous juxtaposition of Scott Walker by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:


6 Responses to “The Recall Campaign Trail and Walker’s Road to Damascus”

  1. Appalled by Walker Says:

    I fervently hope that Walker will be recalled. I appreciate your post. Thank you!

  2. This is really well done and you have put into words what so many of us feel. Walker demoralized teachers and tried to make them public enemy no.1.
    My husband has taught for 31 years in this state. He will retire from teaching in about 2 years. I honestly think if he could, he would have done it this year. But thanks to Gov. Walker he is losing a $45,000/ year stipend to buy insurance with. He worked 31 years for this and now its gone. We are sickened by this man and wish the public all knew the truth and that they would realize that they are next.

    • Where do the rest of us who are not public sector workers sign up for that $45K stipend to use to buy health insurance when we retire?? Not a perk anyone in the private sector gets. Sorry, we just don’t feel sorry for you….

  3. That should say $45,000 stipend…not $45,000 per year.

  4. Mary Englert Says:

    Well said, Jim! Walker’s lies and distorted “truths” have been disproven over and over again. My gut feeling is that our governor is a liar who will do whatever he has to do to maintain his power. He believes he can buy the election. Let’s hope that people of WI see Walker for what he truly is, and vote him out of office on June 5.

  5. Great analysis, Jim. To me though, there is one thing missing on both sides and I wish the progressives would harp on it more. Our current political debate is not really about taxes, it is (or should be, it is currently invisible and silent!) about wages. Breaking the unions and making Wisconsin a right to work state is about lowering wages of just about everyone.

    If you look at the “conservative” record over the past 40 years, what jumps out is not cutting of taxes, government has continued to grow under all administrations, “conservatives” love big government love big government just as much as liberals, just with a different emphasis, Pentagon and prisons. No, where they have truly accomplished their (unstated) goals is in wages. At best wages have been stagnant for the past 40 years (even as the economy has grown tremendously). Other analysts say that properly adjusted for inflation (the definition which changes all the time!) wages have actually fallen by 40%! Can you say “no collective bargaining?”

    Using the “official” rates of inflation, we know that the purchasing power of the minimum wage has dropped quite a bit since its peak year of about 1970. Most of the stats I have seen say that the minimum wage would have to be around $12/hour currently to have the same purchasing power as 1970ish.

    This is why women entered the workforce in droves over the last 40 years — to make up for the falling household income. Second incomes and cheap credit are the two biggest factors as to why not many people notice that their wages have actually fallen.

    And family income will continue to fall as long as the radicals (“conservatives”) keep foisting their gilded age robber baron agenda on us. The only reasonably bright economic conditions over the past 40 years were when Clinton increased the minimum wage (slightly) and raised taxes on the rich (also slightly). But even these small tweaks in the right direction were enough to set off a boom that people still remember fondly. As Harry Truman correctly said, “If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic.”

    When you look at the “conservative” agenda it is all about driving down wages. No Social Security? That means working into your retirement years — increasing the labor and lowering wage expectations. No Medicaid or Medicare? Makes you dependent on your employer — “I’ll work for anything as long as I get insurance!” And so on.

    Everything is about lower wages. Which is why it is a bit of a problem (on both sides!) to just talk about the number of jobs. Jobs will come and go, what really matters is whether they are jobs that pay good wages. When real family income goes up again, we will have another economic boom.

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