There’s plenty to criticize when it comes to the GOP’s dismal efforts to reach and persuade voters, so exceptions to the recent disquieting rule ought to be highlighted, celebrated and replicated. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is one such exception, and a shining one at that. Walker’s resounding re-election in the face of a petty, statist coup-by-recall attempt was the highlight of 2012 for American conservatives, and it appears that his victory last June has emboldened the governor to lay out another robust agenda. I happened to catch C-SPAN’s re-airing of Walker’s ‘state of the state’ address from late January (when I was on vacation in a land where the ruling Left-wing party is imploding at the moment) and found it to be inspirational and instructive. Walker opened by touting the empirical success of his controversial reforms, prompting cheers from Republicans and scowls from Democrats. Yes, the party whose members literally fled the state in a pitiful attempt to obstruct progress were reduced to frowning through this roster of accomplishments:
Two years ago, when I first stood here as your new governor, Wisconsin was facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit, property taxes had gone up 27 percent over the previous decade, increasing every year, and the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. Today, Wisconsin has a $342 million budget surplus, property taxes on a median valued home went down in each of the last two years, and the unemployment rate – well – it’s down to 6.7 percent. We’re turning things around. We’re heading in the right direction. We’re moving Wisconsin forward. And unlike other states, we avoided significant tax increases, massive layoffs and cuts in programs, like Medicaid. Instead, we put in place long-term structural reforms that helped us balance state and local government budgets for years to come. What we did was think more about the next generation than we did about the next election — and it worked. For the first time in our state’s history, we set money aside in two consecutive years for the rainy day fund. Our bond rating is solid and our pension system is the only one in the country that is fully funded. We made tough, but prudent, decisions to get our fiscal house in order. Today, unlike the federal government and many of our neighboring states, we have a surplus, which will allow us to invest in our priorities.
Walker proceeded to roll out a series of strong new policies, methodically selling each one by contrasting the failures of big government with Wisconsin’s successful endeavor in small, streamlined, smart government Here’s the governor explaining his proposed package of tax cuts:
With the introduction of my proposed budget next month, I will lay out a clear plan for reducing the burden on hard-working families by lowering income taxes on the middle class. We want to continue to put more money in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers and small business owners in our state. Unlike the message coming out of Washington, I believe that putting more money in the hands of the people—instead of the government—is good for the economy…
On regulatory relief:
…In addition to access to capital, we want to help small businesses grow by lowering the cost of doing business in our state. In particular, we want to streamline the process, so what we do enforce is about common sense and not about bureaucratic red tape. You may remember, last year, I called for state agencies to work with the reformed Small Business Regulatory Review Board to identify unnecessary, obsolete, and burdensome regulations. In a survey, we asked employers what we can do to help them create jobs in the upcoming year and the most common answer was decrease the amount of state regulations. And they gave us plenty of feedback on rules to review. Tonight, I am pleased to release this report, which identifies over 300 rule modifications in 218 administrative code chapters. Making these changes will make it easier to do business in the state, while maintaining the safety and health of our citizens…
On rewarding good teachers with performance-based incentives:
…Part of the long-term strategy to develop our workforce is to continue to transform education in our state. The reforms we enacted over the past two years saved school districts hundreds of millions of dollars and allowed each district to hire based on merit and pay based on performance. We can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms—and we can pay them to stay there. We finally have a way to recognize our exceptional teachers and reward them for the good work they do with our children. Going forward, our educational efforts must be focused on performance. During the past year, State Superintendent Evers and I put together a diverse group of stakeholders from around Wisconsin—teachers, parents, school board members, taxpayers, business leaders, and others—to talk about school and school district accountability…In our budget, we will lay out plans to provide a financial incentive for high-performing and rapidly improving schools. We want to reward and replicate success—all across the state….
And on instituting mining reforms to help resuscitate that industry within the state:
One of the best ways we can show the people of Wisconsin that their state government is focused on jobs is to pass a bill that streamlines the process for safe and environmentally sound mining. Start with the legislation that was approved in the Joint Finance Committee last session, include some reasonable modifications, and send me a bill to sign into law early this year. A mine would be a lifeline to people in northwestern Wisconsin, where the unemployment rate in Iron County is the 2nd highest in the state at nearly 12 percent. But the benefits will be felt all across Wisconsin. We have the potential for a billion and a half dollar investment here in our state that could lead to as many as 3,000 construction-related jobs and 2,800 long-term jobs. It’s no wonder that I’ve heard from people in places like Clinton and Wausau, Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, Superior and Chippewa Falls, all who want us to pass this bill. We need to get started on this project as soon as possible. Tonight, please join me in welcoming a number of people who really want to get to work.
Joining me are Josh Dennis, Larry Youngs, Cindy Lafortune, Karl Krall, Richard Galarno, Curt Lusua, Adam Kaseno, Steve Anderson, Harold Wickman, and Ryan Haffenbredl. These operating engineers are members of Local 139, who are looking for work. Also joining us tonight are carpenters and millwrights from northern Wisconsin locals of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, welcome Dana Tonnelli, Bob Polencheck, Charlie Steed, Al Ida, Dan Gillespie, Pete Langreck, David Grottke, and Jim Berrens. Together, these folks are holding up the flag of the great State of Wisconsin. On the right side of the seal is the image of a miner. In the upper right corner are the tools of a miner. And on the top of the seal is a badger, which comes from the nickname given to early settlers who were miners. If any state can move forward with a way to streamline the process for safe and environmentally sound mining, shouldn’t it be the Badger State?
During that passage, Walker personalized and illustrated his goal by welcoming a bevy of hard-hat-clad, unionized (!) workers onto the podium, smiling and holding the Wisconsin flag. Here’s how a local news station covered the address (note the striking visuals around the 0:45 mark):
Walker even tossed in some parochial populism for good measure, conspicuously welcoming a small business that recently fled the fiscal nightmare of Illinois and relocated to Wisconsin. The governor called the achievement “almost as exciting as beating the Bears.” Optics. Messaging. Prudent and inventive conservatism — this is how it’s done. Other Republicans would be wise to take heed of Scott Walker’s fine example.