How Walker’s Presidential Bid Hurts Wisconsin
On a wide range of policies, Walker may be serving his career more than his constituents
For Scott Walker, Iowa is critical to his presidential hopes. It’s a neighboring state, and one where he lived for the first seven years of his life. It’s a socially conservative state where a Baptist preacher’s son should be a very attractive candidate. For all these reasons, Walker will be expected to do well.
Should Walker fail to do so, this will be seen as a major disappointment by the media, which will make his task much tougher in the next state, New Hampshire. And from there the retail politics phase of the presidential primary ends and he will need huge campaign donations to keep going, which will become increasingly hard.
By contrast, if Walker wins in Iowa, he will immediately become one of the front-runners, with enough momentum to carry him to the end of the primary. So the last thing Walker needed was an issue that would undercut his socially conservative, Baptist image in Iowa. And a decision by the governor to approve a new casino in Kenosha could have done just that.
As the conservative National Review noted: “Newly elected Iowa U.S. senator Joni Ernst joined 600 other Republicans in sending Walker a petition urging him adopt a ‘No Expanding Gaming’ policy. Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative in Iowa who led the successful defeat in 2010 of three Supreme Court justices who had approved same-sex marriage, has also written a letter to Walker highlighting the ‘increased societal problems of divorce, bankruptcy, debt, depression, and suicide’ that gambling can produce. In 2012, Vander Plaats’s last-minute endorsement of Rick Santorum helped propel the former Pennsylvania senator to a photo-finish victory over Mitt Romney in Iowa.”
And so, one day before he headed to Iowa for a major speech, Walker announced he wouldn’t approve the casino. The governor blamed an earlier document signed by his predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle, which might have required the state to reimburse the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk nations for any gambling revenue they lost to a competiting casino in Kenosha. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) contended the willingness of the Menomonee Tribe to sign an agreement reimbursing these tribes for any lost revenue should have addressed the issue.
Vos told the Racine Journal Times his phone “lit up with calls from residents who used ‘words that I won’t put on television for what they want me to tell Governor Walker….For anybody to not understand the depth of the frustration and the disappointment and the anger for people who live in Racine, Kenosha and our area, it’s hopefully going to become evident over time.’”
It’s not the first time Walker has made a decision with his presidential prospects in mind. Another example was his decision to turn down expanded federal funding for Medicaid, which is a key way Obamacare increases the number of people with health care coverage. Nine Republican governors accepted the funding.
One of them, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put it this way: “It’s simple. We are putting people first…expanding Medicaid will ensure New Jersey taxpayers will see their dollars maximized.”
Another, Ohio Gov. John Kasich explained that “I had a chance… to bring Ohio money back to Ohio to do some things that frankly needed to be done.”
Had Walker made the same decision, Wisconsin could have saved more than $500 million over 31/2 years, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates, and about 87,000 more adults a month would have been served under BadgerCare.
Walker’s excuse for rejecting this windfall for taxpayers was that the federal government might some day stop funding the program. But as he well-knew, President Barack Obama will be in power until Jan 2017 and has promised to veto any changes in the Affordable Care Act. This money was guaranteed for several years, and it was thrown away. Now Wisconsin faces a budget deficit and there is talk of huge cuts coming for the UW System, including UW-Milwaukee.
But by turning down the federal money, Walker gave his presidential hopes a huge boost. As conservative Brian Sikma wrote in Redstate.com: “It is quite likely that conservatives reviewing a field of Republican governors in the 2016 campaign will measure each governor’s commitment to repealing ObamaCare against how they acted on the voluntary expansion of Medicaid…Walker has possibly secured for himself a unique front-runner spot among his fellow Republican governors and rumored 2016 presidential contenders on the issue of healthcare.”
Walker has also urged legislators to get the two-year budget done more quickly. Passing the biennial budget is the main task of legislators and last time they took just four months or so, passing it sooner than the Wisconsin legislature had in decades. And Walker wants it done even faster? He offered no reason, but one comes to mind: he’d like to clear his schedule sooner to campaign for president. Republican legislators rejected the idea for obvious reasons, saying they were wary of losing input from the public and their own GOP members, as well as the regular analysis of the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office.
Then there is Walker’s stance on alternative energy. Here is a governor whose paramount goal, he said, was to grow jobs and business in Wisconsin. So why not do all you can to encourage wind and solar power, two industries that had established a solid foothold in Wisconsin and to export less oil and coal, both produced by companies outside Wisconsin. Yet Walker’s policies have brought wind power to a screeching halt and slowed down the solar industry in Wisconsin as well.
If it seems irrational for the governor to make Wisconsin even more dependent on fossil fuel, it makes perfect sense if you want the support of the Koch brothers, whose Koch Industries is heavily involved in the production of oil, gas and coal. The Kochs plan to spend $889 million on the 2016 election, about as much as either party will, on the 2016 election, and the Republican candidates for president (including Walker) were recently invited to what’s been dubbed the “Koch primary,” a seminar for aspiring candidates. Don’t expect any of them to be touting alternative energy.
Or take an issue like the proposed right-to-work law. I oppose it, but Walker clearly thinks it’s a good policy for Wisconsin, and supported it as a legislator. Yet he now is pushing lawmakers to drop the idea. Why? Probably because it would distract from his run for president, as Urban Milwaukee contributor Steven Walters has carefully explained.
Walker, as some Republicans have joked, has been planning his run for president since he was in high school. And when you’re burning with that kind of passion, the best interests of your state may not seem quite so important.