It’s the one question everybody asks, including this reporter: Are you running for president in 2016?
It’s also the one question Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin – the Republican reformer who successfully beat back labor unions over collective bargaining in a blue state – knows exactly how to answer: “I love being governor. I will make an announcement about re-election for governor early next year.”
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If that sounds like canned goods, Walker, 46, insists that the reforms he put into place in a state that had a deficit of $3.6 billion are what thrust him into the national spotlight in the first place. “I’m flattered to be on lists for 2016, but people talk about our reforms and then mention that I’m governor. It’s not the other way around. The reforms are something dynamic that Wisconsin leads the way on.”
His focus remains on 2014, he says – exactly what his New Jersey counterpart, Chris Christie, said in the period leading up to his reelection. There’s a twist with Walker, of course. “I’m up again for my third election in four years,” he said lightly, factoring in his recall election. “I’m getting pretty good at it.”
Here are 10 other highlights from a wide-ranging interview:
1. He’s not a fan of the budget deal hammered out by fellow Republican cheesehead Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The deal, passed by the House, goes to the Senate next week. “Paul Ryan’s a good friend and I have great admiration for him, but this deal just reinforces why 2014 is so important, not just to Republicans, but to people who care about the future of this country, economically and fiscally.”
Walker added, “The deal wouldn’t be anywhere near what it is right now if Republicans had the majority in the U.S. Senate. It puts into clear, clear focus the need for Republicans to win in places like Louisiana, Arkansas, N.C. and elsewhere.”
2. Fiscal conservatives must be “careful” how they talk about the debt and deficit. “We have to define it as more than a dollars-and-cents issue. It’s got to be a moral issue, not just fiscal. I have two sons, 18 and 19, and two nieces, 10 and 6. I think about them and how horrible it will be if we don’t fix these problems at the federal level. Our children are going to inherit debt bigger than probably the size of the mortgages they’ll have in their lifetimes.”
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3. Republicans must make a better case for why “budgets need to be responsible.” “We’ve been successful as chief executives and legislators because we’ve talked about things that are relevant. But we’ve got to do more of this nationally. One problem is that we conservatives think and talk with our heads – the left thinks and talks with their hearts. We need to think more with our heads and talk more with our hearts.”
4. Austerity alone is not the answer. “It goes back to the perception problem Republicans have. We’re viewed as the party of ‘no,’ the party that cuts things, that just wants a balanced budget,” said Walker, who also makes this point in his new book, Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge. “We need to show we want a better life for our children and grandchildren and to get there, we’re about reforming things. We’re about making government more focused, efficient and targeted.”
5. Republicans – like Democrats – can win the fairness argument. “We evoked reform in Wisconsin. That’s how we won the fairness argument. A lot of times the left will win the fairness argument. They’ll say, ‘People should pay their fair share.’ At a gut level that sounds reasonable. So when we say, ‘Public employees should pay something similar to what everybody else pays, it’s only right’ – most people say, ‘Of course.’”
6. We can’t just bail out bankrupt cities. “A bailout pushes off the same problems, which you’ll have again once the bailout runs out. The better thing is to empower local governments and states with the ability to put taxpayers back in charge and the people they duly elect. That’s where a good chunk of what we did with collective bargaining has to be a factor.”
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7. Wins in 2014 will send a message. “If I succeed again in the 2014 election, it will send a powerful message to governors of both parties and to mayors as well. Rahm Emanuel, for example, tried to do what most of us would say were pretty reasonable reforms in the school district in Chicago. Ultimately, as tough as he is, he got shut down. He didn’t have the tools to do it because of collective bargaining. If Chicago was in Wisconsin, he would not have lost that battle.
“Nationally, it’s not enough for Republicans to hold the House. We have a big opportunity to regain the U.S. Senate. Then two years later, it makes for a compelling case that we can complete the reforms by putting a new chief executive in the White House.”
8. Outsiders are better at running the federal government. Outsiders have “a benefit. Republicans have had success because we’re reformers, optimistic, relevant. To take on the monumental challenges of the federal government, I think Americans want to see proven reformers in there to shake things up.
“In [Wisconsin], I pulled together leadership from across the government. We all sat down and said, ‘Hey, voters care about two things: our economic crisis and our fiscal crisis.’ I kept saying, ‘We shouldn’t stray from that.’ I wanted to be sure everyone knew the plan to get our economy going again and our budget balanced.”
9. The media can’t spin results. The unions took “millions of dollars in ads against me, an amount you’d expect only in a [national] campaign. There were 100,000 protestors in the capital. The media would only listen to their side – it’s interesting to cover protests, not so interesting to cover details.
“Two big things happened. One was September 1, 2011, when kids across Wisconsin went back to school. Parents saw the schools were the same or better with the reforms we put in. Then, for the first time in a decade, property taxes actually went down. People said, ‘Hey, the schools are better, local governments are better, my property taxes went down.’ That trumped everything.”
10. Obamacare is “horrible” because it’s not market driven. “The president promised people they could keep their doctors and their plans. That’s not happening. People are also feeling sticker shock now. It is anything but affordable. Republicans need to offer a viable alternative. We owe it to Americans to put them back in charge of their own health care decisions. The current system isn’t effective. It’s not market driven or patient centered. It’s bureaucracy driven. Americans know more about their cell phone plan than they do their health plan.” - Follow Maureen Mackey on Twitter @maurmack
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