The decision by Wisconsin voters to reject the government union led effort to recall Governor Scott Walker provides some crucial insights for the rest of our nation.
First, elected leaders can take on and defeat the most powerful special interest group in the nation, government unions, if their reforms are truly bold. Governor Walker’s reforms did not just nibble around the edges, like most politicians do. Instead, Governor Walker’s reforms made government employees contribute more towards their still generous pensions and benefits beginning right away. His reforms ended collective bargaining for government unions. By biting the bullet and taking this huge step, the savings to taxpayers were massive and immediate. The $3.6 billion budget deficit was wiped out and replaced by a $150 million plus surplus. Soon, newspapers were reporting the savings in counties across the state as government union health care contracts were renegotiated with – gulp – competitive bidding. The massive savings allowed property taxes to be cut for the first time in twelve years.
Second, government employee union temper tantrums over the loss of their privileged benefits do not wear well with the average citizen. Folks in the private sector who pay the bills for the government now understand that their supposed “public servants” actually have become an entitled class with far bigger pensions, better health care, and far more job security than those who work in the private sector. The unions attempted to counter Governor Walker’s reforms using the usual class warfare rhetoric of the Left, calling them a “war on the middle class.” But, most Wisconsinites understood that Governor Walker was only trying to make a special interest group pay its fair share in order to stop the state government from going bankrupt.
It was revealing that the Left’s message during the recall campaign did not mention restoring collective bargaining for government employees and it did not mention restoring the old gold-plated pension and health benefits. The unions knew the truth: Wisconsin citizens support Governor Walker’s courageous effort to save tax dollars and bring balance to a system that had simply become a gravy train for government unions.
I’ll never forget checking out of my hotel last Saturday morning in Racine as we headed to our final pro-reform event. The lady behind the front desk grabbed my arm and said, “I’m sorry I can’t make the rally today but I’ve got to work a double shift from 7am to 9pm. But just know I’m glad you guys are standing up for working people like me.”
Third, the decades old “ground game” advantage enjoyed by government unions is now a thing of the past. Even in Wisconsin, the birthplace of local government employee unions, no longer can the deep pockets and massive union membership ensure a decisive advantage in neighborhoods. From Hudson to Green Bay, from New Berlin to La Crosse, Americans for Prosperity’s grassroots activists, tea party members, local small business owners and senior citizens took our message of support for Governor Walker’s reforms to citizens from every walk of life.
Want to know how much things have changed in Wisconsin? Americans for Prosperity has maintained a state chapter with local staff in Wisconsin since January of 2005… and we now have 115,000 activists in the state. That’s more free market activists in the state than the Wisconsin Teacher’s Union has members. Now, with dues not being automatically taken from government employee paychecks and given to the unions, it will be even more difficult for the government unions on the ground.
Fourth, it does not take stirring oratory, movie star looks or cutting edge campaign technology to become a national political leader. Governor Walker is a nice enough looking guy and his speeches are adequate, but they’re not the reason he is the most successful governor in the nation. No, Governor Walker is the nation’s leading governor because he identified a crucial problem facing his state. Wisconsin was facing bankruptcy, and in the process losing its ability to create jobs and prosperity for citizens. In response he proposed a bold, philosophically sound solution; and then relentlessly worked to carry out his reforms while confidently communicating his efforts to his fellow citizens.
When Walker raised the banner of reform, a broad coalition of groups and citizens rallied to the cause. Now leaders in other states have a chance to do the same.