Darren Hauck / REUTERS
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker during a news conference at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisc., Feb. 25, 2011.
As he marks his first anniversary as governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker has accomplished what Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Ron Paul haven’t in their collective decades in politics: enacted two fundamental conservative policy changes in a traditionally Democratic-leaning state.
Walker, who spoke in Washington Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, signed into law last year a measure that abolished most collective bargaining rights for most public employees and required them to pay a greater share of their pension and health care costs.
“Collective bargaining in the public sector is not a right,” Walker said Thursday. “It is an expensive entitlement.”
He has also signed into law a voter identification measure that requires people to present a form of photo identification such as a passport or driver’s license when they show up to vote.
For Democrats and union members those actions made Walker the most infamous Republican in the nation. Walker’s collective bargaining measure sparked furious, weeks-long protests in the state capitol in Madison last winter, at one point leading Democratic lawmakers to flee to Illinois in an attempt to deny a quorum and prevent enactment of the law.
Walker’s opponents have a Jan. 17 deadline to submit the required 540,208 signatures to recall him. The recall election would take place in June.
Recalls are also being attempted of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and of a few Republican state senators, with the potential of Democrats regaining the state Senate where they now have 16 members, compared to 17 Republicans.
Walker joins Morning Joe to discuss the recall effort, which he has called "unusual," job creation in the state, and how income inequality dominated conversation in 2011.
Walker’s message Thursday in Washington: “I don’t plan on losing, but I’m not afraid of losing.”
The recall will be an entirely new election with a Democratic candidate on the ballot.
“People ask me who my opponent is going to be. I say the person doesn’t matter,” Walker said, adding that labor union leaders would invest huge amounts of money in trying to defeat him and that his opponent would be “someone hand-picked by the unions.”
“We’ll run ads that define the differences; we’re not going to take cheap shots … I will point out my record versus whomever the unions decide to put up to run against me.”
Walker also predicted that no matter what might happen in the recall election, his public employee reforms won’t be rescinded. He said local governments in his state, now in a stronger bargaining position towards their employees, will not want to return to the old system. “You’d be hard pressed to find many local officials who would be out there even right now arguing to rescind the collective bargaining law,” he said.
He also argued that “probably the biggest reason I am a target” was a provision in the law that ended the practice of deducting union dues from the paychecks of public employees. “That’s ultimately what this is about,” he said.
Now if a public employee wants to pay union dues, he must write a check to the union. “What it comes down to is I took away the gravy train, the free money, they (the unions) had before and gave that right back to the workers to make that decision.”
One of Walker’s Democratic opponents, state Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller said employees have payroll deductions for all sorts of purposes: alimony payments, donations to charity, etc., and that it is “very discriminatory” to single out union dues as payments that cannot be deducted. “It’s a specific way to weaken the unions’ ability to operate effectively,” he said.
Walker said his public employee reforms were “not radical” but commonsense measures to bring public employee compensation in Wisconsin into line with that of private-sector workers. “I still get questions about that all the time from people who think we’re taking away pensions … We’re not. We’re making (public workers pay) a payroll match contribution” to pay for their health insurance and pension benefits.
The Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel shares the latest on Gov. Scott Walker's battle to remain in office.
He said not only Republican governors and mayors but Democratic ones, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, are being forced to try to curtail the high cost of public workers’ benefits. He asked, “Who would have thought a year ago when Occupy Chicago protestors came in, they’d mention my name and Rahm Emanuel’s in the same breath?”
University of Wisconsin political scientist Charles Franklin said the recall drive has collected “an impressive number of signatures in a short period of time, showing that the anti-Walker feelings remain strong and widespread. However, last year's recalls and Supreme Court election showed the state is very evenly divided, as does most polling.”
Walker predicted “a tossup election, as evenly divided as last summer” when Wisconsin had state Senate recall elections.
And for rolling back Walker’s collective bargaining law, Franklin sees that as somewhat doubtful. “It will take Democratic control of both houses of the legislature as well as the governorship to accomplish that, so unless November results in that kind of change the recall by itself won't repeal the laws.”
He added that the Democrats could take the state Senate “but have a long way to go to take the assembly. And the redistricting plan recently passed is not friendly to the Democrats, making legislative gains harder.”