Could there be irony greater than that of a career politician appearing before a gathering of political donors in a city far from his home state to declare that he is an outsider and a “reformer”?
Indeed, it would take a mighty tone-deaf politician to miss the surreal moment in which he found himself.
Meet Scott Walker.
The Wisconsin governor has spent much of the month of November scrambling around the television studios, luxury hotel suites and corporate-funded “think tanks” of Washington and New York, desperately attempting to position himself as a Republican presidential prospect. And he has done so without any sense of irony.
And an expectation that the national media will be gullible enough to believe that the most divisive governor in the modern history of Wisconsin—polls show that his classic swing state is almost evenly divided between those who approve and disapprove of the governor—can somehow run for the presidency as a consensus builder. Walker is now being pitched by the co-writer of the governor’s 2016 campaign book—Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge—as the ideal GOP candidate for the presidency.
Of all the “compelling potential standard-bearers” for the party, argues Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, “none is better positioned to energize the conservative grassroots while winning the center than Scott Walker.”
Thiessen imagines Walker “as an across-the-board, unflinching, full-spectrum conservative” with an ability to appeal “to persuadable, reform-minded, results-oriented independents.”
That may be what Walker says. But that’s not the assessment of state Senator Dale Schultz, a Republican who has worked with Walker for two decades and who enthusiastically backed Walker in 2010.
This year, Schultz opposed Walker’s approach to a state budget process that the senator said veered—on everything from school funding to academic freedom to tax policy to local control—into territory that was “way too extreme.”
Schultz, a veteran legislator from rural western Wisconsin, criticized Walker for “passing up an opportunity to show independent leadership.”
“No amount of rhetoric or sloganeering will cover up the influence of an out of state billionaire funded and driven agenda,” declared Schultz. “This is not the Wisconsin agenda I’ve fought for over 30 years, and it’s not the Wisconsin agenda I hear from people as I travel around my district and across the state.”
Walker and his allies are doing everything they can to foster the fantasy that the governor as an outsider, a reformer, the antithesis of poilitics as usual. That was certainly the agenda last week, when Walker appeared in New York City before a November 18 gathering of top check writers for Republican candidates, Walker ripped the Democrat he hopes to run against in 2016—Hillary Clinton—for her long record of public service. Hillary Clinton “wasn’t just secretary of state, wasn’t just a U.S. senator, wasn’t just the first lady. She’s been a product of Washington for decades.”
Always at the ready for some self-promotion, Walker told the Republican crowd in New York that “if we’re going to beat somebody like Hillary Clinton, we’ve got to have somebody from outside of Washington, who’s got a proven record of reform.”
So, let’s review: Clinton’s the insider and Walker’s the outsider, right?
Not so fast.
Though she spent many years in Arkansas, Clinton has certainly done her time in Washington. And she is certainly no innocent when it comes to the maneuverings and manipulations that take place in the capitals of states and nations. So even if she is not a “product” of Washington, she is certainly no newcomer to the political game.
And what of Walker?
The governor conveniently forgot to mention that he began his own political career at age 22 and has, since then, run twenty-three years primary and general election campaigns in twenty-three years—making him one of the most determined careerists in American politics. And even before he finishes his first term as one of the nation’s most embattled governors, Walker is bidding for the presidency—so much so that he did not bother to correct a questioner in New York who began: “Since you’re clearly running for president…”
The problem with careerists is that they are often more interested in their careers than in challenging power.
In a word, they are: intimidated.
But Walker says that’s not him.
The governor’s new book seeks to portray this would-be presidential contender as an fearless political warrior, ever at the ready to advance his ideals.
That, like Walker’s suggestion that his austerity agenda has been successful, is a fantasy grounded in his ambition rather than reality.
In fact, Walker is one of the most intimidated politicians in America.
When Walker ran for governor in 2006, he framed a reform message that talked about ending crony capitalism and addressing the influence of special-interest campaign money and lobbying on the state budget process. In meetings with the state’s newspaper editorial boards, he pitched himself as a different kind of Republican who would not play insider political games. Walker earned some high marks when he “vowed to run as an underdog battling party insiders”—except from party insiders, who were unimpressed with his campaign.
In March 2006, just days after Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman visited Wisconsin, and barely a week after a visit to the state by Vice President Dick Cheney, Walker folded his gubernatorial campaign.
No “unintimidated” stand against the Washington power brokers. No fight to the end on behalf of his ideals. No faith that a grass-roots campaign could beat the money power.
Four years later Walker was back, with a better fundraising operation. This time, he had all the right connections. National donors, like Charles and David Koch, made maximum contributions to his campaign, and then gave even more money to groups making “independent” expenditures on Walker’s behalf.
He won, and in February 2011, when he got a call from someone he thought was David Koch, Walker played along with the caller’s talk about “planting some troublemakers” to disrupt peaceful protests against the governor’s anti-labor policies. Walker writes in his book that “we never—never—considered putting ‘troublemakers’ in the crowd to discredit the protesters.” Yet, when he was talking to someone he thought was a billionaire campaign donor, the governor said: “We thought about that.” If we take Walker at his word—that he never considered using agents provocateurs—then why didn’t he say so at the time? Was he intimidated by someone he thought was a major campaign donor?
The same question arises regarding Walker’s conversation with Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, who gave $500,000 to his 2012 campaign. Walker has said he has “no interest in pursuing right-to-work legislation” to weaken private-sector unions. Yet, when Hendricks asked him about right-to-work legislation, Walker did not say, “We’re not going to do that.” Rather, he told Hendricks his “first step” would be to attack public-sector unions as part of a “divide-and-conquer” strategy.
Walker wants a frequently obtuse national media and grassroots Republicans to imagine that he is “unintimidated.” And perhaps that is the case when he is picking on teachers and nurses and anyone who might dare to join a public-employee union. But when the party bosses and billionaire donors come calling, he’s just another politician telling the money power what it wants to hear.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, November 26, 2013
To the Republican supporters of laws that would treat the poll booth like an exclusive nightclub that asks for photo ID and other qualifications before allowing entry, the answer to why anyone would oppose this is simple: They must not want to vote badly enough.
This was the logic for Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman who last week on MSNBC said, ”I really don’t think they care that much about voting in the first place, right?” in response to a question about how African-American voters might be impacted by voter ID and early voting cuts.
This is not anomalous thinking among Republicans. Similar comments have been made by Republican state legislators in Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Florida. In fact, they say these things so often publicly that you have to wonder if it’s some kind of dog-whistle to the more racially polarized portion of their voting base.
The idea that people of color don’t “care” about voting ignores how expensive it can be to meet the qualifications of voter ID laws to begin with. Those expenses are irrelevant only to those who can easily meet them. On Friday November 15th, a federal court trial over Wisconsin’s voter ID law concluded after two weeks of testimony from at least a dozen state residents illustrating how difficult it’s been to obtain the photo ID needed to vote. It also featured the testimony of state government officials who dismissed those residents’ burdens as easily surmountable.
The question of who’s right in that tug of war comes down to careful consideration of the racial and class contexts of the law. If you are a white male with a government job, you obviously are in tune enough with the law, and have the resources to meet it. But if you are not that … well consider the statistics:
- 78 percent of African-American men in Wisconsin between the ages of 18 and 24 do not have a driver’s license
- 66 percent of young African-American women in the same age range lack a driver’s license
- 57 percent of young Latino men aged 18 to 24, and 63 percent of young Latinas lack driver’s licenses
During the Wisconsin trial, statistician Leland Beatty testified that more than 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters did not have a driver’s license or state ID card in 2012—16.2 percent of them African-American registered voters compared to just 9.5 percent of registered white voters. For Latinos, over 24 percent lacked a driver’s license or state ID card. Beatty analyzed the same data for 2013 and found the same racial disparate impact.
The burden suffered by people of color in Wisconsin under a voter ID law is not an academic exercise in statistics, though. Real Wisconsin residents testified about how hard it is to comply with the law—a law unnecessary given the state went hundreds of years without it and yet still managed to earn the top score in election performance by the Pew Research Center last year. Despite that, the expenses that come along with the voter ID law were laid bare during the November trial, which is the first litigation that has happened under the Voting Rights Act’s Section Two since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the civil rights law this summer.
Lorene Hutchins, a 93-year-old, African-American woman born in Mississippi was able to retrieve her birth certificate from her home state only after her daughter Katherine Clark helped her through the arduous process. It cost them over $2,000 in expenses and legal fees to do so.
Ray Ciszewski, a volunteer for his church’s program that helps the homeless and those recently released from prison obtain birth certificates for jobs, and lately to vote, testified that it costs on average $20 for a Wisconsin birth certificate. Roughly 23 percent of the people he’s tried to help were unable to get their birth certificates for a number of reasons, he said during the trial.
Carmen Cabrera of the Latino non-profit Centro Hispano Milwaukee testified that many of their members encountered language barriers—in particular, a limited availability of Spanish-speaking DMV clerks—when they help them get state IDs. Not to mention, there’s limited access to the DMV offices around the state since most of them are open only on weekdays and close at 4:30 p.m. Anytime voters have to take time off from work or school to haggle with DMV operators, especially those who don’t speak their language, that is a cost voters have to bare.
Attorney General Kawski called these plaintiffs’ experiences ”uncommon, bizarre and one-of-a-kind exceptions”—again, only bizarre to those who are privileged enough to not have to deal with the every day struggles of people of color and low income.
I encountered this same dynamic last year while covering the Pennsylvania court trial over its voter ID law, where poor people of color had to prove that they even existed, ID or not. Over two dozen witnesses, mostly black and Latino, provided account after account about how difficult it is for them to transact with the government over ID while state officials responded on the stand by placing those life stories in doubt. That case is still unresolved, pending a judge’s ruling
More stories about the costs and burdens of Wisconsin residents who lack ID are bound to surface. The Wisconsin state supreme court this week decided to hear two other challenges to the voter ID law filed by local NAACP and League of Women Voter chapters. Other Voter ID law challenges are waiting for their day in court in North Carolina and Texas—the latter of which is a protracted court battle that rivals only Wisconsin in terms of time elapsed without resolving the voter ID controversy. Texas’s law was stopped last year in federal court under a Voting Rights Act Section 5 challenge. When the Supreme Court invalidated Section Five’s coverage formula, Texas immediately reinstated the law, which ranks at the top of the nation with Wisconsin in terms of its voter restrictions. It is headed back to federal court, this time under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The stakes for all of these voter ID trials are not only who may or may not show up to vote in 2014 and 2016, but also whether government officials will finally recognize the true costs and burdens of being poor, black and brown in America as illustrated in these court testimonies. It’s not that they don’t care about voting; it’s that too many obstructions have been placed in their way.
By: Brentin Mock, The American Prospect, November 25, 2013
When it comes to ambitious Republican governors eyeing national office, some notable GOP figures have a problem: job creation remains a top national priority, and their job-creation records are pretty awful.
That’s true of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who’s among the worst governors in the country when it comes to employment, and it’s especially true of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who’s record on jobs is even worse.
As a candidate in 2010, Walker was so confident about what he’d accomplish, he made his campaign promise quite specific: elect him governor and he’d create 250,000 jobs in his first term. With Walker nowhere near his goal, and Wisconsin unlikely to make up the difference over the next year, the Republican is starting to take a “who, me?” approach to his pledge.
Governor Walker promised Wisconsin 250,000 new jobs again and again while campaigning in 2010. He said he’d accomplish that in his first term as governor. But the latest Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report puts Walker less than a third of the way there. He has less than a year and a half to create nearly 170,000 jobs to keep that pledge.
On Monday in Merrill, he carefully backed away from the specific number.
“My goal wasn’t so much to hit a magic number as much as it was, in the four years before I took office, when I was campaigning, I saw that we lost over 133,000 jobs in the state. I said, ‘it’s really not about jobs, it’s about real people, real jobs like those here, and more importantly, affecting real families all across the state,’” Walker said.
Got that? As a candidate in 2010, Walker said he’d create 250,000 jobs in four years. As a governor eyeing re-election and a presidential campaign, Walker is now saying, “It’s really not about jobs….”
Complicating matters, after a local NBC affiliate ran the story saying, “Walker backs off campaign jobs pledge at Merrill stop,” the governor’s office urged the station to take the story off its website.
Scott Walker, in other words, hopes the public doesn’t remember his 2010 promise, and hopes news organizations won’t remind them.
Also note, when asked about his poor record on job creation, the Republican governor has struggled to come up with a defense. In April, he blamed protesters who opposed his union-busting efforts in 2011, as if his policies were their fault.
While serving as governor and running for a second term, Walker is also co-writing a book with Republican pundit Marc Thiessen, a Washington Post columnist and former President George W. Bush speechwriter.
By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, August 30, 2013
How’s this for irony:
When the City of Kenosha, Wisconsin, was preparing to formally petition Congress to take the necessary actions to get corporate money out of politics and to restore grassroots democracy, the congressman who represents the community was meeting secretly with the Koch brothers to plot election strategies and policy agendas.
Kenosha is the largest city in Wisconsin’s first congressional district, which Congressman Paul Ryan has represented since 1999—thanks to gerrymandered district lines and heavy infusions of cash from out-of-state special interests. With Congress out of session for the August recess and Ryan expected to head home to meet with constituents, members of the Kenosha City Council decided to deliver a message. They voted overwhelmingly to ask Ryan and other Wisconsin representatives “to amend the Constitution to bar corporate wealth from unduly influencing elections.”
That’s not a particularly radical request.
Sixteen states and roughly 500 communities have petitioned Congress to support a constitutional amendment to restore the power of the people—through their federal, state and local representatives—to place limits on the influence of big money, especially corporate money, in American politics. The official calls from states across the country, and from cities such as Kenosha, come in response to the High Court’s decision to remove restrictions on corporate spending to buy elections, which capped a series of rulings that undermined limits on the power of wealthy Americans to dominate the political and governing processes of the nation with unprecedented infusions of campaign money.
Ryan has been among the prime beneficiaries of the money-in-politics moment ushered in by the High Court. As the House Budget Committee chairman, he has collected millions of dollars from individuals and groups that stand to benefit from initiatives such as Social Security privatization and the development of voucher schemes to “reform” Medicaid and Medicare. The congressman has become a favorite of many of the biggest donors in the country, including billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
The Koch brothers, prime funders of conservative causes and Republican politicians, were enthusiastic backers of placing Ryan on the 2012 Republican ticket. That move entered in a fiasco that saw Ryan fail to deliver Wisconsin for the ticket led by Mitt Romney. Ryan not only lost his hometown of Janesville but many of the other communities in his district, including Kenosha.
Casual observers might guess that Ryan would be listening a little more to his district, especially to the voters in cities such as Kenosha.
But they would guess wrong.
As Kenosha was petitioning for the redress of money-in-politics grievances, the congressman was at a posh resort near Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he had flown as soon as Congress went on recess. The Koch brothers had rented the entire Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and set up a private security perimeter so that no media—and certainly no citizens—could get near the elite retreat. And they invited Paul Ryan to spend several days with them as their guest of honor. Along with House majority leader Eric Cantor, American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks and a few other worthies, the Kochs and their wealthy friends wined and dined with Ryan.
A source that spoke to Politico reported that Ryan was “well-received by donors.” According to the Politico report, “Ryan has developed deep ties to Koch World”—the vast network of political operations controlled by the billionaire brothers.
The question is whether the congressman retains deep ties to Kenosha.
In case the congressman missed the message, the Kenosha City Council was joined in mid-August by the Kenosha County Board—the governing body of the populous southeastern Wisconsin county that is entirely within Ryan’s district—in calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. And constituents like Jennifer Franco, of Kenosha, are saying it’s time for their elected representatives to “stand with the people to proclaim that money is not speech, that artificial entities are not persons, and that every person’s voice carries the same weight.”
The juxtaposition of events in New Mexico and Wisconsin leaves Ryan with a clear choice to make: he can either stick with the Koch brothers or he can respond to the call from Kenosha for a meaningful response to the threat posed to democracy by the buying of elections and the policymaking process.
By: John Nichols, the Nation, August 22, 2013
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) caused a massive uproar in 2011 when he and his Republican allies eliminated collective-bargaining rights for most state employees, most notably public school teachers. The policy, which Walker neglected to mention to voters before he was elected, positioned the Republican governor as one of the nation’s fiercest opponents of organized labor.
Indeed, Walker later admitted his tactics were intended to “divide and conquer” his opponents in Wisconsin unions.
Viewer Dave Wollert emailed us this week to let us know Walker isn’t quite done dividing and conquering.
Two-and-a-half years after mostly sparing police officers and firefighters, Gov. Scott Walker said this week he is open to the idea of limiting their ability to collectively bargain.
Such a move would undercut the few unions where he has found support. The unions for Milwaukee officers and firefighters, for example, were among those that endorsed Walker in 2010 and in the 2012 attempt to recall him from office.
After expressing his openness to the idea on Monday, Walker hedged a little on Tuesday, telling reporters he doesn’t have “a specific proposal” that he’s currently “pushing.”
And while that may be mildly comforting to firefighters who want to keep their collective-bargaining rights, it doesn’t change the fact that the Republican governor has an opportunity to take those rights away, and he’s clearly interested in doing just that. Indeed, in context, it’s worth keeping in mind that Walker conceded that the topic came up in legislative discussions — suggesting some state GOP policymakers may well pursue the policy.
In case anyone needs a reminder, Walker’s union-busting policy is, from a labor perspective, simply atrocious.
Under the law, known as Act 10, most public-sector unions can bargain over base wages but nothing else. That makes it impossible for the unions to negotiate over issues such as working conditions, overtime, health care, sick leave and vacation. In negotiations over wages, they can seek raises that are no greater than the rate of inflation.
They also face much tougher standards to achieve recognition from the state. For instance, in annual votes they must win 51% support from all workers eligible to be in the union, not just those voting…. Another aspect of Act 10 required public workers to pay more for their pensions and health care, effectively cutting their take-home pay.
And now the governor is open to applying the law to some of the only public employees in Wisconsin who weren’t punished under the 2011 bill.
As Scott Walker gears up for a national campaign in 2016, he appears to have positioned himself as the most anti-union Republican in recent memory.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 1, 2013