Wisconsin vs. Minnesota

My Facebook feed sometimes includes assertions about how Minnesota, run by liberals, is doing much better economically than Wisconsin is. These assertions are, not surprisingly, posted by haters of Gov. Scott Walker.

(Before we move on, I am required to point out that half my lineage is from Minnesota, including people who were part of the Democratic–Farmer–Labor group, along with people who were big fans of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy and probably voted for Democrats less often than I have. The statements about “much better” never seem to apply to Wisconsin vs. Minnesota or the Packers vs. the Vikings in football, for some inexplicable reason.)

UW–Madison Prof. Noah Williams begs to differ with the assertion within the first sentence of this blog:

Before Governor Scott Walker took office in January of 2011, Wisconsin was seeing high unemployment, stagnating incomes and a high tax burden. Fast-forward four years: The state enjoys strong growth in employment and improvements in living standards through higher after-tax incomes. Thanks to a fiscal policy of reducing tax and regulatory burdens while balancing the budget, Wisconsin now outperforms many of its neighbors.

(Disclosure: Mr. Williams has been serving as an informal adviser to Gov. Walker’s presidential campaign.)

But this economic performance has not always been recognized. For example, on his recent trip to the state President Barack Obama contrasted Wisconsin with Minnesota, which has seen increases in taxes, government spending and the minimum wage. The president, echoing earlier press reports, cited Minnesota’s lower unemployment rate and higher median income as signs that these “middle class economics” policies were working. But to see the effect of policies, we need to look at changes since they were implemented.

Minnesota had a lower unemployment rate and higher income than Wisconsin at the start of 2011. But since then, the unemployment rate has fallen more in Wisconsin and per capita output growth in Wisconsin has outpaced Minnesota each year. Since 2012 real per capita disposable personal income—a broad measure of average after-tax income—has fallen in Minnesota. In Wisconsin, due to reductions in state taxes, real after-tax incomes have increased twice as fast as the nation as a whole.

The labor market in Wisconsin tightened substantially under Gov. Walker, with the unemployment rate falling from 8.1% in December 2010 to 4.6% in May 2015. In addition, labor force participation has been roughly stable over the past few years around 68%. By contrast, participation nationwide has fallen to under 63%, levels not seen since the late 1970s. Some of this decline has been demographic, but an important component has been discouraged unemployed workers leaving the labor force.

A useful statistic including these workers is the employment–population ratio, measuring the fraction of the population that is working. In May, it stood at 59.4% nationally and 64.8% in Wisconsin, the 10th highest in any state.

While Wisconsin has seen strong employment growth, some press reports focus on a different measure: job growth on nonfarm business payrolls. By that metric Wisconsin lags the national average—but not without explanation. The recession was not as severe in the state, so slower job growth should be expected in the recovery. In addition, shifts out of farm and self-employment nationally have increased nonfarm job growth but not net employment. But most importantly, (working age) population growth in Wisconsin has been half that of the nation as a whole.

With slower growth in labor supply, it is difficult to create jobs at a faster rate. For these reasons, measures of household employment give a more accurate picture of the state of the labor market. Similarly, per capita measures of income and output, capturing improvements in living standards for an average worker, are better indicators than aggregate measures of overall size.

Under Gov. Walker, per capita output and income in Wisconsin have grown more rapidly than in the nation as a whole, bringing improvement in household living standards. Households in Wisconsin are also keeping more of their income due to reductions in state taxes. In the 2013-14 and 2014-15 fiscal years, state income taxes were cut by a total of $747 million, and property taxes by an additional $536 million, with smaller reductions in other taxes.

While many states have struggled with deficits and credit downgrades, the tax reductions in Wisconsin have been more than matched with spending reductions, bringing the budget into balance. In response to this sound fiscal management, Moody’s revised up its outlook for Wisconsin to positive, and increased its bond rating last November. Moody’s cited the improvement in the state’s budget, an improved liquidity position, well-funded pensions and limited liabilities for other retirement benefits.

The recently passed budget continues this strategy: limiting spending while further reducing property taxes.

Nationwide, the recovery has been marked by slow economic growth. Productivity growth has remained low, even turning negative in the first quarter of this year. One of the main factors has been a slowdown in business investment.

At the same time, there has been a vast expansion in federal regulation, with new business regulation under Obamacare, financial regulation under Dodd–Frank and recent expansions of environmental and labor regulation. All of this has increased business costs and created a climate of uncertainty, further hampering investment.

By contrast, Wisconsin has seen the adoption of a number of pro-growth policies, which have improved the business climate. Most well-known are the labor market reforms to collective bargaining and the recent right-to-work legislation. But there has also been a substantial streamlining of regulation, and in addition to the cuts in personal taxes, there have been reductions in business taxes and investment incentives.

While the reforms are recent and ongoing, they are having an effect. There have been marked improvements in the state’s business rankings by Chief Executive Magazine, Area Development Magazine and the Manpower Group. In addition, the annual rate of new business filings in the state was 21% higher in 2014 than 2010 and Ernst and Young ranked Wisconsin 10th for 2014 in announced jobs for mobile capital investments.

I am not an uncritical fan of the Walker administration. Tax cuts have been insufficient (more on that momentarily) to erase Wisconsin’s well-earned reputation as a tax hell. Walker hasn’t done very much to actually cut government, as opposed to reducing the growth in government. (If growth in state and local government spending had been held to inflation plus population growth since the late 1970s, state and local government would be half the size it is today.) But Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was worse than the national average under Gov. James Doyle. And, under governors going all the way back to Martin Schreiber, Wisconsin has trailed the national average in per-capita personal income growth. So to see Wisconsin below-average on unemployment and finally above-national-average in personal income growth is overdue progress.

One area where Minnesota has historically exceeded Wisconsin is in various forms of entrepreneurial activity — business start-ups, incorporations and large corporations. The two states have similar ethnic backgrounds and political cultures among their original settlers, but it’s as if those who wanted to control their own lives by owning a business went west of the Mississippi River, and those content to work for someone else went east of the Mississippi. (Apparently Minnesota hasn’t been anti-business to the extent Wisconsin has been.) The fact remains that the only way for someone to really make money is to own a business, though owning a business is no guarantee that you will make money on your business.

Note as well that …

… Wisconsin still has higher state and local taxes than Minnesota, or did in the 2011 fiscal year.

One other difference between Wisconsin and Minnesota is the Twin Cities vs. the rest of Minnesota. The Twin Cities totals 60 percent of Minnesota’s population. In contrast, the most broad definition of “Milwaukee” comprises only one-third of Wisconsin’s population. To match that you would have to put metro Milwaukee, metro Madison, Green Bay and the Fox Cities together in one geographic area. For that matter, the parts of metropolitan New York within the state of New York comprises less than half of New York state’s population, and Chicago comprises only one-sixth of Illinois’ population. Rural areas generally have lower incomes than urban areas; the downside of the urban area, of course, is the urban ills that infest Milwaukee.

As always, there is a solution for those who believe Minnesota’s government and politics are superior to Wisconsin’s (which means you think you’re smarter than those who have voted for Walker and Republicans three times since 2010). You can take Interstate 90, Interstate 94, U.S. 2, U.S. 8, U.S. 10, U.S. 12 or U.S. 14 west, or U.S. 53 or U.S. 61 north, and don’t stop until you encounter crappy football.

Divisive by definition

Christian Schneider examines whether Gov. Scott Walker is divisive:

Before Gov. Scott Walker began his sweaty presidential announcement speech at the Waukesha County Expo Center on Monday, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin was looking to put his future ambitions on ice. Signaling the attacks Walker will endure from the left, party chair Martha Laning said the governor was guilty of “unprecedented corruption, division” and “extremism.”

Of course, the charge of “division,” is merely a placeholder for saying, “Walker has enacted policies we don’t like.” The Journal Sentinel Editorial Board followed with an editorial titled, “The ever divisive Scott Walker,” which claims Walker is “the most divisive Wisconsin politician in living memory.”


Set aside the cranial gymnastics necessary to portray a governor who has won three elections in four years in the birthplace of progressivism as “divisive.” (Also, whose “living memory”? Nobody alive remembers Joe McCarthy?) In fact, even after the left has thrown the kitchen sink, the plumbing and a bucket of rubber duckies at Walker, Wisconsin seems to have come to the conclusion that it might actually like the guy.

But “divisiveness” is a charge reserved for Republicans who are actually governing in a manner consistent with their campaign promises. The “divisiveness” charge is especially cynical, as it assumes the GOP has passed much of its landmark legislation solely to irritate Democrats. In reality, Walker and the Republican-run Legislature are simply enacting policies they earnestly believe benefit the state.

Of course, Democrats are never portrayed as “divisive.” Like when a president rams a bill that takes over 16% of the American economy through Congress using a procedural gimmick, leading to electoral bloodbaths for Democrats in 2010 and 2014. Or when a president circumvents Congress to enact amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, fully in opposition to public opinion.

But Walker is painted as “divisive” because he enacted a bill that all but eliminated the indefensible practice of public sector unionization. Thanks to Act 10, taxpayer money no longer will be shoveled into Democratic campaigns, electing representatives who ratify friendly union contracts. In staking out the anti-public union position, Walker joins famous other “divisive” figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who opposed collective bargaining for government employees.

Instead, Democrats will continue to get a free pass, even when they enthusiastically support the most polarizing policies in the nation. Amazingly, Walker is portrayed as “divisive” because he signed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks. According to Gallup, banning abortions after the first trimester has been supported by no less than 64% of Americans over the past two decades.

This issue has been given stark immediacy in the past few days, as a video has surfaced that shows Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research, discussing the barbaric practice of harvesting organs from aborted fetuses and selling them for profit. Such a practice may run afoul of laws preventing the selling of human organs; at the very least, it confirms the grisly, immoral business in which Planned Parenthood traffics.

Of course, Planned Parenthood’s unwavering supporters never will be declared “divisive,” because their victims never get the chance to march on the Capitol, blow loud horns and hold homemade signs. (Plus, human fetuses are notoriously poor spellers.)

But in the Walker world, we have to pretend that bare-knuckled “divisive” partisanship was invented in 2011, when Walker took office. Ironically, it seems that calling Walker “divisive” is itself simply meant to be divisive.

Independent of the obvious double standard Schneider notes, I’m not sure that Walker isn’t divisive. Because Barack Obama is also divisive. In fact, every politician is divisive when politics is, as it has always been and always will be, a zero-sum game — one side wins, therefore the other side loses.

Open the Constitution

Warren Bluhm has a great idea you may have read before (say, here):

In light of the current assault on the Wisconsin tradition of open government, and to ensure that the door is closed to such legislative mischief, it’s time that the preamble to our open records and open meetings laws was enshrined as an amendment to the state constitution:

“In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.” …

The original drafters of the state constitution even embraced that philosophy: “Each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings and publish the same, except such parts as require secrecy. The doors of each house shall be kept open except when the public welfare shall require secrecy.”

More and more in the last decade or so, the requirement to include the public while doing public business has become an inconvenience to public servants, and so they inserted this repeal among 67 “adjustments” in the final omnibus motion before sending the 2015-17 state budget to the Legislature for final approval.

It did not take long before news outlets and other advocates of open government throughout Wisconsin and, indeed, the nation began calling foul. So loud was the outcry that by Saturday morning, Independence Day, the governor and legislative leaders issued a statement that the offending language would be removed from the state budget.

With the same enthusiasm with which they had objected, the advocates of open government celebrated a victory, perhaps overlooking the final words of the statement: “In order to allow for further debate on this issue outside of budget process, the Legislature will form a Legislative Council committee to more appropriately study it and allow for public discussion and input.”

In plain language, the repeal of Wisconsin open government was not stopped in its tracks, merely postponed for a day when advocates are not paying as close attention.

And therein lies the reason for my call for a constitutional amendment: Our elected officials will always be uncomfortable under the spotlight of public scrutiny, and from time to time they will attempt to violate the spirit if not the letter of the law by doing the public’s business in private – even to amend the law to turn the spotlight off.

We the people have no recourse but to insist that the concept be spelled out in constitutional language. This is not the first assault on open government, nor will it be the last.

It takes time to amend the state constitution, and there are issues that must be addressed more immediately. First and foremost, the committee to “more appropriately study” closing the doors of government must acknowledge that the law may need change to allow greater, not lesser, scrutiny. …

Second, legislative leaders must identify whose idea it was to introduce such language into the state budget. Inquiries have been stonewalled with mealy-mouthed expressions like “It wasn’t me, there were several requests, but I don’t recall who made them.” Bollocks. …

Third, we must secure commitments from our own representatives that they will support the Wisconsin tradition of open government.

Most of the media has not reported that this idea originated with the experience of a Democrat, Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D–Middleton), who spent $170,000 taxpayer dollars losing a lawsuit to prevent the MacIver Institute from seeing the email addresses of government employees emailing him about Act 10. State GOP leaders saw what happened with Erpenbach, realized that could happen to them too, and a bad idea was born.

The real beneficiaries of Open Records Law deform would have been incumbent legislators. Of course, the losers would be everyone else, including those of us whose taxes pay their salaries.

It seems to me that the only way to prevent the GOP from bringing it back, or Democrats from bringing up when they return to power in Madison sometime in the future, is to prevent them from doing that. That’s why an Open Meetings and Open Records constitutional amendment needs to be added to the state Constitution.


And now, a little light legal reading

Right Wisconsin excerpted from the state Supreme Court decision that ended the John Doe witch hunt Thursday:

The Kill Shot

Paragraph 76: To be clear, this conclusion ends the John Doe investigation because the special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law. Consequently, the investigation is closed. Consistent with our decision and the order entered by Reserve Judge Peterson, we order that the special prosecutor and the district attorneys involved in this investigation must cease all activities related to the investigation, return all property seized in the investigation from any individual or organization, and permanently destroy all copies of information and other materials obtained through the investigation. All Unnamed Movants are relieved of any duty to cooperate further with the investigation.

The Gut Punch to the Prosecutors

Paragraph 133: Our lengthy discussion of these three cases can be distilled into a few simple, but important, points. It is utterly clear that the special prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing. In other words, the special prosecutor was the instigator of a “perfect storm” of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent Unnamed Movants and those who dared to associate with them. It is fortunate, indeed, for every other citizen of this great State who is interested in the protection of fundamental liberties that the special prosecutor chose as his targets innocent citizens who had both the will and the means to fight the unlimited resources of an unjust prosecution. Further, these brave individuals played a crucial role in presenting this court with an opportunity to re-endorse its commitment to upholding the fundamental right of each and every citizen to engage in lawful political activity and to do so free from the fear of the tyrannical retribution of arbitrary or capricious governmental prosecution. Let one point be clear: our conclusion today ends this unconstitutional John Doe investigation.

On the First Amendment:

Paragraph 44: In addressing the scope of Wisconsin’s campaign finance law we are keenly aware that this task bears directly on the ability of all citizens in our State to engage in the democratic process. The special prosecutor’s theories implicate one of the foundational principles of our nation: the freedom of speech, specifically, political speech. We therefore begin our analysis with the words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” U.S. Const. amend. I.[16] Article I, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution guarantees that: “Every person may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right, and no laws shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.”
On Wisconsin’s Campaign Finance Laws:

Paragraphs 55-57: The special prosecutor alleges that the Unnamed Movants engaged in illegally coordinated issue advocacy. However, the basis for his theory has evolved over the course of the various legal challenges to his investigation, and he appears unable to decide just how the Unnamed Movants have broken the law.[20]

Today, the special prosecutor alleges two theories of illegal coordination: (1) that the coordination between the Unnamed Movants is so extensive that the supposedly independent groups became subcommittees for the candidate’s campaign under Wis. Stat. § 11.10(4); and (2) that the coordinated issue advocacy amounts to an in-kind contribution under Wis. Admin. Code § GAB 1.20. The special prosecutor’s theories, if adopted as law, would require an individual to surrender his political rights to the government and retain campaign finance attorneys before discussing salient political issues. See Citizens United, 558 U.S. at 324. We find no support for the special prosecutor’s theories in Wis. Stat. Ch. 11. Chapter 11’s definition of “political purposes,” which underlies Wisconsin’s campaign finance law, is both overbroad and vague and thus unconstitutionally chills speech because people “‘of common intelligence must necessarily guess at [the law’s] meaning and differ as to its application.'” Id. (quoting Connally, 269 U.S. at 391).

However, by limiting the definition of “political purposes” to express advocacy and its functional equivalent, we ensure that all issue advocacy will remain unencumbered. This limiting construction[21] allows us to protect political speech, a vital First Amendment right, and allows us to guard against the theories of the special prosecutor and those who would rely on overbroad and vague statutes to silence those with whom they disagree.


Paragraphs 66-67: To be clear, the reason that the definition of “political purposes” in § 11.01(16) is unconstitutional is because the phrase “influencing [an] election” is so broad that it sweeps in protected speech, as well as speech that can be subject to regulation. “Influencing [an] election” obviously includes express advocacy, but without a limiting construction it could just as easily include issue advocacy aired during the closing days of an election cycle. This is precisely the kind of overbroad language that the Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected. “Discussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues may also be pertinent in an election.” WRTL II, 551 U.S. at 474 (emphasis added). We must have clear rules that protect political speech, and we must continue to reject the idea that some protected speech may be chilled or restricted simply because it is “difficult to distinguish from unprotected speech.” Id. at 494 (Scalia, J., concurring). “[L]aws targeting political speech are the principal object of the First Amendment guarantee. The fact that the line between electoral advocacy and issue advocacy dissolves in practice is an indictment of the statute, not a justification of it.” Id.

We therefore hold that the definition of “political purposes” in Wis. Stat. § 11.01(16) is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. In order to cure this overbreadth and vagueness, we adopt a construction of § 11.01(16) that limits the definition of “political purposes” to include only express advocacy and its functional equivalent, as those terms are defined in Buckley and WRTL II.

FromJustice David Prosser’s concurrence, on the subpoenas and search warrants:

Paragraphs 262: The precedent set by this case has the potential to affect the privacy rights of millions of Wisconsin citizens. “Among online adults, 92% use email, with 61% using it on an average day.”[53] Cell phones and smart phones are, of course, ubiquitous in our society, but countless numbers of people communicate by e-mail and texting. The ability of government to capture——without notice——the substance of our non-aural communications is not dissimilar to government wiretaps that record the substance of telephone conversations. The only difference is that wiretaps disclose the content of telephone conversations in real time.


Paragraphs 265-269: The search warrants and subpoenas in this case are so broad and so extensive that they make the fruits of the legendary Watergate break-in look insignificant by comparison.[55] After all, the special prosecutor has access to thousands and thousands of electronic communications about the 2010 election, Act 10, the 2011-13 state budget, other legislation, all the recall elections and the strategies and fundraising efforts employed in them, [——————————], litigation, and the then-upcoming 2012 general election. As the substance of this John Doe leaks out, as it already has, the search warrants and subpoenas have an eerie similarity to SLAPP suits in a civil context.[56] SLAPP suits have the effect, whether intended or not, to cost defendants tremendous amounts of money, to extract privileged information from them, and to cause the defendants and others to withdraw from the political process out of fear of harassment.

The special prosecutor insists that he had probable cause for all his investigative efforts. This is sharply disputed. In any event, probable cause for a search warrant may be wholly devoid of probable cause that the recipient of the search warrant or subpoena or even the subject of the search warrant or subpoena has committed any crime. Rather, the supposed probable cause is that evidence that will aid in the conviction of some crime will be found in the place to be searched, particularly if the items to be seized include everything found at that place——here, the e-mail accounts of people who have been targeted.

This sort of probable cause must be weighed against the privacy being invaded by the search warrants and subpoenas. The special prosecutor has not been targeting terrorists or mobsters who impose an imminent danger to society. Covering up the breathtaking extent of the John Doe investigation through secrecy orders is highly problematic and cannot last.[57]

I conclude the following:

1. The search warrants and subpoenas issued on or about October 1, 2013, are invalid because they were presented by a special prosecutor who had none of the powers of a district attorney because his appointment was invalid.

2. The search warrants and subpoenas issued on or about October 1, 2013, were unconstitutionally overbroad because they covered a time period before recall elections were even contemplated, thereby exceeding the subject matter of the investigation; included all periods of exemption within the time period——246 days——thereby permitting secret investigation of lawful First Amendment activities; lacked the level of particularity required as to those things that might lawfully be seized; and improperly invaded the privacy of persons who were not suspects by seeking information virtually without limitation.

3. The search warrants and subpoenas issued in September and December 2012 were unconstitutionally overbroad, for the reasons stated in point 2, but especially because they dated back more than 21 months before recalls were contemplated, a period unrelated to the recall elections in 2011 and 2012, the purported subject of the John Doe.

Consequently, I would affirm the decision of Judge Peterson to quash the subpoenas and return seized property and expand his ruling to cover the search warrants and subpoenas issued in September and December of 2012.

Justice Annette Ziegler, concurring on the warrants that lead to the pre-dawn raids:

Paragraph 319-322: In the case at issue, Investigator Dean Nickel obtained two secret John Doe warrants from Reserve Judge Barbara Kluka to search the homes of Unnamed Movants Nos. 6 and 7. The warrants were obtained in the course of a secret John Doe investigation.[67] Those warrants and their supporting affidavit did not set forth any particular time at which, or manner in which, the warrants would be executed. Unlike many warrants that must be executed at nighttime for fear of the evidence being destroyed or removed from the location or because of public or officer safety reasons, much of this evidence had been sitting on computers and in cyberspace for years.

This was not, as sometimes occurs, a situation where a judge was awoken in the middle of the night to issue a warrant because law enforcement needs to execute it promptly in order to seize the evidence. Reserve Judge Kluka signed the warrants at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, September 30, 2013. However, they were not executed until Thursday, October 3, 2013, at approximately 6:00 a.m.[68] “A search warrant must be executed and returned not more than 5 days after the date of issuance.” Wis. Stat. § 968.15(1). These warrants were executed three days after they were issued. “The return of the search warrant shall be made within 48 hours after execution . . . .” Wis. Stat. § 968.17(1). The warrants were returned on October 4, four days after they were issued and one day after they were executed.

The warrants were executed in the pre-dawn darkness. On October 3 civil twilight began in Madison at 6:29 a.m. and sunrise began at 6:57 a.m.[69] For all practical purposes, each of these searches was the equivalent of a nighttime search. Because no challenge to the warrant execution has been made, the record lacks any explanation as to why law enforcement did not execute the warrants any time during the preceding 66.5 hours——or more specifically, the 29.5 daylight hours——between issuance and actual execution.

A nighttime search will often occur shortly after a judge has issued the warrant, as there is some urgency in needing to conduct the search in non-daylight hours. Courts often consider “nighttime” as the time when it is “dark” outside, between sunset and sunrise, between dusk and dawn, or when most people are asleep. See Claudia G. Catalano, Annotation, Propriety of Execution of Search Warrants at Nighttime, 41 A.L.R. 5th 171 (1996). This record, understandably, lacks any indication of why it was reasonable to execute these warrants in this manner, especially since the warrants had been issued three days earlier. The prosecution might have obtained the same evidence in the daylight by waiting a mere hour or two or by executing the warrants in any of the preceding daylight hours. Why did law enforcement execute these secret John Doe warrants days after obtaining them, in the pre-dawn darkness, needing floodlights to illuminate the homes, and with such forceful presence?

Ziegler’s conclusion:

Paragraph 340: I join the majority opinion in all three cases. I write separately to explain that even if the search warrants were lawfully issued, the execution of them could be subject to the reasonableness analysis of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Wisconsin Constitution’s counterpart. A totality of the circumstances analysis could include consideration of, among other things, the timing of the issuance and execution of the warrants, the manner in which the warrants were executed, whether public or officer safety concerns justified the manner of execution, and what type of evidence was being sought.

The game of Walker’s thrones

Politico‘s story about Gov. Scott Walker’s election wins for state Assembly, Milwaukee County executive and governor is called “Tales from Scott Walker’s Graveyard”:

Scott Walker’s path to the 2016 presidential race is littered with the bones of vanquished opponents.

Since 1990, the Wisconsin governor’s name has appeared on a ballot 14 times, and he’s failed just twice — a winning record that’s central to his pitch to Republican primary voters. Along the way, he’s left a trail of defeated challengers, many of them gripped by resentment toward a foe they recall as crassly opportunistic, loose with facts or blindly ambitious.

Yet for all the lingering enmity, as Walker prepares to announce his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, his rivals also grudgingly respect him as a rare and exceptionally canny politician who’s constantly underestimated and always outperforms expectations.

He’s a sneaky-smart campaigner, they say, a polished and level-headed tactician, a master at reading crowds. He learned the value of ignoring uncomfortable questions, rather than answering them. In hindsight, the many politicians he pancaked on the road to the national stage — in races for the state Assembly, county executive and governor — almost invariably see his career as an elaborate practice run for the White House.

To David Riemer, who fell to Walker in a 2004 bid for Milwaukee County executive — a nonpartisan race — Walker’s wiles can be summed up by a single moment during one of their debates. Riemer, sensing Walker’s desire to run for higher office, recalled placing a sheet of paper on Walker’s lectern that included a pledge to fulfill an entire four-year term. Sign it, Riemer demanded.

Walker sensed the trap right away.

“He just let it sit in front of him. He didn’t get it back to me. He didn’t rip it up. He didn’t turn it into a paper airplane … he ignored it,” Riemer said. “He understood very well, one of the key lessons in political life is they can’t print what you don’t say.”

Walker dispatched Riemer, mocked his rival’s pledge in a press release and less than two years later ran in the 2006 Republican primary for governor.

The 47-year-old Republican often points to the fact that he’s been on the ballot just about every two years since 1990 — including three victorious races for governor — as proof that he’s battle-tested and prepared to grind out yet another long campaign. He’ll launch his presidential candidacy as the front-runner in Iowa, which holds the first contest of the 2016 GOP primary season in February. He’s led the pack there since delivering a well-received speech at a January GOP gathering. Since then, though, he’s muddled through some tougher months, stumbling during his early forays into foreign policy and maintaining a lower profile than other top competitors, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

Walker’s two most recent and prominent opponents — Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and businesswoman Mary Burke — declined to comment for this story. But a former senior aide to Burke, Walker’s Democratic challenger for reelection in 2014, suggested Walker’s struggles this year have been “bigger and more noticeable” than any he faced during the gubernatorial campaign. At the same time, Democrats shouldn’t be complacent. “I think there is a risk in underestimating him,” said the aide, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about Walker’s skills.

The danger of underestimating Walker is a common theme among the candidates and operatives on the losing side. Another senior Democratic adviser in one of Walker’s statewide races warned that his foes shouldn’t be lulled by Walker’s uneven start in presidential politics.“He’s got antennas,” said the adviser, who also requested anonymity. “He’s the real deal. As time goes on, you’ll get more of that vibe as you cover him. He can come across as a little arrogant, obviously. But with real people out there, he’s really, really good. He’s just in touch with what they’re looking for.”

Walker’s opponents remember him as so unflappable and message-disciplined that he rarely created a stir. He was always polite behind the scenes at debates, said Lena Taylor, who said she appeared jointly with Walker 24 times when she tried to oust him as county executive in 2008, only to lose by close to 20 percentage points. Others recalled their off-camera interactions with Walker similarly. He’d always talk about his family, chitchat about the Packers or the Brewers sports teams, never say anything antagonizing.

“He’s personable,” said Taylor, now a Democratic state senator. “He’s comfortable with the person on the farm. He’s comfortable with the person in the boardroom.”

Taylor has no love for Walker — she refers to him as “polarizing” and “an extremist” who often touts the fact that he’s the son of a Baptist preacher to wriggle out of uncomfortable spots. Her advice to Democrats if he ends up as the nominee? Don’t expect him to commit unforced errors.

“He is used to speaking and speaking publicly, so don’t expect him to be someone, who even when it’s not going well, to get off-kilter,” she said. “He stumbles, we all do. But he’s a guy who’s going to be more even-toned. Use that to your advantage, Mrs. Clinton.”

While a handful of his challengers from the past two decades have passed away, the first and only Democrat to ever get the best of Walker is still around and promises to be a vocal Walker critic: Rep. Gwen Moore.

Moore beat Walker handily in a 1990 state Assembly race, the governor’s first-ever bid for elected office. He later moved to a more conservative district to relaunch his political career. Moore’s distaste for Walker runs deep: She describes him as smooth and talented, but also considers him ruthless and slippery.

“As a matter of fact, before I met him, some of the Republicans that I had made friends as a freshman shared with me that this man stands in front of a mirror for hours and practices,” she said.

Looking ahead to November 2016 with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, Moore urged Democrats to goad Walker into making insensitive comments — even if those same tactics failed to unsettle him last year against Burke. “He’s been very successful, but he’s going to have a hard time beating a woman that’s tough,” Moore said. “She needs to be prepared for someone who doesn’t care who he maims, cripples or kills for his ambition.”

Walker’s first national test will be in a race more crowded and fractious than any he has faced before — he’s faced relatively few truly close elections, and fewer still within his own party. In the only statewide race he’s ever lost, he dropped out of a 2006 primary for governor. Aside from that, his toughest intraparty fight came in 1993 — his first political victory — in a special election to fill a vacant Wisconsin Assembly seat. Walker won a five-way Republican primary that year, a victory that reports at the time credited to his support from anti-abortion troops.

Mary Jo Baas, who finished fourth in that race with about 600 votes, told POLITICO that she and two of the other Republican competitors discussed joining forces to beat Walker, who was the clear front-runner. But they couldn’t agree on which two of them should drop out, leaving Walker atop a splintered field, winning with less than 2,600 votes.

Today, Baas — whose surname was Paque at the time of the special election — says she’s glad she didn’t block Walker’s path. “I think when he ran for Legislature and county executive and governor and now president, people have continually underestimated him,” she said. “If I had known how good he was, I wouldn’t have run. When he talked to a group of people, people felt like he was one of them. He knew what connected, what resonated.”

Now, as she watches her onetime rival vie for the nation’s highest office, Paque sees vestiges of the same energetic campaigner he was in 1993, a sign, she said, of trouble for his Republican competitors.

“I could summarize my advice for people running against him,” she said with a laugh.


People underestimate Walker like they underestimated Assembly Minority Leader Tommy Thompson when he ran for governor; his Republican rival called him “a two-bit hack from Elroy.” People misunderestimated George W. Bush as a baseball-team owner. And, of course, Ronald Reagan was just an actor. The four people in this paragraph total 10 election wins for governor and four presidential election wins.

Walker’s message discipline is remarkable, as is his unflappability in public. I’ve seen reporters try to bait him and fail. He’s participated in debates and never once, as far as I’m aware, stumbled significantly. He is going to say what he plans to say, and no more than that. He’s not known for off-the-cuff remarks, which the media prefers but which get candidates into trouble.

Aaron Goldstein predicts that you will have to replace the title “governor” with “president” because …

1. He’s Part of the Middle Class (or He Actually Shops at Kohl’s and Sears)

It was after Walker spoke at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January that his popularity began to soar outside of Wisconsin. As much as anything else, I think what resonated with the crowd and those who watched the speech on C-SPAN or online is when he spoke about shopping at Kohl’s:

But years ago as newlyweds I made a critical mistake. I went to a Kohl’s Department Store and I bought something for the price it was marked at. Right? My wife said to me, “You can never go back there again until you learn how to shop at Kohl’s.” So now if I’m going to pick up a new shirt I go to the rack that says it was $29.99 & I see it’s marked down to $19.99. And then because I’m well trained I got that insert from the Sunday newspaper and I took it up to the clerk with my Kohl’s credit card and get another 10 or 15% off. And then I watch that mailer because, man, Tonette shops there a lot so I know I’m going to get another 10 to 15% off. And if I’m really lucky I get that flyer with 30% off.

Somehow I don’t think Ann Romney ever told her husband that he had to learn to shop at Kohl’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with being wealthy. But when money is no object it can be difficult to understand that most of us are subject to the mercy of money. The fact is, the lives of most Americans are centered around the fact we don’t have enough money. Mitt Romney couldn’t grasp this in 2012 and I don’t believe most of the current Republican field gets it either by virtue of their prosperity.

In late April, the New York Daily News tried to make an issue of Walker’s credit card debt with Sears. William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection responded to the report in the Daily News in this manner:

The latest attack on Walker is that he has “up to” $50,000 in credit card debt to — wait for it — Sears.

We don’t know exactly how much because financial disclosures only are made in broad ranges, so it could be as little as $10,000.

Regardless, it’s SEARS!

As the only presidential candidate with a negative net worth, Scott Walker is in that boat with the rest of us. Nearly all presidential candidates speak of the middle class, but in Scott Walker we actually have a candidate who is a part of the middle-class.

2. He Didn’t Graduate from College

Remember when the media tried to make an issue of Walker not graduating from college? As Susan Milligan argued in U.S. News & World Report:

But should we not demand this basic credential from the person we empower to run the country, start wars and negotiate with foreign leaders? If employers demand college degrees — and for no other reason than that they can, not because the job itself requires a college education — then why not impose this minimum requirement on the leader of the nation?

Last I checked some fellow from Missouri named Harry S Truman didn’t graduate college, much less attend. Yet he did a fine job when it came to running the country, in his case ending a war and negotiating with foreign leaders, and is considered among the best to have held the office of President of the United States.

Granted, Truman left office more than six decades ago and times have changed considerably since. But what hasn’t changed is that most Americans don’t have college degrees. In fact, it’s 60% of Americans. Another 22% attend college, but don’t graduate for a variety of reasons as was the case with Walker. So when the media tried to make an issue of the fact that Walker didn’t finish college they effectively insulted the intelligence of 8 out of every 10 Americans.

This isn’t to say that higher education is without virtue. Should Walker be elected President he will need the advice of people who are learned in economics, the military, health care and other matters. But a higher education doesn’t guarantee common sense. President Obama might have once edited the Harvard Law Review, but in more than six years in office he has proved the late William F. Buckley’s adage that he would “sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.” I am sure if WFB were still alive that he would firmly place the Wisconsin governor among the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory even if his last name begins with W.

3. He Talks to People Not at Them Nor Does He Need to Shout to Make His Point

Some politicians, be they Democrats or Republicans, love to hear themselves talk. In so doing, they end up talking at people instead of to them. That isn’t Scott Walker. As demonstrated in the first point about shopping at Kohl’s, when Walker talks about public policy he does so in a manner to which nearly everyone in the audience can relate.

There are some issues that are difficult to talk about in a rational way because of the deep emotions they arouse. We have seen this over the past couple of weeks on the subject of immigration, particularly with Donald Trump’s comments about Mexico sending criminals to the United States.

For his part, Walker has spoken candidly about reducing immigration levels. But he has done so without characterizing illegal immigrants as drug dealers and rapists. It is debatable whether reducing immigration levels is our best policy approach. But if the invective can be kept out of it, then it is a discussion worth having and if anyone can keep the discussion civil it is Scott Walker. …

4. He Chooses His Battles Wisely

Although the President of the United States wields enormous power, he or she cannot use their power on every matter. At a practical level, some matters are best left to local and state governments while other matters are best left out of the hands of government altogether. Do we really want another President who while openly admitting he doesn’t have all the facts nevertheless accuses a local police department of “acting stupidly”?

A mark of a wise and effective elected leader is the ability is to govern when necessary and with the support of the majority of the people. When Scott Walker reformed collective bargaining in Wisconsin’s public sector, he did so because it was necessary and he did so with the majority of his state’s people behind him. The result is controlled costs, more money in the hands of state workers, and greater local control. When President Obama overhauled the U.S. healthcare system he did so unnecessarily, without the support of the majority of Americans and he couldn’t have cared less. The result is higher premiums, less insurance coverage and less access to medical care.

Which would you choose?

5. He Can Appeal to Conservatives and Non-Conservatives Alike

Scott Walker appeals to conservatives not only for his stand on collective bargaining reform, but for signing into law right to work legislation, concealed carry measures, and his efforts to increase vouchers for school choice.

But the conservative vote alone won’t be enough to elect a Republican President. Would Ronald Reagan have been twice elected President without the help of Reagan Democrats? Walker certainly isn’t the only Republican with conservative bona fides, but he is arguably the only Republican who can also appeal to non-conservatives. In order for a Republican to win the White House he is going to have to convince enough people who voted for Barack Obama twice to take a leap of faith.

Now I’m not talking about hardcore left-wing activists here. Rather I am talking about the majority of people who do not think about politics on a day-to-day basis but care enough to show up on Election Day. They will vote Democrat by default, but can be persuaded to vote Republican by the right candidate. Can anyone imagine Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, or Ben Carson carrying a blue state like Wisconsin? After all, Walker has been thrice elected Governor in a state that twice voted for Barack Obama and hasn’t gone Republican since, well, Ronald Reagan.

This isn’t to say that Walker is the new Reagan. Such a thing does not exist. There is only one Ronald Reagan. But what Walker does possess is a calm demeanor and an ability to communicate directly with people, which enables him to come across as a reasonable person who will carry out his duties in a competent manner. Scott Walker is the kind of Republican who can resonate with people who might not ordinarily vote Republican.

6. He Can Withstand the Liberal Hate Machine

Whoever wins the GOP nomination can expect the liberal hate machine, a coalition of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media, to vilify the Republican standard bearer as a racist, sexist, homophobe who cares only for the rich and wants to throw elderly grandmothers off cliffs. …

I don’t know if Walker has skin made of Teflon, but it is certainly thicker than that of the present occupant in the White House. What has toughened him is the fact that liberals from all over the country have made a concerted effort to unseat Walker and undo his reforms and he has found a way to beat them at every turn. It is no small accomplishment that Walker is the first governor in American history to survive a recall vote.

The reason liberals have failed to oust Walker from office is that liberals portray Walker as a monster, but Walker simply doesn’t come off that way to most people. If anything it is the liberals who have been far more monstrous in their behavior towards Walker and his family, effectively making him a more sympathetic figure. When the Boston band the Dropkick Murphys objected to Walker using their version of the Woody Guthrie penned song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” at the Iowa Freedom Summit, they tweeted, “we literally hate you.” This says a great deal more about the Dropkick Murphys than it does about Scott Walker. I suspect we will see a lot more of this and, to paraphrase Nietzsche, what does not kill Walker will make him stronger. If Walker can carry himself with more decency than his opponents, then he will go far.

I haven’t decided whether I’m supporting Walker, or anyone else, in the Republican primary. (One would think the number of GOP candidates will be culled somewhat by next April.) I think it’s unlikely Walker will become president. But that may be another underestimation.

From the bowels of the State Capitol

This news arrived dramatically in my email yesterday:

“Today we are filing a lawsuit and a request for a restraining order to halt the implementation of the harmful impacts of the Governor’s budget on the people who use the services of the Office of the Secretary of State,” Doug La Follette said.

The 2015/2017 Biennial Budget slashes the Office staff to just one and moves historic records to a remote location in the basement of the capitol; this would have a devastating impact on service and to the public wanting to find these important historical records that have been maintained by Wisconsin Secretaries of State since 1848.

The office processes 15,000 apostilles each year and if clients who want to adopt a child, transact international business, study abroad or ship a body overseas cannot receive the documents in a timely fashion they will be harmed. This is hardly a business friendly move to make as Wisconsin’s economy is already in poor shape.

La Follette stated that with only one staff person remaining it would be impossible to provide the needed service to these clients and would create unsustainable stress to the one remaining staff member. The staff person will get sick and has a right to vacation resulting in the office being closed with harmful impacts to many people.

The Office is the custodian of thousands of current and historical documents including: Statutes, laws of Wisconsin, Blue Books, and gubernatorial filings requiring application of the Great Seal (executive orders, proclamations, and pardons), boundary agreement filings, and charter ordinance filings, oaths of office, political action committee filings, special counsel contracts and state bond filings.

The Constitution and statutes require these records be maintained by the Secretary of State and must be secure and available for public inspection.

And relocating of the Office of the Secretary of State into a space that is not easily accessible to the public would be a great inconvenience and create confusion to the dozens who come to the office each day and would violate state laws requiring accessibility to the public.

Further if the current staff are terminated, it would take months to recruit and train new employees [one current staff person speaks Spanish fluently which is not easy to replace].

In brief, allowing the provisions of the budget impacting the Sec of State’s office to go into effect will do great harm to many people for many years.

Therefore, we are asking for an injunction to prevent this immediate and long term harm to the public.

This, for those who forgot, is the same secretary of state who illegally delayed publication (one of the few duties he is assigned) of Act 10 in order to facilitate a lawsuit against Act 10. For that, La Follette was not recalled from office, and he continues to get nearly $70,000 a year from us sucker taxpayers. I am also told, though I cannot confirm this, that La Follette once lost the state seal; keeping the state seal is one of his few duties.

State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk had a response, reported by WisPolitics:

I am quite shocked that La Follette took the extreme action of filing a lawsuit because he does not like the location of his office. …

Until now, the taxpayers paid annual rent of $80,000 for La Follette’s unnecessarily oversized office overlooking the State Capitol building.

It makes no sense for taxpayers to be paying rent when free office space is available across the street in the State Capitol building. In fact, the office he is being moved into is the office that I am currently occupying. In an effort to save taxpayer money, I’ve agreed to give La Follette my office.

To put this into perspective, La Follette’s office is being moved less than 400 feet. His new office previously housed four full-time employees in the former treasurer’s office. On the other hand, La Follette will have only 2.75 employees in the same amount of space.

Additionally, La Follette complained that the office will not be accessible to the public, which is simply not true. The office will have full public access when the Capitol building is open and will be handicap accessible.

It is clear that after being in office over 35 years, La Follette has become out of touch with middle class Wisconsinites. La Follette should be looking for ways to save taxpayer money instead of wasting it with frivolous lawsuits.

I’ve advocated here before that the few duties of the offices of treasurer and secretary of state should be assigned to the lieutenant governor, after which those two offices should be abolished and the lieutenant governor office should be placed separately on the state ballot from the governor. That would require changes to the state Constitution, which the Legislature should begin immediately.

By the way: A Facebook comment on the page of state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) claims La Follette is a state treasure because he’s the grandson of Fighting Bob La Follette. That is false. The Fighting Bob grandson who was involved in politics was Bronson La Follette, the state’s attorney general until 1986. Douglas La Follette is approximately a fifth cousin.

Walker Derangement Syndrome, UW–Madison edition

Why, you ask, do Republicans want to cut the UW System? Why do most Republican-leaning voters support something like that?

Well, it might have something to do with what happens with those taxpayer-funded salaries at the state’s only world-class university, as reported by The College Fix:

University of Wisconsin sociology Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab claims there are “terrifying” psychological similarities between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Nazi leader and mass murderer Adolf Hitler.

In a July 1 tweet, Goldrick-Rab said: “My grandfather, a psychologist, just walked me through similarities between Walker and Hitler. There are so many-it’s terrifying.”

The extreme comparisons didn’t stop there.

A day later, Professor Goldrick-Rap tweeted: “No doubt about it-Walker and many Wisconsin Legislators are fascists. Period. They proved it today. #SHAME.”

Walker, a Republican, announced on Monday that he is running for president.

The College Fix reached out to Professor Goldrick-Rab on Monday to seek clarification about her strongly worded tweets. Goldrick-Rab released the following statement to The College Fix:

Thank you for your question. Please note that I have taken time out of my unpaid vacation to respond, as a courtesy to the timeliness of your request.

If you reread the tweet, you will see that I stated that an expert in the field – a psychoanalyst with decades of experience – compared the ‘psychological characteristics’ of the two individuals, and that I was struck by his analysis. There do appear to be commonalities.

I’m confident you are capable of seeing the difference between such an assessment and equating the whole of two different people.

I’m also confident you will note that the tweet was not a “reaction” to any particular event, and thus it may not fit with your narrative.

Recently Goldrick-Rab also targeted the Wisconsin budget as an attack on education and tenure, tweeting she “spent more than 20 years working for & honoring the tenure I earned. Walker just robbed me of it. He robbed Wisconsin. It’s unforgivable.”

She went on to suggest Walker would “make an example” out of her and fire her to advance his campaign.

“You should hear my kids, trying to figure out what moving means. Walker is driving them out of their home state. He took mom’s job.” Goldrick-Rab tweeted July 12.

In a statement issued to the Wisconsin State Journal, Goldrick-Rab said that her colleagues around the UW system are talking privately about leaving, and that “(legislators) had literally shattered their employees and students and they stand up and say ‘thank you.’ It’s cowardly. We’re the laughingstock of the nation.”

Professor Goldrick-Rab also joined the chorus of those lamenting the fact that Walker doesn’t have a college degree, tweeting: “My 5 year old just busted out with ‘Scott Walker needs to go to college to get some more knowledge!’  Whoa. She’s way ahead…”

Yes, readers, these are the kind of people who have succeeded in making Walker a national political star. Among other inconvenient facts, Walker is approximately 12 million short of Hitler in deaths caused by evil ideas. This, we are supposed to believe, is what academic freedom and tenure are for.