Walker vs. libertarians

My appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio Friday might have set a record for use of the term “libertarian Republican,” at least within the Week in Review segment.

As far as I know, Gov. Scott Walker has never called himself a small-L libertarian, and he is certainly not a large-L Libertarian. (Nor was my counterpart.) So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Libertarians and libertarians have views about the 2013–15 state budget similar to, well, mine, as reported by the Wisconsin Reporter:

In the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, the $70 billion, two-year budget signed by Walker over the weekend is another example of big government getting bigger.

Todd Welch, state coordinator for Campaign for Liberty, a 501(c)(4) organization, and a member of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, ran off a laundry list of complaints with the Republican-crafted budget.

“This budget grows government spending $2 billion. It includes DNA collection at arrest — a policy item that shouldn’t even be in the budget. It exempts a balanced budget requirement, which Republicans implemented two years ago. It adds government employees,” Welch said in a phone interview Monday.

“If you could explain to me how it’s a conservative budget, I’d be all ears,” he said. …

The budget, however, increases overall spending $4 billion, or 6.2 percent, from the 2011-13 state budget, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. That includes a 1.5 percent jump in general fund spending next year, an increase of more than $200 million, and a 3.4 percent increase, or $500 million more the following year.

“The spending increases under the early (former Democratic Gov. Jim) Doyle budgets and the latest Walker budget aren’t radically dissimilar,” said Todd Berry, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. “The increases are 3 or a little more than 3 percent per year.”

However, Doyle’s more than $2 billion in tax hikes are still fodder for Republicans debating in the Legislature or pounding the pavement on the campaign trail. The near $1 billion in tax cuts in the Republican-led budget offer a stark contrast.

Still, libertarians look at spending as a better indicator of the size of government than the amount of tax cuts. Walker’s budget, for example, cuts taxes at the same time it increases borrowing. It also returns a structural deficit to the state’s books.

Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, doesn’t label himself as a tea party or libertarian Republican, but he voted against the budget, in part due to the projected $545 million structural deficit. He also cited increased borrowing for his ‘no’ vote. …

Welch, who considers himself a libertarian-conservative in the vein of a Rand Paulor Mike Lee, and a number of other tea party types and libertarians, also decry a loss of constitutional protections embedded in Walker’s budget.

Leaders of more than 40 tea party groups sent a letter to Republican legislators asking for a removal of the DNA-at-arrest provision before the Assembly passed the budget. Several county-level members of the Republican Party urged Walker to veto the measure. The provision remained in the budget.

“I’m not going away from the Republican Party,” Welch said,” but I wouldn’t be opposed to someone running against (Walker) in a Republican primary.” …

Graul reminds naysayers the tax relief in this budget could not have happened without Walker’s leadership enacting structural reform in Act 10 and the choices made to fill a $3.6 billion hole in the previous budget.

“There’s no question this is a good budget to run on next fall,” he said.

Republicans, though, might have some company on the ballot, on what’s typically considered the right.

“There’s a real serious momentum of people who are ready to look outside the two-party system,” said Bob Burke, chairman of the Libertarian Party Pierce St. Croix. “I think at the very least we’ll mess up the election in ways they don’t see coming.” …

Burke says his party’s focus on civil liberties and coalition-building policies — such as ending the war on drugs — could help disrupt the 2014 elections, and libertarians could possibly pick up a seat or two. Political observers say that optimism may be a stretch.

Burke, who voted for Walker for governor twice, including in last year’s recall election, said he’s not sure he’ll vote for him a third time.

“We can clap our hands and say they do all these great things, but in essence the problem is it’s still too difficult to do business in Wisconsin,” he said. “The GOP has voted like Democrats, and we’re willing to let them back themselves into the wall.”

A couple thoughts come to mind, beginning with the simple reality that there is no way that Walker will lose the 2014 GOP primary. Someone may run against Walker, either seriously or as happened in the (illegitimate) recall primary election one year ago. That person will not win. Period.

If libertarians are upset to discover that Walker is a politician, they shouldn’t be. A politician’s goal is to (1) get into office and (2) stay in office. For a libertarian to say that a budget created by Republicans isn’t fiscally better than a budget created by Democrats is, well, foolish. Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.

I’ve argued before here that Wisconsin is a libertarian state on no issue other than alcohol. Instead of letting restaurant and bar owners decide whether or not to allow smoking in their premises, this state simply banned smoking in restaurants and bars, which, among other things, eliminated the competitive advantage the owners of smoke-free bars and restaurants had. You cannot be top five in the nation in state and local taxes and claim to be libertarian at all. You cannot have a state in which one of six workers work for government and even pretend to be remotely libertarian. In fact, our vaunted Progressive Era is as anti-libertarian — in fact, as anti-freedom — as possible short of being a communist. Get government out of people’s lives? That thud you heard was the Fighting Bob La Follette bust in my high school’s library falling over in disbelief.

Democrats and Republicans veer in a libertarian direction only when it is politically convenient for themselves. One of the pet libertarian issues, legalizing marijuana for at least medical use, has gotten exactly as far with a Democratic governor and Legislature as with a Republican governor and Legislature — nowhere. (That specific issue is one that politicians tend to bring up when they’re in the minority and tend to forget when they’re in the majority.)

As a conservatarian, I believe the Republican Party needs to embrace its inner libertarian. It is logically inconsistent to say (correctly) that government doesn’t belong in our wallets, but does belong in our bedrooms. I think the Republican Party is more libertarian than the Democratic Party when the GOP is cutting (not merely decreasing the increase in) government, because economic issues are far more important than personal-lifestyle issues. The Democratic Party, remember, is where nearly all of the Progressive Party went after the La Follettes pulled the plug after World War II.

What about the big-L Libertarians? The fact is that this state has never really had a successful third-party movement, including the Progressive Party. That’s because the Progressive Party, which split off from the Republican Party, essentially replaced the Democratic Party during its heyday in the 1930s. The Democratic Party didn’t resurge until the Progressives joined up.

The best way for libertarian principles to be enforced is not by electing libertarian candidates, but to require libertarian principles to be enforced. That means constitutional changes to require, among other things, a budget balanced on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and strict limits on year-to-year spending and tax increases at every level of government. If the state Constitution had limited spending increases to the rate of inflation plus population growth since 1977, according to the Tax Foundation, state and local governments would spend half what they spend now. The drug war is a chicken-or-egg story — the drug war has fueled government spending, but government spending has also fueled the drug war.

The thing, however, is that the Wisconsin GOP is unlikely to head in a more libertarian direction for the foreseeable future. That’s because what they’re doing now is working in the sense of a political party’s number one priority — getting its members elected and reelected. When all but two statewide elected officials (Secretary of State Douglas La Follette and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers) are Republicans, and when both houses of the Legislature are controlled by the GOP, you don’t mess with political success, until you stop having political success.


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