Since the Madison protests began last month, I’ve contended that Gov. Scott Walker’s push to eliminate collective bargaining rights of state workers has not been the most troubling development of his young administration.
Walker’s greatest problem – one that already has cost the governor much political capital – can be summed up in four words: “Didn’t see that coming.”
For sure, Walker has, well, walked a politically dangerous tightrope, promoting policies that will cost him approval rating points and votes when he’s up for re-election.
The problem, though, is that Walker didn’t tell people – certainly not voters and apparently not elected officials in his own party – that he was going to implement such extreme measures. This seems slimy to folks on the left and reckless to others in the Republican party who would prefer to remain employed by the state.
Whether it has been the collective bargaining debate or Walker’s plan to eliminate Wisconsin’s municipal recycling mandate, the governor has put himself out on a limb and dragged Republican lawmakers with him. Eventually, though, Walker runs the risk of pushing Republicans to a point at which they must choose a different path.
Already, conservatives have taken steps – ranging from subtle to outright rejection – to distance themselves from the governor.
Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, couldn’t stand behind Walker’s plan to strip most collective bargaining rights from public workers. Sen. Michael Ellis, R-Neenah, and Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, expressed public disagreement to Walker’s budget plan that would end mandatory recycling.
“We thought this was a big mistake on behalf of Walker,” Ellis told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We had no idea it was coming.”
Ah, that sentiment. I’ve heard it often lately, ranging from folks who voted for Walker to those who are supposed to be his allies.
Even at a more local level, some conservative candidates feel they must express their surprise at his policy initiatives. When Eileen Bruskewitz, a candidate for Dane County executive, recently was pressed to explain her support for Walker, she could only do so by including the increasingly popular disclaimer.
While saying she supported Walker’s commitment to fixing the state’s budget mess, Bruskewitz said, “I did not know he was going to use collective bargaining as the major piece of this.”
Ignorance cannot be too blissful for Republicans, who risk being swept out of office – whether by recall or general election – because of the policy initiatives Walker opted not to mention during his campaign.
And it doesn’t take a pollster to know public favor is not on the side of Republicans these days.
Stripping collective bargaining and recycling would be unpopular throughout much of Wisconsin no matter how a governor introduced the ideas. But Walker’s approach to unleashing such policies only after months of pre-election debate has left many voters feeling like they got duped.
And perhaps some Republicans, too.