Friday, February 27, 2015

Walker vs. Congress (on Act Ten Reforms)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
In the last two months, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has gone from marginal to mainstream, faded to fascinating in the eyes of prospective voters, and inconsequential to intriguing to the the ears and mouths of talking heads looking for another Republican Presidential contender to dissect then disintegrate.

Critics are faulting him for his non-answers to dubious questions from reporters. They also quibble about his lack of foreign policy experience as well as his long-term plans on immigration. Some of them still hanker for the right-wing version of President Obama, full of hope and change, charisma in place of principle.

Before judging Walker's skills as a media jouster, or executive disciplinarian, voters should weigh in on how he handles himself in federal Congressional hearings. Presidents execute law, and voters should start paying attention to how the next US President respects and responds to Congress. President Obama's diffident lack of rapport with Congress is one of his greatest liabilities, culminating in illegal, extrajudicial, and unconstitutional executive actions contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the law.

While many Walker fans know that he stood up to public sector unions in Wisconsin, they may not know that he defended his actions, and the municipal pension reforms which followed, to the House Oversight Committee, which conducted hearings on State and Municipal Government Debt, which then and more so now threatens the safety, solvency and security of governments, local and federal.

Oversight Hearings are rife with political posturing, yet Walker took the attacks in stride, and demurred from petty squabbles to establish sincere arguments based on clear results. Iowa Congressman (and failed US Senate candidate) Bruce Braley tried to define public workers as the victims of Scott Walker's Act 10 Collective Bargaining Reforms. Launching into a self-serving tirade about his own tenure as a public worker, Braley tried to squeeze Walker about his 2010 campaign "secret donors."

Walker balked in due fashion: "I though the purpose of today was to talk about debt." Braley kept trying to shame Walker about his campaign, and the governor would bring the discussion back to fighting debt through reforms. At one point, Walker called Braley out for the obvious: "If you want to do a political stunt, go ahead." Inadvertently, the wandering Iowa Congressman complimented the Wisconsin Governor: "I think it's time we got some straight answers from people who are radically reforming state governments."

Braley labeled Walker a radical reformer? Bam!

Then there was Congressman Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who later became an Oak State US Senator o in 2012. His questions tried to paint Walker as anti-labor and anti-family. He attempted to tease out Wisconsin Republican plans to break unions' "bullying power" as a political force and stop President Obama's reelection in 2012. Ironically enough, Murphy uploaded the video precisely to promote his Senate run. Murphy wanted to talk about the Koch Brothers. Walker talked about his reforms:

There's a lot of money coming from all kinds of sources. . . .I can't answer for Scott Fitzgerald [Wisconsin senate majority leader] but I can answer for Scott Walker. For me, it's about the budget. It's also about making government work better. When I talk about the middle class, it's not just about the paying middle class. It's about middle class individuals who work for state and local governments.

Walker explained that either the state pursued collective bargaining reforms to cut costs, or issue massive layoffs, which other states had to do. About education reformers, Walker addressed: "I'd like to have a system like we do elsewhere in society where we pay people based on performance, not just reward people based on seniority."

Murphy wanted to frame Walker as anti-Middle Class, and Walker punched back, protecting middle class workers, both public and private. "It's all about balancing the budget now and for the future." Looking forward and in the present, Walker ably defended his reforms.

Kucinich tried to demean Walker

Progressive Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who would lose his seat in a bitter primary fight in 2012, pressed Walker on the real purpose behind his Act 10 reforms. Refusing to let the governor answer the question, he fired up the diminishing number of progressive partisans, but impressed few others. Kucinich first related that state unions had agreed to funding concessions, but then grilled Walker to explain the reforms.

You refused to drop your demand to strip workers of the collective bargaining rights. It had nothing to do with the budget. . .I don't understand how repealing collective bargaining rights for public workers shows us anything about state debt.

Walker pushed back

Walker answered:

That and a number of provisions we put in because if you are going to ask, if you're going to put in place a change like that, we wanted to make sure that we protected the workers of our state so that they could know what kind of value that they got out of it. We gave workers the right to choose. It's a fundamental American right, whether a worker wants to be a part of a union.

The savings all shored up for the long-term for the state. Workers would fund more money toward pensions and health care costs, but this discussion ran contrary to the Democratic narrative that Walker was an anti-union bully trying to protect. Of course, no one would ever know, since Kucinich refused to let Walker answer the questions.

Never running away from a tough question, yet refusing to be pushed around by posturing Democratic politicians looking not just to advance their careers, but maintain the easy funding from Big Labor, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker impressed upon Congress that he took their concerns seriously, saw through ulterior motives, and never backed away from explaining and defending the collective bargaining reforms which took Wisconsin from the red to the black.

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