Monday, November 12, 2018

The midterms 2018: Scott Walker’s longish goodbye

EVEN THE savviest of politician, the most adept wingwalker seeking election or re-election, can only defy convention and perform the act of levitation for just so long. Sooner or later, the politician’s sway over the gravitational pull of modern American politics begins to fade ... before shorting out altogether.

When that happens, your legacy (to the extent that you’ve got one) starts to come undone, supporters pray for a remedy, and you’re about to wear your ass for a hat. When that happens ... you’re Scott Walker on Election Night.

Walker, the much-embattled Republican governor of Wisconsin for eight years, went down to defeat on Nov. 6, losing a deeply-flawed campaign to Democratic challenger Tony Evers by fewer than 2 points (about 31,000 votes overall).

“[T]hank you to the voters of the great State of Wisconsin,” Walker said via a magnanimous, valedictory press release on Election Night. “It has been my honor to serve as your Governor for nearly eight years. We’ve come a long way together and it is my sincere hope that the progress we’ve made during our time in office will continue and that we can keep Wisconsin working for generations to come.”

Making matters worse (or certainly more deliciously ironic): Despite the closeness of the outcome, Walker can’t sue for a recount because of a law Walker himself signed setting the recount threshold at less than 1 percent. Walker lost by 1.2 percent.

That was the sour, ironical grace note for a political career gone wrong. It was all a huge comedown for a politician once held up as the Republican golden boy, bruited in some circles as presidential material. But the outcome on Election Night was probably to be expected. As much or more than any politician to precede Donald Trump in elective office, Scott Walker made enemies early and often.

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Not long after Walker was elected in 2010, he advanced a “budget repair” bill intended to balance the state’s $3.6 billion deficit in part by stripping the rights of about 170,000 public-service employees to collective bargaining for wages and other benefits.

The bill was legislation with the power to adversely affect union contributions from members of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, founded in Madison in 1936), SEIU (Service Employees International Union) and the state’s Education Association Council, the state teachers union that has injected more than $10 million into Democratic state races over the previous decade.

State workers gathered for weeks at the Capitol in Madison to protest the bill, with an uncommon populist energy.

After a long impasse with a group of boycotting Democratic senators whose absence postponed his legislation, Walker, with the help of GOP state senators, employed legalistic gymnastics to take a vote without the absent Democrats, and signed the bill into law, stripping unions of collective bargaining rights on matters of pensions and health care, limits pay raises of public employees to the rate of inflation, and ends automatic collection of union dues by the state.

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ACT 10 was a devastating defeat for union members and Wisconsin’s progressive community in general, and it all happened in the state that practically birthed the concept of collective bargaining, unemployment compensation and other workers’ rights.

A recall effort started almost immediately. It failed, leaving Walker in charge in the statehouse. But Act 10 and its aftermath of bad feeling was only one of Walker’s unforced errors. I wrote in March 2011: “To judge from the consistently passionate, engaged and generally peaceful protests of the last three weeks, what’s been awakened in Wisconsin is a new surge of populism on behalf of fundamental American workers’ rights.”

Walker's been paying for that populist surge ever since. The Badger State went big for President Obama in 2012, no doubt in large part as a payback reaction to Walker’s anti-labor initiative.

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Then, for reasons known only to him and God, Walker undertook a bid for the 2016 Republican nomination in June 2015. It didn't last.

“Today I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race so that a positive, conservative message can rise to the top of the field,” he said in September 2015, ending a feckless 71-day campaign. Walker was doomed as much by an outsize field of candidates (including one deep-pocketed, nihilistic attention enthusiast named Donald Trump) and no overarching message — no real reason to run — that could have lifted him above the rest.

“I do think the real turning point was his decision to run for president,” Former conservative radio host Charlie Sykes told the Wisconsin State Journal web site. “You did sense that his focus and the momentum he had as governor was dissipated.”

Fast forward to Election Night.

Image credits: Walker top: Screengrab from New York Times video. Walker at podium: The Associated Press.

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