What Will Walker Run On?

It’s a fair question.

Few times in history has the governor of a state been so polarizing, so extreme, and taken a radical departure from his campaign promises.

The defenders of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker can continue to claim that the opposition against him is made up of out-of-state special interests, but the facts don’t bear that out.

What else could explain traditional conservatives in rural Wisconsin passing around recall petitions at deer cleaning stations? What else could explain 10,033 Columbia County voters – 45 percent of the 2010 gubernatorial vote – signing off on the recall, when Walker originally won that county with 52 percent?

Walker is already blanketing Wisconsin with ads because he and his backers know that this isn’t going to be a normal election. The anger directed at him isn’t just coming from traditional Democratic-leaning bastions like Madison, and it isn’t just coming from the teachers and other public workers who he has consistently blamed for the state’s fiscal woes. In reality, the coalition against Walker is unexpectedly broad, just like the one that brought down Senate Bill 5 in Ohio.

So once Walker and his allies exhaust the line of attack that this recall election is about “special interests” and “sour grapes” and a “distraction” from an agenda that he claims is about jobs, what will he actually run on?

The biggest problem for Scott Walker, and the reason that this long shot recall might end up succeeding, is that he can’t run on the one thing people care about: jobs.

In 2010, Walker ran on a promise of creating 250,000 new jobs in Wisconsin by the end of his first term. As Jesse Russell points out, he would need to put 450,000 people back to work in the next three years to keep that promise. The Center of Wisconsin Strategy reports that the state has a jobs deficit of 205,200, which combines the 140,700 jobs lost since December 2007 and the 64,500 jobs needed to keep up with population growth. As we know at Working America, there are real people behind those numbers, struggling to scrape by.

The unfortunate irony for Walker is that the state was on the path to recovery before controversial bill stripping collective bargaining rights for public workers went into effect: a gain of 38,800 jobs in the first half of 2011, and a loss of 27,600 jobs the second half when the bill was enforced.

Throughout the protests, the occupation of the Capitol, and the state senate recalls, Walker continued the mantra that his controversial policies were all in the name of the state’s economy, about jobs. This is what he said when he cut $1.6 billion from public education, when he ended the state Earned Income Tax Credit, when he refused federal funding for high speed rail; and when he signed bills into law restricting voting rights, reining in gun control, and deregulating telecommunications.

While the Governor keeps saying the same thing over and over in an effort to make it true, the conditions for working families in Wisconsin have only gotten worse. Taxes are higher, government is bigger, and thanks to public sector layoffs the number of people out of work has barely changed.

Walker has the backing of the national Republican establishment, corporate interests like the Koch Brothers, and a host of shadowy, wealthy third-party organizations. The effort to remove him will be expensive, drawn-out, and dirty. But when you get down to brass tacks, Walker can’t run on his own record, and he can’t honestly say he has kept the promises he made in 2010. He can only demean his opponent, deceive voters, and pit Wisconsinites against each other in order to keep his job – and that’s what the Badger State should expect.

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