December 26, 2013

Book Review -- Unintimidated By Scott Walker

As a teen, I lived very close to the Illinois-Wisconsin border. As a result, I often saw bumper stickers that read "Escape To Wisconsin" -- the state's tou8rism slogan at the time. Of course, there was the response -- a little use of a razor blade and careful positioning of the remaining parts allowed us to create "Escape Wisconsin" bumper stickers. Little did I know that, just a little more than three decades later, "Escape To Wisconsin" would become a battle cry as kleptocracy ruined the land of Lincoln and a visionary leader implemented a reformist platform that would make the Land of Cheese and Beer a much more attractive place to live.

That leader is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and his book Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge tells the story of how he succeeded in turning around a state approaching bankruptcy in the face of incredible opposition from Wisconsin's elected Democrats and the public employee unions that kept them on a short leash. In the process, Walker also faced death threats from the mob that opposed his reforms -- both threats to his physical safety and a recall effort that would have spelled the end of both his political career and the reforms he introduced and passed with the help of his fellow Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature.

Scott Walker needed to balance the state budget -- that much was clear when he took office in the midst of a recession made worse by policies implemented by the Obama Administration. There were only two ways to do that, according to conventional -- cut services to the people or cut personnel. Scott Walker rejected them both, and instead proposed to limit collective bargaining for public employees so that government could do more with less. The uproar that resulted -- instigated by union bosses who would prefer to see members fired than their vast power over government bodies and sympathetic politicians disrupted -- became was nothing short of a civil war, complete with a takeover of the Wisconsin State Capitol by mobs bused in for that purpose. What followed was the passage of the legislation was an attempt to overturn the results of the 2010 gubernatorial election when Walkers opponents mounted an unsuccessful recall effort against him.

Ultimately, the outcome of Walker's legislation was to put the financial house of Wisconsin government in good order. This was replicated time and again on the local level, especially in school districts -- with the notable exception of the state's three largest districts, which had rushed to accept union contracts that kept them from making use of the new flexibility that the law allowed. Public employees, given the freedom to choose whether or not to be represented by unions, voted feet and pocketbooks by opting out of membership in organizations that they realized did not have their best interests at heart. Scott Walker has pointed the way to fixing broken state governments around the country. That alone makes this book important.

This book is important for another reason -- while Walker denies that the book is a trial balloon, time and again it takes on a tone that can best be described as "this is why I would be a great GOP candidate for president". Take, for example, this.

“This book tells the story of how we won the battle for Wisconsin—the reforms we put in place, the mistakes we made, and the lessons we learned. In the pages that follow, I will discuss how we almost lost the “fairness” fight in Madison—and how we turned it around on the Democrats and their union allies. I will explain how we reached into President Obama’s base and won over the “Obama-Walker” voters in Wisconsin—and how conservatives can do it anywhere in the country. I will demonstrate how we balanced our budget while rejecting the dour politics of austerity—and found a way to make fiscal responsibility hopeful and optimistic. I will show why it is a myth that winning the center requires moving to the center—and why the path to a conservative comeback lies not in abandoning our principles, but in championing bold, conservative reforms…and having the courage to see them through.”

In one paragraph, Walker lays out his bona fides as a Republican nominee:

  1. I have shown myself to be a conservative with my deeds, not just my words.
  2. My conservative reforms have succeeded.
  3. I've proven that I can attract the swing-voters of the political center by leading rather than surrendering my principles.

Such statements of principle and vision appear in every chapter -- and the final chapter could well be his stump speech at every grassroots Republican and Tea Party gathering across the country. He sounds like Reagan -- indeed, he sounds even more Reagan than Reagan. Given the Republican candidates of the last quarter century -- both the winners and the losers -- this Republican activist has to concede that we could (and have) done much worse than Scott Walker at the head of our ticket in 2016. That is why every Republican, and every grassroots conservative, needs to read this book.

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