Gov. Walker promising more moderate agenda
MADISON With Wisconsin bitterly divided, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is promising a more moderate agenda in the second half of his term.
Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal in an interview published Sunday he plans to focus on the budget and job creation in the upcoming session, and he predicted less political turbulence than his first two years as governor.
The conservative hero said none of the legislation he supports this session will prompt massive protests like those that rocked the Capitol soon after he became governor in 2011 and unveiled a plan to all but end collective bargaining for most public workers.
"We're not going to do things that are going to bring 80,000 or 100,000 people into the Capitol," Walker told the newspaper. "It's just not going to happen again."
Walker says his budget priorities will be job creation, workforce development, tax cuts, education reform and transportation infrastructure. His other legislative priorities include a mining bill and venture capital legislation.
Political observers said Walker will face dual challenges: being mindful of his re-election prospects in a state where he was the first governor to face a recall and became the first governor in U.S. history to survive one, while seeking to build his national conservative credentials.
"The things that he has done in the first two years have certainly established his reputation among conservatives, and I don't think that's likely to be undermined. But it does raise questions about how he will break new ground on a conservative agenda," said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor. "I think it is a bit of a balancing act to preserve his position as a leading conservative nationally while not provoking a backlash here in the state."
Walker said his budget priorities in the upcoming session will be job creation, workforce development, tax cuts, education reform and building transportation infrastructure. His other legislative priorities include passing a mining bill and venture capital legislation.
The governor said building certainty and avoiding divisiveness is such a priority that he will push GOP lawmakers not to bring up certain bills important to conservatives, including some he may support, such as legislation to end same-day voter registration, restrict immigration, make Wisconsin a right-to-work state, and overhaul the state Government Accountability Board.
"It's not a flip-flop because I'm not necessarily changing positions," Walker said. "I'm just saying in light of where we're at, in light of where we're headed, if we want to focus on creating more jobs in this state, we need to have the focus be in that area."
Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee governmental affairs professor and former Democratic lawmaker, said Walker's change in tone and approach is rooted in the recall.
"People have forgotten how traumatic the recall was," Lee said. "Ideologically he's the same person, but politically he's become much more careful."
Democrats remain unconvinced that Walker is approaching the second half of his term with a new attitude.
"He's doing his best to impersonate a moderate now," said incoming Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee.
Franklin said winning a second term as governor is a prerequisite to any other political pursuits for Walker.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Walker is well-positioned for 2014, and possibly beyond.
"Walker doesn't need to do much to please conservatives; they are already happy with him. Working on improving his state economy is the safest path to re-election. Then 2016 awaits, potentially," Sabato said. "Conservatives mention Walker as a presidential candidate prominently and frequently. He'll have a constituency and financing if he runs in 2016. Of course he has to get re-elected first."