Whether Gov. Walker‘s 5.7-point win Tuesday is a “mandate” is debatable, but there is no denying that he has won by that kind of margin three times in four years, and that alone is an affirmation by a majority — in big turn-out elections — that he is on the right track.
But where does that track go in the next four years? He won affirmation for his tough push-back on the unholy alliance of unions, union-backed Democratic candidates and subsequent paybacks to public union members. That war has been largely won, so does a reelected Gov. Walker want to gash unions more with a “right-to-work” law? Probably not.
As he eyes the presidential primaries 15 months from now, he may want to come off as more of a statesman and less of a political pit bull. He will strive to satisfy his base, but also could reach to other voters. Note: it was the independents who provided the swing votes to get him elected three times. He might want to find some cross-cutting issues on which he can develop a consensus, at least with pro-growth Democrats.
He can use his recharged firepower, backed again in a second term by a GOP-controlled legislature, for pressing policy matters that would be dually good for the state’s economy and good for him as a now-serious presidential candidate.
Many of the state’s over-riding issues were not central to the governor campaign.
The list that would bolster the state and his presidential timber include:
• Make more incremental tax cuts, as tax revenues permit and as long as they don’t involve more borrowing, as occurred within his second of two budgets. Tax reform still gets top billing, since Wisconsin still ranks 5th highest for the combination of state and local tax burden.
• Reduce state debt and make further additions to the state rainy day fund.
• Root out ineffective regulations.
• Create a Council of Economic Advisors that would keep a laser focus on job creation strategy and metrics. Shoot for 250,000 new jobs in his second term; it’s a doable, worthy, aggressive goal.
• Hug the state’s entrepreneurs, who are the best bet to drive Wisconsin’s future economy and lead us out of a long-term, lagging economic position among the states. Get into the Top Ten for being open to business in general and new ventures in particular. (Michigan has a $1 billion portfolio of entrepreneurial programs; Wisconsin has the Act 255 tax credits for early staged investors, but only a $30 million fund of funds that is slow getting out of the blocks.)
• Hug market leading companies in the high-pay clusters that drive today’s economy. Give them a voice in Madison through a cluster council, chaired by the governor. Advanced manufacturing and agri-business have loud voices in the Capitol, but other sectors like insurance, information systems, financial services, energy and water technologies – all sources of good-pay jobs – need more attention at the state level.
• Reorganize the University of Wisconsin System to get it aligned with the clusters and the startup economy. It is one of our biggest economic engines, and it is not fully engaged. It’s been four decades since the last reorganization. As one example, the UW has $7 billion in off-balance sheet assets that could be better deployed for the prosperity of citizens across the state.
• Tackle the issue of rising student debt, UW finances and tuition pressure with creative solutions.
• Reverse the brain drain of 10,000 college graduates per year by creating a lively economy and plentiful good-pay jobs. That is a key metric that bears watching by the Council of Economic Advisors.
• Apply the new business model for the delivery of health care developed in the private sector to the health plans for state employees and Medicaid. Establish a Medical Home for every citizen. Everyone wins and the savings to taxpayers abound.
• Take fresh water issues seriously, including leadership on federal and state measures to stem the massive threat of invasive species to the Great Lakes.
Finally, Gov. Walker could resuscitate the Wisconsin Idea to bridge the bitter divide between the red and blue political factions. Blue Ribbon Commissions could be established on critical issues like welfare reform, poverty in our central cities, new models for higher education, K-12 investment levels and trade-offs between the economy and the environment. In the past, those task forces drew upon smart citizens of all political stripes from across the state.
Those commissions have largely disappeared since Tommy Thompson left office, and that may be part of the explanation for the harsher, more partisan nature of our current politics.