The main deal for voters: Walker himself

Gov. Walker

We’ve never had a recall election for governor before, so none of us knew what to expect in the campaign. But with little time left until the gut-wrenching vote Tuesday, everyone would have to agree that the candidates have been virtually silent on where they will take the state if victorious.

By the very nature of a recall, the campaign has been more backward looking than a blueprint for the future of the state. Neither candidate has tipped his hand on a legislative agenda going forward.

Voters have to assume that their past performances are the prologue for the next two and one-half years.

The greatest irony in the campaigns of Scott Walker and Tom Barrett has been the de-emphasis of the burning platform for the recall: Act 10 that crippled the public unions in the state.

Barrett’s opposition to Act 10 was muted by his mayoral use of its provisions to balance his municipal budget. Walker has defended the draconian act by saying, “It’s working.”
The reality is that Act 10 will be around for years, because the Assembly is likely to stay in Republican hands for years, and it takes both houses and the governorship to reverse a law.

Further, the Wisconsin public is split pretty much down the middle on the merits of collective bargaining for public employees. So there is not much political gold to be mined for either side on that over-riding issue. Minds are made up.

‘The only new issue raised was Barrett’s desperate use of the John Doe investigation of Walker’s campaign activities of 2010. A lawyer, Barrett knows that such investigations are supposed to be secret, yet has made negative projections about its possible outcomes. That’s presumptuous at best, callous at worst.

It is the long list of major issues gone unaddressed in the campaign that is so frustrating:

• Health Care: costs were cost-shifted to public employees, and Act 10 allowed school districts to escape the locked-in union insurance company. But there were no signals about real reform along the lines that are racing ahead in the private sector.

• Job Creation: there have been no concrete proposals for advancing the jobs agenda, with the exception that Walker hinted at bringing back a ferrous mining bill. Most of the debate has been over the job counting, not job creation. (The metrics issue is easily resolved by immediate release of the quarterly unemployment insurance reports from virtually all companies.)

• Education: no major proposals on either side; no clue about how either would handle the trend toward disinvestment in public education at all levels.

• Reinvention of the Wisconsin Economy: little embrace of “Be Bold – The Wisconsin Prosperity Strategy,” a consensus document drafted in 2010 by more than 30 of the state’s major stakeholder groups. Neither championed ways of engaging the Innovation Economy.

• Fiscal forecast: Neither offered a roadmap for balancing the soon-to-be-drafted 2013-2015 state budget.

So, in absence of a serious debate on the major issues facing the state, the voters will take the recall election Tuesday back to the core issue of the moment: Act 10 and its authors, including the four GOP state senators up for recall.

The voters will decide on whether they favor the contents of Act 10, the outcomes from its passage, the manner in which is was passed and how they see Walker himself.

My guess is that most voters, when they do their final gut check as they cast their ballots, will get down to a like or dislike of Walker himself.

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