We will get a better picture of Governor Walker’s 2013-14 agenda later this month when he delivers his budget address. However we can glean quite a bit from leaks, media interviews and his January State of the State speech.
The mining bill, education reform (including some expansion of school choice) and economic development are sure to top his wish list for the second half of his first term. (Or his second, two year term depending on how you count the 2012 recall).
There is quite a bit of speculation regarding how ambitious Walker will attempt to be. Will he swing for the fences like he did with the Act10 labor reforms, or will he choose a more temperate approach?
The Republicans run the show in Madison. They have a humongous majority in the Assembly and a healthy 18-15 margin in the Senate. They control the Department of Justice and the Conservative judges hold sway on the Supreme Court. So regardless of how aggressive Governor Walker chooses to be, the only real obstacles to his success will come from those individuals that most casual observers would expect to be his allies.
Here are the top four Wisconsin Republicans who could derail the Walker Agenda.
The Senate President has been in the legislature since 1970. On paper he represents the 19th Senate District, including his hometown of Neenah. In reality, Ellis serves a constituency of one: Mike Ellis. Like every State Senator, when he looks into the mirror in the morning he sees a governor. Walker isn’t the first GOP Governor who will have to deal with the cantankerous Ellis, who has served in Senate leadership since 1985. The jury is still out as to whether he can (publicly at least) maintain a détente with Ellis in the same manner as Tommy Thompson, or if his last two years will look more like the short and bumpy tenure of Governor Scott McCallum. Ellis brings with him a cadre of Senators, most often Senators Rob Cowles and Dale Schultz. But on any given issue, even the more conservative Senators have found themselves conspiring with Ellis to undercut efforts of fellow Republicans inside and outside of the Senate Caucus itself.
This is not a collection of Wisconsin Republicans who are purposely out to thwart Scott Walker. It’s a list of GOPers who could scuttle his agenda. The Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly is master of a large domain and the most powerful legislator in the state. In my two dozen years in and covering state politics, I’ve learned two absolute certainties about Assembly Speakers. One, is that their job is akin to herding cats. Two, that at least once a day they are convinced that the Governor and the rest of the East Wing staff are screwing something up. Regardless of if the Governor and Speaker are from the same party, a natural competitiveness emerges. If unrecognized and left unchecked, it festers. Vos is in a delicate situation. If he aligns himself too closely with the Governor, he will be attacked by the press and many in his own caucus as being Walker’s lap dog. If he is too slow to trumpet Walker’s plans or, conversely if he moves more aggressively on issues than Walker wants to, the press and many in his own caucus will accuse him of being disloyal. Walker and Vos are not twins. However, they do share some political DNA. Their ascendancy into the two most powerful positions in state government is sure to strain their friendship a bit. How much? That’s one of the key developments to watch this session.
The new CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation just received his appointment last week, but he has been serving as the Secretary/CEO since November. Prior to that, Hall was the executive Director of the Marshfield Clinic for many years. Fair or not, if Hall fails to boost the reputation and performance of the beleaguered public-private entity that is a Walker creation, it will make efforts to scuttle future economic development efforts all that much easier. WEDC’s role in the mining bill, for example, is already seen as a potential liability. If Hall succeeds in turning things around, however, he could be the one person on this list who could provide the Governor with the biggest boost.
Scott Walker is at his best when he puts his trust in two places: his gut and the people of Wisconsin. He is at his worst when he engages in the inevitable navel gazing that plagues any first term Administration. Conservative critics of the Governor, for example, wonder why he leaves issues like the creation of state-run health insurance exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid out there to linger. Perhaps it’s a natural reaction to the Capitol Chaos of 2011 and the Recall election of 2012, but there is a bit of paralysis by analysis that rears its head in the East Wing. His budget address will be a good indication whether the concerns that he is a bit shell shocked are well founded. How bold will he be on education reform, including School Choice? Will he try to shore up the transportation budget without a massive tax hike? What are his plans to spur private sector job growth? Most Republican legislators and the people of this state will want specifics and clarity and will back bold plans put forth by the Governor.
Whatever the specifics of his 2013-14 agenda, Walker must make the case for action. He then must explain the public policy to state residents who are a lot smarter than some pundits give them credit. And he must press on, all the while keeping a prudently cautious eye on the four men listed above.