Two years ago today, Governor Scott Walker proposed collective bargaining reforms that would set in motion nearly two years of political upheaval in Wisconsin, with reverberations felt around the country. After all of the rallies, drum circles, fleeing senators, recalls, recounts, lawsuits, and recriminations… what have we learned?
Actually, quite a bit:
1. Our fiscal problems are solvable. Without tax increases. The fiscal facts are stark: Walker inherited a $3. 6 billion structural deficit that had been a fixture among both Democrat and Republicans. As he prepares his second budget, the state has a surplus. The sky didn't fall. The streets are still being plowed. Children are not forced to go to schools in corrugated huts. There may be a lesson here for the federal government.
2. There are in fact, two Americas. Walker’s reforms exposed the gap between average America and the oh-so-entitled class of public employees, who had been granted enjoy expensive fringe benefits and lavish pensions under the baleful eyes of ever more powerful public employee unions. Private sector workers have been contributing to their own pensions and benefits for years so it was revealing to watch the outrage of public employees who were being asked to do the same thing.
3. They are not as big as they look. Despite the huge size of the crowds at the unionist rallies – more than 100,000 at times – the number of protesters was dwarfed by the more than 1.3 million votes Walker received in June 2012 to beat back the recall attempt. Since Act 10, union membership has cratered; the percentage of public employees in unions in Wisconsin has dropped from 50% down to just 37% last year. After decades of being told by the left that it was useless to resist the oncoming tide of history, it turns out that it was the unions who were on the wrong side of history.
4. It’s possible to beat the media narrative. The Wisconsin Revolution witnessed the rise of new media that provided an alternative to the generally hostile media coverage. Many of the videos and on-the-scene reports that exposed the opposition came from new media outlets and sources. The MSM monpoly was busted along with the unions.
5. Voters reward leadership. Walker emerged from the demonstrations and recalls in an even stronger position than he was in before the upheaval. Walker ended up winning by a larger margin that he had in November 2010. The election was an affirmation of Act 10, but more generally a referendum on Walker’s willingness to face down the opposition of entrenched special interests.
6. Big risks = big rewards. From the budget turn-around to the recall victories, the story of Act 10 is the story of going big to get big results. The effective end of public employee union collective bargaining not only allowed Walker to wipe out the state's deficit, it will change the way government works for at least a generation. Walker was propelled onto the national stage and statehouses across the country took note.
7. The Democrats have become definitively the party of the government unions. When the 14 Democrat senators fled the state to hide out in Illinois, they signaled how deeply their allegiance ran to the cause of public employee unions. At one time, there was a pro-business, pro-growth wing of the party, but the union agenda has long since eclipsed any such tendencies. When the senators crossed the state line in a vain effort to shut down state government, they crossed a political Rubicon.
8. The myth of liberal civility was shattered. "This is what democracy looks like," shouted the demonstrators. But what we saw was a blue fist. Despite the best efforts of a compliant, friendly media, the public got a glimpse of the ugly side of the left: the threats, the obscenities, the vandalism, the attacks on business, the arrogant sense of entitlement. From Christopher Branski to Thistle, the world saw what tolerant, compassionate liberalism looks like when its benefits are threatened.
9. 2010 was not a fluke. No state flipped more decisively from blue to red as Wisconsin did in 2010. Republicans took control of the governorship, both houses of the legislature, a majority of the state’s congressional seats. The left insisted that this must be an aberration. One of the constant themes of the anti-Walker demonstrations was the claim that Walker had never explicitly said that he would end collective bargaining during his first campaign. But two years later – after all of the rallies, recalls, and the 2012 election – all of the gains of 2010 are intact. Voters reaffirmed Walker as governor and returned GOP majorities in both the assembly and the senate.
10. Don’t underestimate Scott Walker. Caught in the grips of Walker Derangement Syndrome, the left has been surprised by Walker’s string of successes. The presidential buzz is premature, but his enemies (and some of his allies) have repeatedly made the mistake of underestimating Walker. From his days as county executive through the recall elections, his enemies have clung to various myths about Walker that have obscured just how forceful the otherwise mild-mannered governor can be.