Why Walker won't back down

2011-03-09T08:40:00Z 2011-07-05T18:08:59Z Why Walker won't back downCLAY BARBOUR | cbarbour@madison.com | 608-252-6129 madison.com

The crowds are angry, the polls unfavorable, but Gov. Scott Walker has so far refused to compromise on key pieces of his controversial budget repair bill.

Such resolve would be impressive in a politician with the resume of a Tommy Thompson or Russ Feingold, but it's a little shocking for a governor with just eight weeks under his belt.

Except, when it comes to Walker, it isn't.

"Anyone who thinks he will change his mind has another thing coming," said Milwaukee County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo, a Walker ally during his tenure as county executive. "He ignores the polls and the protests and does what he thinks is right. And I can tell you, he will not give in."

It has been nearly a month since the governor unveiled his plan to strip most collective bargaining rights from public employees. In that time, daily protests — some up to 70,000 people — have rung through Capitol Square, and a handful of polls has come out showing dwindling support for Walker's stance.

The state's 14 Democratic senators remain holed up in Illinois, locked in a stalemate with the Senate Republicans, who who need the presence of at least one member of the minority party before they can bring the bill up for a vote.

But so far the governor has shown no signs of wavering. On Tuesday, Walker released e-mails showing he is willing to tweak some elements of his bill — such as removing limits on wage negotiations and restoring some items that could be subject to collective bargaining. But the governor remains committed to the bulk of the legislation, which sweeps away decades of collective bargaining rights for public employees.

In a recent interview, when asked about the angry crowds and negative poll numbers, Walker argued the protesters made up just a fraction of the state's population and said he doesn't pay attention to polls.

"Polls are nice, if they are on your side," he said. "But in the end, you've got to govern based upon what you think is the right thing."

Resolve; many of those who have worked with, or against Walker, agree he has it.

The governor gave a hint at how he looks at the world, and his place in it, in a speech he gave to the Christian Businessmen's Committee in 2009. Talking about his first, unsuccessful run for governor, Walker summed up his approach to life as "trust and obey" God.

Walker, the son of a Baptist minister, relayed to the crowd two anecdotes that he credits with giving him political perspective.

One involved the story of Jesus and Peter. In the story, Peter walked on water with Jesus' help, until he lost faith and sank into the water.

The other story involved two sailors, one of whom made the mistake of watching the waves break against the boat. Seeing his colleague was getting seasick, the other sailor advised the man to ignore the water and focus at a point on the horizon. That, he said, would help him ride out the storm.

"Keep looking out at the horizon, to the path Christ is calling you to follow," Walker told the crowd. "Don't focus on the waves, and choppy water."

For eight years as Milwaukee County executive, Walker kept the end goal in sight, seeking to reduce the size of government in an office traditionally held by liberals.

During his time there, he cut the government workforce by 20 percent, eliminated the waiting list for long-term care for seniors, and used his veto more than 100 times to cut $44 million in proposed spending. 

Each of his nine consecutive budgets held the property tax levy to the previous year's level. But his opponents criticized Walker for proposing unrealistic budgets that had to be fixed. They called him a one trick pony who only cut and never created.

But according to Milwaukee County Board Spokesman Harold Mester, even Walker's opponents respected him and knew he would not back down.

"What you're seeing in Madison now, is basically a repeat of what happened here in Milwaukee for years," Mester said. "I can tell you this: The chairman (Lee Holloway) does not see Walker backing down on this. (Walker) never did at the county level."

 

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