Konopacki

While Scott Walker and his Republican legislative colleagues are touting Wisconsin's economy in their bids for re-election this coming November, they were hit with yet another study that doesn't speak all that well for their tutelage these past eight years.

At the recent Republican state convention and in his numerous visits around the state (ostensibly on state business, wink, wink) the governor credits himself for record low unemployment and trumpets the fact that more people are employed in Wisconsin than ever before.

The governor also likes to compare Wisconsin's economy today with that of the last years of Democrat Jim Doyle's administration, neglecting to mention that Doyle was governing the state during the worst recession since the 1930s while Walker's in office during the recovery from those days. All states, obviously, are doing much better today than they were eight to 10 years ago.

And while, indeed, unemployment numbers are low, perhaps Walker shouldn't brag so much about the number of employed since that's really a factor of there simply being more people in the state. Most states can boast of having record numbers in the workforce unless they're somehow losing population.

Although the governor and his team would like you to believe that Wisconsin is going gangbusters because of "bold" policies like destroying unions, making state workers and teachers take pay cuts and trimming a few dollars here and there off some taxes, the truth is that Wisconsin isn't doing all that great.

In fact, you have to wonder if all these "conquer and divide" tactics have been worth it as the state slides further down those lists that compare the states, not surprising since our infrastructure keeps crumbling and environmental protections are eroding in the meantime.

The Economic Policy Institute, for instance, recently released a study in which it compared Wisconsin's and Minnesota's economies. Comparing the two states has long been a favorite topic of economists because of their remarkable similarities that date back to when the Norwegians and Germans began settling in the upper Midwest in the early- to mid-1800s.

Until recent years, the economies of the two states were mirror images of each other. Employment, school and university systems, business creation and many other comparisons were typically neck-and-neck.

No more. Politicians in the two states decided to take different tacks and none more so than when Republican Scott Walker became governor of Wisconsin and Democrat Mark Dayton, the department store heir, became governor of Minnesota.

While conservative Republicans in the Legislature joined Walker's crusade to cut aid to public education, refuse to even consider raising the minimum wage and attack unions as villains, Minnesota, even its Republicans, was raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, spending more on infrastructure and education and, yes, increasing taxes on those in the upper income brackets.

According to the Policy Institute, the results haven't even been close. Minnesota has experienced stronger job growth, increased worker wages, more access to health insurance and reductions in the state's poverty rates.

Yes, it's a tale of two states that offers lessons to learn.

But Walker's years as governor, and, yes, his years as Milwaukee County executive, have always been aimed at his own political fortunes, not those of his constituents.

The revelation last week that one of the governor's biggest campaign contributors had landed a lucrative contract from the Foxconn developers was but one more example of how this career politician continues to feather his own nest. Engineering favors for friends and contributors has long been part of his tenure in office.

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He has skirted the law on campaign donations, coordinating personal campaigns with outside groups and winding up under investigation in numerous instances. Some of his closest aides have been convicted.

We're supposed to forget all that and give him a pat on the back for Wisconsin's "prosperity" that he supposedly engineered all by himself.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Emily Mills wrote recently that the governor needs to look "west to Minnesota" to see how it's done.

I'd say the voters of Wisconsin need to look west to Minnesota and ask why we can't do the same.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. 

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Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.