Republican presidential hopeful, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addresses an economic summit hosted by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Orlando, Florida, June 2, 2015. (Steve Nesius/Reuters)
If you believe the next president of the United States should work tirelessly to outlaw abortions even in cases of rape and incest, to prohibit same-sex marriages, to end collective bargaining for municipal and state workers, to overturn Obamacare, to do little or nothing about climate change, and to entertain thoughts of invading Iraq again, then Scott Walker, the 47-year-old Governor of Wisconsin, is your man.
He is, in fact, the Tea Party's ideal candidate, and he's thinking seriously of joining the mob of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination next year.
Let no one say this man avoids a fight. In his latest gambit, he proposed to weaken tenure for professors at his state's first-class university system and to undermine the faculty's role in campus governance. "If this proposal becomes law," grumbled the New York Times editorial board, "it will damage the university, perhaps irreparably." And so it might. Who, after all, would want to teach there?
Mr. Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher, seems to revel in trouble-making. It started when he was a student at Marquette University, a Jesuit school in Milwaukee. He became a student senator and led an investigation of some of his colleagues. He called for their impeachment, and some of them resigned. He ran for student government president in 1988 and lost, by 300 votes. He dropped out of Marquette in 1990 and never returned to earn his diploma.
That same year, when he was just 22, he sought a seat in the state's lower house, and lost to a Democrat in the general election. He has not lost a competitive race since then. Three years later, he won a seat in the Assembly from his new home in Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb. He became Milwaukee's county executive in 2002 and governor in 2010.
He had been governor barely six weeks when -- living up to his promise to conservative backers that he would go "big and bold" -- he proposed legislation that became known as Act 10. "I'm just trying to balance the budget," he said. What he really was trying to do was wreck the unions by limiting their collective bargaining powers. Union leaders and members and their supporters were outraged. They poured into the stately old state capitol in Madison day after day. When Act 10 came up in the Senate, Democratic leaders were absent, having skedaddled to neighboring states, denying the Republicans a quorum.
Conservative talk radio shows, a powerful force in Wisconsin, had been gleefully covering the fight -- now it went national. After Act 10 passed (the Democrats eventually came home) and became law, Mr. Walker's angry opponents sought his recall. Walker turned to his right-wing backers, including the ubiquitous Koch brothers and a local moneybags named Mike Grebe. They raised an astonishing $37 million dollars from more than 300,000 donors and blitzed the state with TV and radio ads and mailers and flyers. He picked up 53 percent of the vote to become the first governor in history to survive a recall election.
"More than any of his potential rivals for the White House, Mr. Walker is a product of a loose network of conservative donors , think tanks and talk radio hosts who have spent years preparing the road for a politician who could successfully present their arguments for small government to a broader constituency," a lengthy investigative piece in the New York Times declared.
The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, part of that constituency, met at the Kennedy Center in Washington the other day, with columnist George Will, a board member, warming up the crowd. The consensus was that the country needs "big and bold" leadership and that Scott Walker might be just the man to deliver it. "We believe that through that collaboration (with other like-minded foundations and donors) we can help change the world," Mike Grebe said.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.