The rise of the tea party and the 2010 elections were about one thing: restraining the growth of the federal government. Voters, still reeling from TARP, saw the stimulus boondoggle, the auto bailouts, and a government take-over of health care and rose up to yell, STOP. It didn’t really settle any issues; it just cauterized the wound and put the brakes on government growth. This election will center on a more philosophical debate about the relationship between government and the people. That debate began last year in Wisconsin.
In 2011, WI Gov. Scott Walker, seeking to plug a systemic budget deficit, pushed a series of reforms to address the protected status of public sector workers. They would have to contribute more to their pensions and benefits, and local officials would have greater flexibility to negotiate benefits with workers. Predictably, the public sector unions, whose officials relied on a steady stream of dues money from workers’ paychecks, went nuclear.
What ensued was an 18-month political saga to answer whether government serves the taxpayers or its public sector employees. Public sector unions wield unprecedented power in states across the country. With millions in dues from members’ paychecks, unions spend massive amounts on campaign contributions and lobbying. They are the real “third rail” of American politics. They almost never lose when they go to war.
Yet Walker and the GOP in the legislature stared them down and passed the needed reforms. The unions then spent 10s of millions to recall state Senators, elect a sympathetic Supreme Court justice and, just this year, recall Walker himself. The unions lost everywhere. Worse, public sentiment against them increased dramatically.
It was a shot heard round state capitals everywhere.
Walker and the WI GOP laid out a vision for solving the state’s continual budget problems and then stuck to those reforms. They faced angry protests and were subjected to vile smears and every weapon the left can throw at its opponents. They stood their ground and, in the end, the public sided with them.
This November, the nation will have a similar philosophical debate. Does power still reside with the people or will it be forever surrendered to government? Will we remain a nation of free entrepreneurs or become chattel dependent on government largesse? This truly will be a choice election.
And, again, the debate will revolve largely around reforms proposed by another Wisconsin politician, Paul Ryan. The attacks will be relentless. The smears will be viler than any we’ve seen. But, we must persevere and fight back. Everything is at stake.
Wisconsin started the reform revolution. Let’s end it with Wisconsin.