Monday, May 27, 2013

Walker In Connecticut


Republicans this year asked Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, much maligned by union folk, to give the keynote address at the Prescott Bush Awards dinner in Stamford.

Mr. Walker is a grown-up, so his address was low key, interspersed with amusing vignettes. There was very little coverage of Mr. Walker’s remarks in Connecticut’s media. Most of the media accounts went for the color and passed over the discomforting  substance.

Unions were protesting outside the building, and someone was thoughtful enough to bring along the usual protest props. A photograph of one protesting group shows several union workers wearing cardboard cutout faces of the Koch brothers pulling puppet strings attached to another union worker wearing a Walker face. There are pictures galore in the Greenwich Times report: of Republican Senate leader John McKinney, who was given the Prescott Bush award this year; of Mr. Walker; of prominent Republicans in the state and of Linda McMahon, always good for a line or two in a lede story.

But one searches in vain for comprehensive coverage of Mr. Walker’s address and finds just a few scattered references here and there, studding the stories like glittering political sequins.

When readers of newspapers in the Lincoln era wanted to know what two major politicians debating each other for a Senate seat in Illinois actually said during their debates, they had only to turn to their newspapers to find there the transcribed speeches of Abe Lincoln and Steven Douglas. Republican papers polished the Lincoln oratory, and Democratic papers polished the apple for Douglas. Those days are gone, and with them a good amount of newspaper credibility – not to mention readers.

What precisely did Mr. Walker say to Republicans at the Prescott Bush Dinner?

Ameriborn News TV put up the speech here.  And so while Mr. Walker’s address is accessible, the substance of the address has not been sufficiently reported in Connecticut’s print media.

Republicans, Mr. Walker said to the sea of Republican faces in his audience, have reason to be optimistic. Republicans now control governor’s offices in 30 states. This was not always the case: “A lot of those states in 2010 were pretty blue. In fact, in my case, four years ago when I thought about running for governor and announced in April of 2009, everything in our state was controlled by Democrats: both Houses of the legislature, the governor, the lieutenant governor, both U.S. Senator’s and the majority members of the House of representatives.”

Surely Republicans in the audience, if not union members in the streets outside, could well appreciate the parallel circumstances. Connecticut has been drifting in the direction of a one party state for years, a fait accompli celebrated by Democrats four years ago when then Mayor of Stamford Dan Malloy -- Dannel Malloy, since becoming governor -- won his contest against Republican contender Tom Foley, who lost to Mr. Malloy by the thinnest of margins. Currently there are 52 Republicans and 99 Democrats in the State House and 14 Republicans and 22 Democrats in the State Senate. Democrats have controlled the Senate since 1996 and the House since 1986. Following Mr. Malloy’s victory, Democrats captured all the political marbles. As a practical political matter, this meant that Democrats in the state no longer needed to involve Republicans in their deliberations.

Upon assuming office, Mr. Malloy felt confident enough to shoo Republican leaders in the General Assembly out of the room when he and Majority Democrats were cobbling together a budget satisfactory to SEBAC, a coalition of unions authorized to negotiate contracts with the governor. Marching under the banner of “shared sacrifice,” Mr. Malloy imposed on the state the largest tax increase in its history. This increase followed the second largest tax increase in state history, the Lowell Weicker income tax of 1991. After having given a leg up to Mr. Malloy during a special session of the General Assembly called to address the state’s deepening spending problems, Republicans once again, unsurprisingly, find themselves in Coventry on current budget discussions. One party states do not need bystander parties to govern.

The Malloy-SEBAC budget was never in balance. Even worse, negotiated incremental raises in salaries and benefits for union workers amounting to about 9 percent far into the future tied the governor’s hands behind his back in future budget negotiations. His school initiatives were opposed by teacher unions that benefited from his largess, and red ink, like some impish devil, kept popping out of the budget woodwork every time Comptroller Kevin Lembo screwed the jewelers loop into his eye.

Wisconsin and Connecticut are trains passing each other in the night in different directions. Mr. Walker thought Connecticut Republicans could learn important lessons from his own bruising but ultimately successful campaign and political strategy.

“Today,” Mr. Walker continued, “everything’s flipped. Both my legislative houses are Republican. The governor, one of the U.S. Senate seats and the majority seats in the House of Representatives are Republican.”

This political miracle was received with exuberant applause from Republicans in the audience. Wisconsin showcased a breathtaking change of events. The union members prowling and scowling outside the building for the benefit of news photographers hungry for color have not yet recovered from the whiplash. John Olsten, the President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, groused, "He [Mr. Walker] surely is not what you would call a fit in the state of Connecticut.” Nor, come to think of it, are any of few Walker-like Republicans in the General Assembly; such would seem to be the message from both leading Democrats and the governor, who have successfully rendered politically impotent any Republican presumptuous enough to unfurl Mr. Malloy’s “fair share” flag by cutting spending.

Such was the case in Wisconsin before the advent of Mr. Walker. Almost in the twinkling of an eye, the stage set, the actors and the political narrative all changed.

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