5 Questions for Gov. Scott Walker
American Outlook sat down with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to discuss his political philosophy, the differences between being a legislator and an executive, his landmark fiscal reforms, and his views on America’s future.
AO – American Outlook has featured reform-oriented governors since its inception. This focus began when AO editor Jay Hein worked for Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson in the 1990s and more recently AO covered the landmark administration of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. You have cited these two as your gubernatorial role models. How so?
Gov. Walker – Well for starters, the three of us ride Harleys. On policy, the thing that unites us is the way we govern as conservatives. We strongly believe in personal liberty and we like power as close to the people as possible. It’s important to remember that the states created the Federal government and not the other way around!
As much as we are known for fiscal prudence—and that’s a very high priority of my administration—the Thompson/Daniels/Walker brand of conservatism is more about reform than austerity. We want less government but we want the government we have to operate at the speed of business as Mitch liked to say and to be responsive to the needs of our citizens. I used my reforms to balance the budget and pay off past due bills but Americans are dreamers who want more than cuts. We need to grow our prosperity which can only happen through society not the state.
AO – Now widening the angle view a bit, please tell us about your political philosophy.
Gov. Walker – I’m an optimist in the tradition of Ronald Reagan. I have great faith in the American people and therefore my policies are aimed at giving power back to the people. We want to empower people to make decisions for their own lives and help people take control of their own destinies. That might be someone who needs to regain their dignity by moving from welfare to work or the small businessperson who wants government to stay out the way so they can grow, create jobs, and be a positive contributor to society.
Growing up during the Depression, Reagan knew hardship and yet he maintained a vision for a better future. I was coming of age during his presidency and I resonated deeply with his optimistic view of America and Americans. Therefore, it was his optimism that framed my thinking about politics which naturally led me to conservatism and eventually Republican politics. But the order is important. My job is about helping make Wisconsin and America better not advancing some narrow political agenda.
AO – You used your first day in office to call a special legislative session on job creation and you created a national news by placing limits on the state in favor of individual liberty and private sector growth.
Gov. Walker – When I took office, we were in the middle of an economic and fiscal crisis. Too many of our people were hurting because our once strong economy was in need of repair. Vince Lombardi said that excellence demands singleness of purpose so I made job creating and companion fiscal reforms my top and persistent priorities.
Of course, we made some national news when we took action with a budget repair bill in February 2011. In contrast to our neighbor, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who raised taxes 66% to deal with their budget crisis, I knew that we needed to put more money in the hands of job creators and everyday citizens to lead our comeback. Against the backdrop of 100,000 protesters, we adopted legislation that saved Wisconsin taxpayers over $2 billion. We turned a $3.6 billion budget deficit into a $670 million surplus and helped fuel an economy producing over a quarter million new jobs.
AO – For those remaining outside capitalism’s winner circle, what can a governor do to help their cause?
Gov. Walker – The only sure route out of poverty is a job and so I am in the poverty fighting business when I help our businesses grow. Wisconsin became a leader in welfare reform because Tommy Thompson understood that intergenerational welfare sapped the dignity and hope of our poorest citizens and that they deserved better.
President Obama unfortunately doesn’t share that view so his administration has rolled back many of the welfare-to-work policies that a big number of bipartisan governors used to great effect 15 years ago. States are now given waivers to no longer be obligated to meet certain work requirements and other policies are being introduced to incentivize public assistance.
This brings us back to governing philosophy. President Obama believes that compassion is measured by how many citizens are on Food Stamps or Medicaid and I measure compassion by how many citizens escaped the welfare rolls because they got a job and can support themselves. There is an important place in our society for a safety net but it needs to be a trampoline rather than a hammock.
I am continually inspired by meeting immigrants to our state who come here to start businesses and build new lives. Not one of them ever told me that they came to America for its welfare programs but rather to earn their success. Particularly first-generation immigrants are risk-takers and their efforts have made our state much better and their families’ futures much brighter.
AO – Let’s end with a question about the Badger State’s influence on the future of the Republican Party and perhaps your own political future.
Gov. Walker – I’m very proud that the Republican Party was born in Wisconsin soil. In 1854, a few dozen opponents of slavery met at a little white school house in Ripon, Wisconsin to form a new political party based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, Abraham Lincoln became our Party’s first standard-bearer and America’s heartland values have always been at the core of our identity.
I’m quite honored to be among a group of Badgers who are helping chart the Party’s direction in the new century. Where I am building on the Midwestern policy reforms of Tommy Thompson and Mitch Daniels, my friend Paul Ryan is giving voice to the pro-growth and American opportunity vision of his political mentor, Jack Kemp. He did so powerfully as a vice presidential candidate in 2012 and even more significantly in his day-to-day policy work as former chairman of the House budget committee and now as the chair of Ways and Means.
Another contemporary of ours is Reince Priebus who launched a Growth and Opportunity Project to deepen the type of reforms being carried out by Paul and myself and widening our doors to minorities and the disadvantaged that inspired our Party’s founding.
As a Packer fan, Paul, Reince and I have our share of competitive feelings with our neighbors to the south. As a political leader, I am indebted to the influence of two Illinois Republicans: Abraham Lincoln who took a divided nation and made it one and Ronald Reagan who inspired us to think that our best days are ahead.
Photo: Gage Skidmore
Gov. Walker and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan are political allies today and coincidently began their work careers as entry level McDonald’s employees 15 miles apart in southeastern Wisconsin. Photo: @scottwalker
American Outlook editor Jay Hein and Gov. Scott Walker during a joint appearance at Eureka College’s annual Ronald Reagan Dinner. Photo Credit: Eureka
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