Yes, he’s been controversial and made some political mistakes. But the state is in good if not great shape. The voters, though, seem more focused on the former than the latter.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is seemingly in the fight of his political life—again. Elected narrowly in 2010 and 2014 (and surviving a recall election in 2012), he trails state education superintendent Tony Evers by a few points in his quest for a third gubernatorial term. One summer poll showed that just 34 percent of Wisconsin voters believe Walker deserves re-election, although his numbers have since modestly rebounded.
It is not surprising that a Republican governor of a purple state is struggling in 2018. The surprise is that Scott Walker may lose despite building a record of achievement that should be the envy of any governor, even Democratic ones in some respects. (Full disclosure: I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and I occasionally advised Walker a few years ago.)
After defeating Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in 2010, Walker inherited a free-falling state with a $2.5 trillion structural budget deficit, rising taxes, and an 8-percent unemployment rate.
Faced with a state balanced-budget requirement and soaring public employee costs, Walker pushed through the “Act 10” reforms that required public employees to contribute to their own pensions and pay at least 12.6 percent of the cost of their own health insurance premiums. Act 10 also limited collective bargaining between the public employee unions and the state—which had driven benefits to exorbitant levels—and also allowed school districts to shop around for employee health care providers. These reforms helped balance the budget while requiring little of public employees that is not already required of private sector workers.
Brian M. Riedl is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Previously, he worked for six years as chief economist to Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and as staff director of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth. Follow him on Twitter here.