A Conversation with Scott Walker
Governor Scott Walker (R-WIS) is one of those rare politicians who is pragmatic, honest, and actually keeps his campaign promises. Prior to his election, Wisconsin faced a $3.6 billion dollar budget deficit, an unemployment rate of 7.8%, and a 27% increase in property taxes. Under his leadership, Wisconsin now enjoys a $342 million budget surplus, a decline in property taxes, and an unemployment rate of 6.7%. He survived a recall election, winning with a higher percentage of the vote than the original election. American Thinker had the privilege of interviewing Governor Walker about his recent book, Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge, as well as other issues.
American Thinker: You commented that you think the next President should be a governor. Please explain.
Governor Scott Walker: I was asked who my ideal candidate would be and I answered a current or former governor. That does not mean someone else couldn't, like Paul Ryan, who in my opinion has the same sense of reforms as many governors.
AT: Many are really upset with Congressman Ryan for what he did with the military retirement budget cuts. Don't you think the cuts should have been excluded from the budget package?
SW: I think you are probably right about that one.
AT: Would you say Governors have some executive experience?
SW: Yes, there are many similarities between a governor and a president. We have cabinets, know how to run things, and are accountable in getting things done. I also think, specifically with Republicans, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, choosing a governor is a compelling counter argument. Republican governors are tested reformers who are outside the Washington establishment versus someone who has spent most of her political life inside Washington.
AT: Do you plan on running in 2014 or 2016?
SW: I do, in 2014, for governor. I will make the official announcement in the spring. Regarding running for president, while I am flattered that a lot of people have mentioned me as a candidate, there is a part of me reluctant to do it. Mainly because the people of my state have gone through a lot over the last couple of years and I want to devote all my attention to being Governor of Wisconsin. For 2016, I have not made up my mind yet.
AT: Before 2008 many of our Presidents were governors. Yet, during the 2008 campaign questions were asked about the foreign policy experiences of governors. How does a Republican governor overcome that stigma?
SW: Governors should be defined not just by what they do and say, but who they surround themselves with, making sure to have the smartest person for a particular task or to head a specific agency. They should be judged on that basis and who they take advice from. When I ran for governor, I did not announce who would be placed in a certain position, but I did have groups of people who were key advisors. This can be exemplified with the mistakes of President Obama. He has a cabinet that is overwhelmingly filled with lawyers and activists versus those with individual expertise in their area. The president has based his decisions, whether for the military, foreign policy, or Obamacare, on the political realm. Finally, not so much for Hillary Clinton, but for those in Congress, just because someone makes a lot of trips and speeches does not necessarily make them an expert on foreign policy.
AT: You spoke to former Secretary of State, George Schultz, and went to China. Can you give any tidbits?
SW: Last September another governor and I were one of the first to be invited as part of a trade mission to visit Xi Jin Ping in China. This was only a few days after Secretary of State John Kerry had seen him. What is interesting is that in different parts of the world governors are seen as just as important, if not more so, as some Federal officials. I also went to Japan for trade reasons and had stopped off at Stanford University where I gave a speech. I visited with Schultz there and discussed with him the hot button issue of that time, Syria. He told me that when he was a WWII Marine he was given a firearm and was told 'this is going to be your best friend. The most important thing to remember is that you don't ever point the firearm at someone unless you are prepared to shoot.' I thought what an insightful comment, since he completely explained what was wrong with Obama's Syrian policy in a short story. This administration drew a red line, but was never prepared to shoot.
AT: In your book you refer to President Reagan taking on the air traffic controllers. What lessons did you draw from it?
SW: Besides taking on the Unions there was another impact. I would argue that when Reagan fired the air traffic controllers it was a message sent across the globe. The Russians looked at what he did and realized he was serious about what he said. Our allies knew where he stood and our adversaries realized he was not someone to mess around with, unlike this president.
AT: What makes a good leader?
SW: What we need to do is to think more about the next generation than we do about the next election. What people are starved for is real leadership. Republicans do not have to move more to the center to win key states like mine. The lesson to be learned is that those in the center want candidates who will lead and stick their neck out. A good leader has to fix things but also communicate to the people they represent what they are doing and why they are doing it.
AT: A great quote from your book, "Washington measures success by how many people are dependent on government. I measure by how many people are no longer dependent." Please explain.
SW: I said this in the book because I was frustrated that we lost an opportunity to win the presidential election, but also to define to the American people what mattered. We need a message. When I became governor I took the attitude that success needs to be measured by how many people will get off unemployment. Not that we kicked them off to the curb, but because we empowered them to control their own life and destiny. We as Republicans need to show Americans how our ideas will lead them to a better life that is not controlled by government.
AT: How do we counter the Progressive argument?
SW: We need to win the fairness battle. You see how New York Mayor de Blasio and the President are trying to shift to an income inequality debate. We need to counter that by talking about who is in charge of the government: is it the union bosses and special interests or the taxpayers?
AT: Is that how you won the recall election?
SW: We won by explaining to the people in real relative terms why we were on their side. The winning combination for a Republican is to mix logic with the emotion of the heart. For example, I explained to my constituents how, before I became governor, a teacher was laid off even though she was chosen as the outstanding teacher of the year. She was fired because she was the last hired so the first fired under the then collective bargaining system. We explained how we changed that with our reforms.
AT: Can you give an example of how as governor you decreased people's dependency on government?
SW: If people want food stamps a person has to be either working part time or enrolled in one of my employment training programs. Unless someone has a permanent disability where they are physically unable to get a job they need to get in the game. Writing a check and keeping them dependent on the government forever is not showing real compassion. We are the ones who really care about people by helping them get a skill for a job.
AT: In your book you discuss how Romney made a mistake in saying the poor have a safety net?
SW: His implication was let's not worry about them because they have a safety net. This is a total disconnect from what Reagan said in his convention acceptance speech, that we want to lift you out of poverty and not leave you behind. In other words, we want to help people but not with a blank check.
AT: Is Obamacare an utter disaster?
SW: Totally. It's a disaster philosophically and practically. An utter failure: People could not keep their health insurance, it is not affordable, it did not lower states' Medicaid costs, and premiums increased. About the only thing I agree with is that we can't go back to the old system. We need a patient-driven system where someone has a choice to get it from their employer or individually. If they leave their job they do not lose their health insurance and can buy it across state lines. Today, most people know about their cell phone plan better than their healthcare plan. People need to make their own decisions on what is best for them and their family.
AT: Playing Devil's Advocate, some have said you have embraced the exchanges. Is that true?
SW: What I did is something unique. There was such a high percentage of coverage under Medicaid, which was about 200% above the poverty line, before I became governor. What I implemented is to cover anyone in my state that has fallen, for the first time, into poverty. For those above the poverty line I moved them off of Medicaid and into the marketplace. This currently means they will go into the Federal exchanges. Unfortunately, right now these are my only options, but I am hoping for a better alternative.
AT: In your book you wrote in the dedication to your sons, "I want them to live in an America as great as the one I grew up in." How do we get Republicans elected to make America great again?
SW: All of us have to be on the same page. The "R" in Republican should stand for reform. We need to make our case to the grassroots with a real message on how Americans can improve their life. Specifically we should slash the marginal tax rate, put more money back in the hands of the American consumer, repeal Obamacare, replace it with a patient-driven plan, and reign in out of control government agencies. We also have to reform the way we choose a presidential candidate by condensing the amount of primary dates, reducing debates from 23 to 7, and having the convention in late June instead of September. Finally we have to convey to the American people that they need more faith in having people controlling their own lives than in government controlling them.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.