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Wisconsin governor will feel at home during Oklahoma City

BY TINA KORBE Published: April 8, 2012

When Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker arrives in Oklahoma City on Wednesday for a fundraiser hosted by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, he'll feel right at home: Oklahoma's largest coalition of labor activists plans to protest his appearance.

Walker is accustomed to operating with the sound of protesters in the background. When he introduced his groundbreaking budget-repair bill to the Wisconsin legislature more than a year ago, thousands of objectors descended on the Capitol to register their displeasure.

Walker had campaigned on a promise to balance the state budget, which then faced a structural deficit of more than $3 billion. To keep that promise, he asked government workers to make a 5.8 percent pension contribution (about the national average) and a 12.6 percent health insurance contribution (about half the national average). Such changes to public employee benefits entailed changes to the collective bargaining privileges of public-sector unions, as well. Those changes struck a blow to the power of union leaders — but gave greater freedom to public employees, who would no longer be forced to pay union dues, and to taxpayers.

Ultimately, Walker's budget closed the $3 billion budget hole without raising taxes.

Labor activists across the state and nation were astonished that a politician would keep his promise. They called the budget “draconian” and Walker “a dictator.” Incidentally, they didn't acquit themselves well behaviorally. They were caught with forged doctors' notes, playing hookie from work to protest. Later, they threatened a teacher who spoke up in support of Walker. They even targeted Walker's sons on Facebook.

At the time, I was a staff writer at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., and was sent with a team to Madison to cover the protests. Somehow, we lucked into an interview with Walker.

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