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.
What sticks with me most from that night when the governor greeted us at the door of his residence wearing jeans and a weary smile is how committed he was to serving the entire state of Wisconsin, not just some special interest group.
“I've said all along the protesters have every right to be there, but I'm not going to let tens of thousands overload or overshadow the millions of people in Wisconsin, the taxpayers of the state, who want us to do the right thing and balance the budget,” Walker told us.
Walker clearly did “the right thing.” His changes — which also included tax incentives for job creators, regulatory relief, tort reform and new options for health savings accounts — dramatically improved the job climate in Wisconsin. The state is adding jobs at a pace to exceed Walker's goal of 250,000 new jobs in four years.
By all means, the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation and other Oklahoma labor groups should feel free to protest Walker's successful reforms. But they should be warned: In every clash with protesters, the steadfast and principled Walker comes out looking like a class act.
Korbe is an associate editor at the conservative news and commentary website, HotAir.com. She was formerly a staff writer in the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.