Thoughts on Wisconsin’s Governor’s Race: What Went Wrong with Gov. Walker and What to Expect from Gov. Evers

I almost made it. But I did go to sleep before the Wisconsin governor’s race was called, so I did not learn about the victory until checking my phone sometimes around 4:00 AM. So what happened, and what should we here in Wisconsin expect?

I have mixed feelings about Scott Walker and the legacy of his tenure. I voted for him more than once, attended his first inaugural, and spent a lot of time defending his policies to skeptics. I do not regret that support. Walker’s first budget was a needed correction to decades of poor budgeting practices at the state level. Walker’s public indifference to cultural issues was refreshing and made me hopeful for a substantive tenure. Even Act 10 held promise as a public management revolution. Walker’s start was, in my opinion, promising. What happened? Here, in no particular order, are the missteps that sunk Walker (in my opinion of course):

  • The 250,000 jobs promise. It was just dumb. It was a gimmick rooted in rudimentary messaging strategy rather than serious leadership.
  • The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). This was a promising idea executed poorly. And by poorly I mean not at all; I see little evidence that serious thought was given to how this would work in practice.
  • Turning down federal healthcare dollars and stopping the high-speed rail project revealed a leader who favored political calculus over cost-benefit analysis. Federalism does not mean the absence of a fiscal and regulatory relationship with other layers of government.
  • Disjointed education policy. Rather than a clear vision we saw bits and pieces that never really came together. I could spend a lot of time on this, but changing state tests, never separating education spending from tax relief, and the shift away from equity evidenced by favoring general categorical aid increases over revenue limit increases are the biggest trouble spots.
  • Starving local government. The fiscal stress facing municipal government due to the shared revenue freeze is inconsistent with what I thought would happen when a former county executive who favors local control took office. It placed local government in constant react mode. I really thought Walker would empower rather than hinder local government leaders.
  • Punitive higher-ed policy. I am probably too close to this one, but Walker’s statements and funding decisions in higher-ed show a lack of understanding (or concern) of how faculty labor markets work. Any potential to enact needed reforms in the UW system were undermined by punitive actions.
  • Another case of a potentially good thing undermined when political calculus overtook cost-benefit analysis.
  • Lack of post-Act 10 follow up.. Act 10 was tough, but had (and still has potential) to improve public management in the state. But where was the follow up? Why are we still talking about fiscal impacts 7 seven years later? What has been done to empower local governments to make the most of their new management freedoms and responsibilities?

The common theme here is that Governor Walker did not have a second act. The execution and the follow-up were not there, and hence there was no comprehensive governing strategy evident to the public. All of these problems were magnified in the aftermath of his failed presidential bid, and the chaos of Trumpism.

So what will happen under Evers? With split control of government I am not expecting radical changes. But here are my reasonable expectations (hopes?):

  • Rather than focus on a repeal of Act 10, which is not realistic, let’s develop new supports for public managers, and new avenues for public employee empowerment (I will expand on this idea in future writing I promise!).
  • Reasonable shared revenue increases, and the return of inflation indexing to increase certainty in local government finances.
  • The implementation of Evers’ Fair Funding for our Future education funding plan. I supported this back in the day and continue to think there are good ideas here to make our K-12 funding system more logical, equitable, and impactful.
  • Throw us a bone in higher-ed! The resource environment is rough and our creative solutions are well-intentioned but are not the long-term answer.
  • Rather than talk about repealing the Milwaukee voucher program let’s make it work as part of a common Milwaukee governance reform (I have ideas, feel free to e-mail me!).
  • Engage the talent in the UW system. A plug here for UWO’s MPA program: We have expertise, ideas, and will travel!

Less specific but more important is competent management and execution of a clear vision for Wisconsin. As I said, I have confidence based on what I’ve seen, and I am hopeful.

 

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