The gubernatorial recall election campaign came to Grant County last week.
Gov. Scott Walker made an appearance in front of 300 people at the Town of Hazel Green farm of Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City) Friday morning.
Two nights earlier, the Walker administration’s secretary of the Department of Administration, Mike Huebsch, spoke to the Grant County Economic Development Corp. in Platteville.
The first statewide recall election in the history of Wisconsin will pit Walker against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett Tuesday in a rematch of the November 2010 election, and Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch against Democrat Mahlon Mitchell. Polls will be open statewide from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Walker told the crowd he had two reasons for taking on “the challenges” since he became governor in 2011: “One’s named Matthew; one’s named Alexander. These are my two boys … For Matthew and Alexander and every other kid in the state we want a better Wisconsin than we inherited.
“Every day someone comes up to me and says ‘we’re praying for you.’ I can’t tell you what that means to me. … Our courage is no greater than the courage I see every day.”
Walker said his goal was to “improve the quality of life for all people of the state. … We understand that this election is about the future.”
Walker took the opportunity of his speech on Tranel’s farm to link himself to farm interests and contrast his administration to what his recall opponent might do.
“Agriculture’s not just an important part of Wisconsin’s economy … but more importantly, it’s a way of life,” said Walker. “And we have to stand up for our hard-working farm families.”
Walker said his administration was going to “protect you from left-wing groups that want to shut your farm down.” He said regulations under his administration are now based on “common sense, not government red tape,” and science, not “some bureaucrat.”
Walker noted that state cheesemakers have to import 10 percent of their milk from other states. He touted the administration’s Dairy 2020 initiative to improve the state’s farm business climate.
Walker claimed the public employee collective bargaining reforms saved more than $1 billion and resulted in a decrease in property taxes for a median-value home for the first time in 12 years.
“We’ve got to have farmers and small business owners to have money in their pockets,” he said. “As long as I’m governor we’re going to put more money in your hands.”
After the speech, Walker added, “When you talk to farmers, most of them pay everything for their pension and health care; they think most of what we’ve done is pretty reasonable.”
Walker said the collective bargaining reforms also generated an estimated $154 million state surplus while avoiding the large-scale layoffs and tax increases resulting from Illinois’ budget deficits.
“Don’t you want leaders who make the tough decisions?” he said. “Big-government union bosses understand they’re going up against the hard-working taxpayers of Wisconsin.”
Walker claimed the percentage of employers who believe the state is going in the right direction grew from 10 percent in 2010 to 94 percent this year. “With your help, we’re going to create tens of thousands of new jobs by putting people back to work,” he said.
He added, however, that employers’ “number one concern is uncertainty, and that uncertainty is based on the recalls.”
Walker noted that the 2000 and 2004 presidential races were close in Wisconsin, and “after that we moved on.”
Tranel said afterward he believes support for Walker is broader than a poll based on yard signs would indicate.
“A lot of businesses are afraid to get involved, because if they put up a Walker sign they’ll alienate people,” he said. “The general public realizes that there are people that support the governor because they understand that there are big problems in this state and this country.
“Things in southwest Wisconsin aren’t as good as we’d like them to be, but there are families, there are small businesses, there are blue-collar workers who understand the election’s about the future, and it’s about dollars and cents.”
The visit of Huebsch to the Grant County Economic Development Corp.’s monthly meeting at Pioneer Lanes Wednesday was not billed as a campaign visit. But Huebsch, a former state legislator, used the opportunity to tout the Walker administration’s accomplishments in its 17 months in office.
Huebsch noted the state faced a $3.6 billion deficit at the start of 2011, and that that deficit had been eliminated without increasing personal or corporate income taxes or sales taxes, without large-scale layoffs of state employees, and without shifting dedicated funds. For the first time in almost 15 years, he said, the state will go into the 2011–13 budget cycle with a budget surplus, thanks to greater-than-expected income tax revenues.
Huebsch said the state has 65,000 employees, half of them working at UW universities. “When you have an employment base of that size, you have to take a look at salaries and benefits,” he said.
Huebsch said state employees previously paid 6 percent of their health care costs, and now pay 12 percent. State employees also now pay 5.5 percent of their salaries toward their pensions, with the state paying 5.5 percent; previously, the state paid all 11 percent of employees’ pension costs.
The collective bargaining reforms were also intended so local units of government could “work with your employees as employees, not in the collective bargaining sense” with locked-in labor contracts. The reforms give local government “the ability to make those decisions, what they’re going to do with their employees, what they’re going to do with their budgets, the services they’ll provide.”
Even with the collective bargaining reforms and other budget cuts, he added, “We understand we need the economy to grow.” He contrasted the state’s reported gain of 22,000 jobs in 2011 to the loss of 150,000 jobs between 2008 and 2010.
“We are still in a tenuous situation, and Wisconsin is not isolated,” said Huebsch. “We create an environment wherein the private sector will want to create jobs, or they won’t. Hiring and job creation is really about confidence [more] than about anything else.”
Huebsch noted the importance of a skilled workforce: “It’s not going to be just about how businesses have this tax credit or that opportunity; it has to do with whether they have skilled workers.” Workforce quality is “something that Wisconsin for a long time led in … [and] we need to get to back to.”
Huebsch said state government under Walker had a “client-based” relationship, instead of an “adversarial” relationship with businesses.
He said the Walker administration’s present and future reforms will make the state “able to withstand future recessions … set the stage for a tremendous recovery, one that will be stronger than our neighbors and the states we’ve competed against for 10 years or more.”