In 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker(R) served as the embodiment of the state by state battle to balance budgets and the best symbol of the struggle between the two political parties about how best to meet those fiscal challenges. His first year will extend well into his second year, quite likely culminating in a recall election to remove him from office.
He has dominated the political debate on both sides. Defining the issues. He is cited by both Democrats and Republicans as the best of example of what is wrong, or what is right with a conservative approach to government. Although they will never admit it, many Democratic governors are different from Walker only in a matter of degrees.
Nearly every governor, regardless of party, began the year saying the current path of expensive pension and benefit packages for public employees is unsustainable. The way the issue exploded in Wisconsin is as much a function of the legal and legislative tools at Walker’s disposal as it is about the specific route he chose to take.
This is why Governors Journal has selected Scott Walker as the 2011 Governor of the Year.
It is not accurate to say Scott Walker launched an unannounced attack on public employees. For decades, state and local government leaders have complained about government employee unions: Collective bargaining, growing benefit packages, under-funded pension systems and binding arbitration. The warning siren had howled.
As Idaho Governor Butch Otter(R) observed in one interview this year, the changes that occurred in 2011 could not have happened in the absence of the national economic collapse. In politics, things change when a crisis necessitates change.
That was the case this year in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Years of complaining about the problem led to action in state after state. Walker was faced with a larger crisis in Wisconsin, in large part, because the unions fighting his proposal to curtail collective bargaining rights had the help of a small group of Senate Democrats who fled the state, preventing a vote, for several weeks, as pro-union forces took over the Capitol in support.
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