When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker threw down the gauntlet to government employee unions in February by threatening to roll back their Cadillac benefits and circumscribe collective bargaining for their members, a reactionary leftist tide of protesters swarmed the state Capitol in Madison and prompted the focusing of a sympathetic national spotlight on the plight of teachers and other government workers in the Badger State.
But three months later, it appears Walker ultimately will prevail in his attempt to carve a notch out of the public unions' power base and set Wisconsin on a course toward fiscal sanity -- a template that already is being emulated in state after state, in Flyover Country and elsewhere.
There's also a strong strain of this new "Wisconsin Idea" in the assault on federal spending in Washington, D.C., by Wisconsinites such as Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, from Janesville, Wis., and Reince Preibus, the new head of the national Republican Party and former chief of the state's GOP.
In "Is Wisconsin GOP Territory?" in the June issue of Townhall Magazine, veteran journalist Dale Buss takes a look at the many Republican victories in Wisconsin (and across the Midwest) and examines the impact these wins could have on 2012.
Is it possible the Badger State is turning red? Could we indeed see Obama lose in the home of progressivism?
Here are a couple excerpts from Dale's insightful examination of the Republican Party and Flyover Country. Get the full analysis only in the June issue of Townhall magazine.
The potential of this new movement to transform politics in the Midwest -- and by extension, in the national realm -- could be profound. Wisconsin Republicans must survive the predictable liberal backlash, including recall elections targeting some GOP state senators this summer and a limp court challenge to the law itself. But it's likely that the Left already has fired their best broadside at Wisconsin's fiscal reforms. It also seems that Walker's achievement will only gain dimension as his bill begins to generate an expected $330 million in contributions toward closing Wisconsin's $3.6 billion budget deficit without raising taxes.
"He's doing exactly what we elected him to do: make the state fiscally responsible and try to make Wisconsin more attractive for business," said Diane Hendricks, owner of ABC Supply, a $4 billion building-materials business headquartered in Beloit, Wis., and an important backer of the governor.
And in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and even in New York and Massachusetts, state government leaders, mostly Republicans, are heading at their own various paces in Wisconsin's fiscal direction. "For government employee unions, the handwriting is on the wall -- that's why they're fighting as strenuously as they are," said Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy for the Mackinac Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank based in Midland, Mich. "Taxpayers are just unwilling or unable to foot ever-higher salary and benefits costs for public servants."
In some ways, the latest drama is typical of how politics have lurched back and forth over the decades in Wisconsin and of how ideas and movements forged in the land of beer, cheese and the Green Bay Packers often end up comprising a vanguard for the rest of America. ...
Most handicappers believe that next fall and for Walker's reelection bid in 2014 Wisconsin will re-assume its recent role as the flimsiest electoral bet in the country. Wisconsin leads all 50 states in the most presidential outcomes (seven) decided by less than five percentage points since 1968.
"Wisconsin is not a red state," Walker said to reporters in March. "It's not a blue state. In many ways, it's a purple state. And it's divided on these issues." Ditto for at least four other Midwestern states -- Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- where the GOP now rules the governor's office and both legislative houses after the 2010 elections.
In fact, the next telling electoral event is scheduled not for Wisconsin but for the Buckeye State, an even more important swing territory in national politics -- with 20 electoral votes compared with Wisconsin's 10. Democrats and Big Labor are plotting a November referendum to reverse Gov. Kasich's public worker collective bargaining reforms. Polls right now suggest they have a shot at overturning the law.
"Big Labor is marching in lockstep, but supporters of the law aren't as well-organized and haven't figured out how to proceed," said Matt Mayer, president of the Buckeye Institute, a Columbus-based conservative think tank. It's easy for "the heavily incented to get unified," he observed, while "those paying the distributed costs at the marginal level -- it's harder to get them moving forward."
But like Gov. Walker in Wisconsin, Gov. Kasich in Ohio believes the case for fiscal sanity will carry the day -- this fall and again in 2012.
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