The former governor reflects and responds to his critics
By JOHNNY KAMPIS | Fall 2021
This is the 10th anniversary year of Act 10, the bill that will forever define Scott Walker. And his opponents. The impact of the legislation 10 years later is enormous when measured in savings to taxpayers alone: $13 billion saved by state and local governments, according to the MacIver Institute.
Brett Healy, MacIver president, calls Act 10 “the most successful public policy proposal in the state’s history.”
Media took sides
The anniversary stories that began pouring out of legacy media outlets in February and March mostly reflected, somberly, on the view of those revulsed by, rather than grateful for, Act 10. These looks back reflected the views of much of the media itself toward Walker and his bill, indulging as they were to those who used former Gov. Walker’s name interchangeably with “dictator” and “fascist.”
At the time, John Gurda, a lefty Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist, felt free to shed any guise of objectivity and essentially campaigned for Walker’s recall. “He (Walker) threw the first punch, and the second, and the fifth; everyone else simply reacted,” Gurda wrote. “Describing himself as ‘unintimidated’ is like praising the playground bully for his courage.”
Mike Konopacki, who describes himself as a “labor cartoonist” in Madison, recalled with pride being one of the first to publicly compare Walker to Adolf Hitler.
To its credit, The New York Times, long a biased Walker antagonist, gave the former governor, now president of the nonprofit Young America’s Foundation, a chance in August to offer his opinion of what Act 10 meant to Wisconsin.
“The true test of our reforms is that they are still working — a decade after we enacted them,” Walker wrote. “If common-sense conservative ideas can work in a blue state like Wisconsin, they can work anywhere.”
The Badger Institute offered him the same opportunity in early September, having been a chronicler of Act 10 as a proponent of free and not unionized markets.
Act 10 mandated that many public-sector employees would have to pay a portion of their pensions and health insurance premiums. It also allowed school district and local government officials to make staffing decisions based on merit, not seniority.
A major power shift
Eliminating collective bargaining, Walker told us, took back the political power of “unelected union bureaucrats” to dictate how taxpayer resources would be used and gave it back to taxpayers and their elected representatives at the state and local level.
Unions, he says, were more concerned about protecting the pensions of the old membership than in the future benefits for new members. “They weren’t fighting for the little guy. They were fighting for themselves.”
Among the proudest accomplishments in Act 10, Walker told us, was the fight for schoolchildren. Act 10 was about a lot more than money. It made teaching a meritocracy again, he says. “They can put the best and the brightest in the classrooms and keep them there.”
Threatened with the potential loss of millions of dollars in union dues, public union leaders with the backing of national union organizations unleashed ugly protests – invariably referred to as peaceful and orderly in the press – that went on for months and triggered the recall effort. The attacks on the governor were visceral and felt personal.
Walker told the Badger Institute he “knew there would be pushback, but we never expected it to be as intense as it was.”
“The union pushback was like nothing we had ever seen before in Wisconsin,” Healy told the Badger Institute. “The behavior we saw at the Capitol and even representatives’ residences crossed the line. I think it jarred regular Wisconsinites awake. They felt like we couldn’t let Big Labor act like that and win.”
A review by the Institute for Reforming Government says that 10 years after “Wisconsin’s policy changes, including those made within Act 10, continue to be something that other states should review when analyzing how to address an economic and fiscal crisis.”
Johnny Kampis is a freelance writer who has been published on Fox News, in The New York Times and Time and serves on the Federal Communications Commission’s consumer advisory committee. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.