That time I ate eggs and talked about the filibuster with Scott Walker

November 25, 2013

Wisconsin Governor (and author, and eager 2016 presidential aspirant) Scott Walker was the guest at Friday's Christian Science Monitor breakfast. A few notes:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. (Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. (Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor)

1. Before he was governor, Walker was county executive. And he seems like a county executive. His style is low-key, even boring. His demeanor, at least in a meeting like this one, is that of your accountant: Sensible and reliable, but not even in the same zip code as inspirational. The energy around Walker -- on both sides -- come from what he's done rather than who he is. He likes to quote his co-author (and Washington Post columnist) Marc Thiessen's description of him as "very moderate in temperament but immoderate in policy."

2. Walker did something amazing at this breakfast. He did something I've never seen a presidential aspirant do. When asked about the gridlock and polarization in Washington, he refused to say he could bring the two parties together. Instead, he made the case for unified government. "For years, the conventional wisdom was that Americans want divided government," he said. "I think they've seen in the last few years that that's not necessarily a good thing. Instead of checks and balances you get a lot of gridlock."

3. Nor did Walker try to spin his record in Wisconsin as a model of coming together to get things done. "What we learned in Wisconsin and what many of the other battleground states, particularly in the Midwest, learned during the 2010 election, was that if you want to get big, bold reform done in your state you need a team to help you do that. So in our case everything switched from Democratic control to Republican control in 2010 and that empowered us to go out and make reforms that would've been much more difficult without those changes."

4. All this leaves Walker attempting something very unusual: Running as the candidate of polarization. His pitch isn't that he can bring the two sides together but that he can persuade the public to kick the other side out of office. "Voters think people in Washington fight for the sake of fighting," he said. "Voters don't mind fighters, but they want them to be fighting for them." Walker's new book, "Unintimidated," is meant to show the lengths he will go to to fight for voters.

5. I asked Walker about the Democrats' move to weaken the filibuster. He said: "I think in general executives, be it a governor or county executive or president, if he or she wants to be able to put people in to run portions of the government, my view, and it may surprise you, is that so long as the people are competent and ethical, deference should be given to the chief executive. Where I understand why there's a larger concern about judicial appointments is they're much more lasting. At the federal bench you're talking about lifetime appointments and those might deserve a higher standard of scrutiny."

6. "What we did was not about austerity," Walker said, referring to the decision to end collective bargaining for most of Wisconsin's public employees. "We didn't come in and cut things across the board. We wanted to initiative reform."

7. Walker got a number of questions about why he didn't go further and make Wisconsin a full-on right-to-work state. He supported doing so, he said, but didn't think it was worth the disruption and bitter fighting that would require.

8. Reporters kept pressing Walker to talk social issues. He kept demurring: "The things I focus in on are economic and fiscal issues in my state. That's what they hired me to do. To give an example outside of politics if I was hiring somebody to be the chief executive of a company and I wanted them to focus on development and sales it wouldn't bother me -- well, it would bother me, but I'd get over it -- if they were a Vikings or Bears fan but not a Packers fan so long as they didn't make my company about that." Another question on social issues led to a riff on how fighting poverty and early-childhood education could strengthen families.

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