On Jan. 1, Journal Sentinel colunmnist and respected local historian John Gurda wrote a column for the Sunday paper headlined: “Beware Faux Mandates: Other Politicians Through History Have Mistaken Election for Mandate.”
I can’t get that column out of my mind these days. Because it was so prophetic … and so right.
Scott Walker is skating rather blithely on the same thin ice as Ryan. He defeated Tom Barrett 52% to 47% in November. That’s a five-point spread – decisive, but hardly a landslide.
Walker has to live – and govern – with the knowledge that nearly half the state’s voters don’t want him in the executive mansion, and that some of his loyal supporters disagree sharply with his opposition to high-speed rail.
True humility in his situation might suggest a conciliatory, consensus-building approach, but Walker has plunged ahead with the spotless conscience of the utterly convinced, a man forever untroubled by shades of gray. Acting for all the world as if he had a mandate, the governor-elect who won’t even hold office until tomorrow has already scuttled the high-speed rail project and cowed the Legislature into leaving the state employees’ labor contract on the table.
So, I ask: Where is the mandate? Where is undeniable support for making the sweeping changes Walker has already led since being elected, especially the union-busting legislation he is pushing through now?
If Walker had beaten Barrett 60-40%, or even 55-45%, that might be another story. But we are talking about five percentage points here — a closer race than many, including me, predicted. Five points. I ask again, where is the mandate?
Of course, Walker has strong support from his base on his so-called “budget repair bill.” The people who love Scott Walker love that he is out to essentially put an end to collective bargaining and, in turn, public sector unions. That much is clear.
But just how many people is that, exactly? Fifty percent of the state? Less? What about the rest of us? What about the tens of thousands of protesters who are showing up in Madison day after day to fight against this legislation (including Saturday)? Do their voices count here? Does my voice count?
Now, I’m not blind to the fact that, on the whole, there was a historic Republican wave in Wisconsin in the November elections. The governorship, the state legislature, a U.S. Senate seat and several Congressional races all turned over toward Republicans. I get that, although I argue this “throw the bums out” mentality will be the norm, not the excpection, moving forward in state and national politics, including 2014.
That said, even the 2010 election was no mandate, certainly not Walker’s disappointing showing against Barrett. I just wish Walker would stop treating it like one and, as Gurda writes, quit plunging “ahead with the spotless conscience of the utterly convinced, a man forever untroubled by shades of gray.”
Walker needs to compromise on the collective bargaining issue, as unlikely (impossible) as that is.
But don’t take my word for it — listen to the more than one million people who voted for Barrett … and the countless others who may not have voted in November but, if the election were held today, would run to the polls to sweep Walker from office.