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Posted at 9:05 AM ET, 02/23/2011

Two governors, only one ready for primetime

By Jennifer Rubin

Last night both Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) had their opportunity in the national limelight to advance their position in their fights against public-employee unions and to advance their own careers. To the surprise of many, Walker shined and Daniels did not.

In short, Daniels caved, perhaps the surest sign yet that he's not running for president or doesn't understand what conservatives expect of a presidential candidate. He told his own party to stand down on right-to-work legislation and had this to say:

"I'm not sending the state police after anybody. I'm not gonna divert a single trooper from their job of protection the Indiana public. I trust that people's consciences will bring them back to work. ... For reasons I've explained more than once I thought there was a better time and place to have this very important and legitimate issue raised."

As one very smart Republican insider put it, "I guess Mitch really isn't running." Two other Republican operatives weighed in that they, too, thought this was the end of Daniels' presidential ambitions. I wonder how all those who fawned over his CPAC speech feel now that he's essentially conceded his position to the unions. Moreover, this represents a personal flip-flop of Mitt Romneyian dimensions, given Daniels's previous statements and stance on the fiscal harm caused by public-employee unions. Katrina Trinko at the Corner comments:


Daniels may be making the wrong call in thinking that a push for right-to-work laws will risk the outcome of his education reform. Or he may not be. But it does appear that what he's doing is prioritizing one goal (education reform, with vouchers, charters schools, and teacher accountability) over another (right-to-work laws), not forgoing all conservative principles.

What is bizarre and disappointing to his admirers is his lack of understanding that he can and should fight for both.

Meanwhile, Walker rose to the occasion and improved his standing among conservatives. In forceful and composed remarks, he made clear he isn't backing down. He started graciously:

Wisconsin is showing the rest of the country how to have a passionate, yet civil debate about our finances. That's a very Midwestern trait and something we should be proud of. I pray, however, that this civility will continue as people pour into our state from all across America.

First, let me be clear: I have great respect for those who have chosen a career in government. I really do.

In 1985, when I was a high school junior in the small town of Delavan, I was inspired to pursue public service after I attended the American Legion's Badger Boys State program. The military veterans and educators who put on that week-long event showed the honor in serving others.

Tonight, I thank the 300,000-plus state and local government employees who showed up for work today and did their jobs well. We appreciate it. If you take only one message away tonight, it's that we all respect the work that you do.

But he made clear he was standing firm and why half-measures were not enough:

The legislation I've put forward is about one thing. It's about balancing our budget now -- and in the future. Wisconsin faces a 137 million dollar deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year and a 3.6 billion dollar deficit for the upcoming budget.

Our bill is about protecting the hardworking taxpayer. It's about Wisconsin families trying to make ends meet and help their children. . . .

Our measure asks for a 5.8% contribution to the pension and a 12.6% contribution for the health insurance premium. Both are well below the national average.

And this is just one part of our comprehensive plan to balance the state's 3.6 billion dollar budget deficit.

Now, some have questioned why we have to reform collective bargaining to balance the budget. The answer is simple the system is broken: it costs taxpayers serious money - particularly at the local level. As a former county official, I know that first hand.

For years, I tried to use modest changes in pension and health insurance contributions as a means of balancing our budget without massive layoffs or furloughs. On nearly every occasion, the local unions (empowered by collective bargaining agreements) told me to go ahead and layoff workers. That's not acceptable to me.

And then he came down hard on the Democrats:

As more and more protesters come in from Nevada, Chicago and elsewhere, I am not going to allow their voices to overwhelm the voices of the millions of taxpayers from across the state who think we're doing the right thing. This is a decision that Wisconsin will make.

Fundamentally, that's what we were elected to do. Make tough decisions. Whether we like the outcome or not, our democratic institutions call for us to participate. That is why I am asking the missing Senators to come back to work.

Do the job you were elected to do. You don't have to like the outcome, or even vote yes, but as part of the world's greatest democracy, you should be here, in Madison, at the Capitol.

The missing Senate Democrats must know that their failure to come to work will lead to dire consequences very soon. Failure to act on this budget repair bill means (at least) 15 hundred state employees will be laid off before the end of June. If there is no agreement by July 1st, another 5-6 thousand state workers -- as well as 5-6 thousand local government employees would be also laid off.

That is how a conservative stands tall and endears himself to the base.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 23, 2011; 9:05 AM ET
Categories:  Conservative movement  
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Next: Public employee unions: Entitled to their own views, but not their own facts

Comments

It's amazing how the governor seemingly doesn't count the state workers as taxpayers, or equal to him (a state employee who is on the taxpayer's dime albeit not union) and his "superior" class of citizens that have lived off tax breaks that has limited taxable revenue for a decade.

Posted by: index123 | February 23, 2011 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Your appreciation of Walker's pandering flattery, Ms. Rubin, has undermined your ability to see the fact that the beleaguered governor is only standing tall because the Koch's will not allow him to do otherwise.

Posted by: purzycki4 | February 23, 2011 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I just blogged the exact opposite, and clicked on this link thinking I'd find someone in agreement with me. Daniels, in fact, seems to have a better grasp of how the wheels of democracy work; he seems to understand the importance of a public debate in making profound changes in policy like this, and he's shown his practical side. You may enjoy cheering for the red-meat throwing radical, but those kinds will not win general elections nationwide. Daniels is not blinded to that fact.

Posted by: adam16 | February 23, 2011 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Adam

Where do you blog?

Your point about a public debate before major legislative changes is a good one. But what do we know about the state level publicdebate thar occurred in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio durung the last election cycle? And how about the case for federalism and the states being labratories of democracy? Perhaps a majority of voters in the formerly highly industrialized Midwest are tired of seeing new auto plants go to the Sun Belt.

Posted by: Inagua1 | February 23, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

purzycki4 -

Just curious, did Soros directly ask you to write that or did it come through Media Matters / CAP / etc?

Posted by: SCMike1 | February 23, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I don't see the Daniels flip-flop. The current bill being considered is a right to work bill affecting all Indiana workers, not just public employees. He ended collective bargaining for PEUs by executive order after his election. That is part of the irony in comparing the two--Daniels abolished CB for PEUs by the stroke of a pen and received no public attention; Walker wants to constrain CB for PEUs by legislation (as he must) and finds himself under intense scrutiny for being "dictatorial."
And I don't think there is anything wrong with prioritizing the use of political capital, and thereby deferring some hot button issues til later. Daniels has not said he would not ultimately favor right to work legislation, only that he does not want it to interfere with higher priorities. Seems to me that is the essence of governing.

Posted by: jpfred | February 23, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I don't see the Daniels flip-flop. The current bill being considered is a right to work bill affecting all Indiana workers, not just public employees. He ended collective bargaining for PEUs by executive order after his election. That is part of the irony in comparing the two--Daniels abolished CB for PEUs by the stroke of a pen and received no public attention; Walker wants to constrain CB for PEUs by legislation (as he must) and finds himself under intense scrutiny for being "dictatorial."
And I don't think there is anything wrong with prioritizing the use of political capital, and thereby deferring some hot button issues til later. Daniels has not said he would not ultimately favor right to work legislation, only that he does not want it to interfere with higher priorities. Seems to me that is the essence of governing.

Posted by: jpfred | February 23, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

So I guess Mitch Daniels stood as tall as he could and wasn't noticed. He's gotten used to that by now, surely. But it's too early for the undecided and disinterested to gauge whether he rides off into the sunset for Crippled Creek.

Posted by: aardunza | February 23, 2011 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Rubin, in light of the prank call from faux Money-Bags Right-wing extremist David Koch to crony un-American extremist Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker it proves once again what a terrible judge of character you are in regard to Walker and the more noble Indiana Governor Daniels. Your over-baked partisan and cold cynical political attitude subverts any degree of impartially or more important, any credibility! on the subject of understanding character in regards to the American public and what they seek in their democratic leaders.

Posted by: modpro1 | February 23, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Mrs. Rubin just repeats right-wing talking points without any discernible thinking process applied to the exercise.

What a waste of precious space all under the wing of the "Liberal" Washington Post.

Posted by: r_edison69 | February 23, 2011 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"Your over-baked partisan and cold cynical political attitude subverts any degree of impartially or more important, any credibility! "


In this context, the noun 'impartiality' trumps the adjective 'impartially.' But then, I'm partial to adverbs and hence hated by the Orwellians. BTW, his novel "Coming Up for Air" is his BEST regardless what the critics say. They can take it outside while I sling away in abject subjectivity.

Posted by: aardunza | February 23, 2011 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Walker talks and doesn't have to go back and explain what he really meant. Daniels seems to have to always go back over what he said to correct 'misunderstandings'.

This whole Wisconsin episode the Democrats imo are completely misreading the public. Obama should have stayed out. He sure should not have mobilized his political machine and absolutely it was a huge mistake to start bringing operatives in from OTHER states in order to influence a local issue (from point of view of the Wisconsin voters). Of course there are important national implications, but there's an unwritten rule being broken in this political struggle that both sides must only use local resources to win over the local voters. The Dems failure to understand that the national mood on public unions greedy demands for more and more from the taxpayers has shifted against them, and that their hypocritical tactics in trying to force the issue will only diminish their standing with both local W. independent voters and more importantly for 2012 national independent voters shows how out of tune they really are as we move toward the 2012 elections.

There is a pathway for an Obama re-election and so far imo he's clueless as to what it looks like.

Posted by: Otiose1 | February 23, 2011 9:54 PM | Report abuse

"...trumps the adjective 'impartially..."

Nope, no cigar. Adverb! (Though I'm partially partial, hence partially impartial, what?)

Posted by: aardunza | February 24, 2011 4:31 AM | Report abuse

Otiose, in your case it's a noun, but in mine it's soooo very much an adjective!

Posted by: aardunza | February 24, 2011 4:40 AM | Report abuse

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