Commentary on the Walker-Neumann Debate

First Impressions

walker and neumann2What a beautiful day for a debate at the Wisconsin State Fair.  The humidity was low, the sun was out, and the temperature was near perfect.  Only one problem though, Walker and Neumann held the debate in an enclosed radio studio so spectators and fans had difficulties seeing the candidates.  Even more annoying were the campaign signs that made better doors than windows.  But beyond this minor inconveniences, everything was splendid.

The tone of the debate was tepid.  Neither Walker nor Neumann took off the gloves.  Even during broadcast breaks, they were socializing while enjoying their refreshments.  Shockingly, I didn't see Sue Neumann, Mark's wife at the debate.  I thought for sure they would have set up a chair for her so she could take some of Mark's questions.

High Speed Rail

Both candidates said they would derail the High Speed Rail contrived by Governor Doyle and Madison liberals.  Walker called it a boondoggle while Neumann described it as a "long term deficit" for the people of Wisconsin.  More interestingly, Neumann said he would use the federal money intended for High Speed Rail to provide tax cuts.  (Footnote: Walker suggested a similar idea using stimulus funds early last year).

Walker was the first out of the gate on this issue sternly promising he would stop the boondoggle.  Neumann, however, proposed taking the federal funds and giving it back to the people.  Neumann scored more points on this issue.

County Spending Increases

Wagner mentioned Neumann's ad that had talked about the increased spending in Milwaukee County under Walker.  It gave both men an opportunity to explain their side.  Neumann stated that spending definitely increased under Walker's watch, while Walker disagreed.  Walker said he cut the size of government, cut the county debt, increased the county bond rating (indicating prudent fiscal management), vetoed every resolution that attempted to increase taxes, and produced a budget surplus during a time the state was registering substantial deficits.  In other words, he did everything humanly possible to reduce spending.

(Footnote comment: there are more intricacies involved in this issue that sounds wonk-ish, but Walker did a fair job simplifying the idea that he would be the strongest advocate for the taxpayer.)

Neumann was on the offensive, but Walker effectively disputed Neumann's claim.  I saw this part as a draw.


Both candidates did a good job explaining their views on taxes.  Neumann emphasized the importance of capping government spending as a way to also cut tax rates.  He stressed that looking at the "big picture" when it comes to spending is important because some believe they can cut in some places while increase spending in others.  Under a Neumann Administration, they would cut spending across the board and reduce taxes.

Walker talked about the importance of putting more money back in the pockets of taxpayers so they can participate in the economy (a slightly different approach).   Walker mentioned that while serving in the state legislature, he voted for the state's largest tax cut and would follow a similar trend as governor.

Both candidates had a draw on this issue.  They both support tax cuts and reduced government spending.


Wagner asked how each of the candidates would help bring jobs to Wisconsin.  Walker focused on cutting taxes, cutting regulatory and litigation costs, including performance pay for teachers, and lowering the costs of health care for small businesses.

Neumann agreed on getting government out of the way, but advertised his special brand of tax cuts - specifically his one time, one year moratorium on property taxes, which he claimed would be the biggest tax cut in Wisconsin history.  Walker rejected Neumann's idea calling it a simple tax shift, a tax that would be paid later.  He said "not one penny of government spending is cut under that plan."  Walker went further calling it a tax increase for those who itemize their taxes.

Walker scored higher points on this issue by critiquing Neumann's tax shifting scheme that few people would utilize.

Health Care Reform

Both candidates would authorize state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to sue the federal government for levying a tax on consumers for a forced membership into Obamacare.  Walker said he would pass a law similar to the one folks in Missouri passed in order to send a clear message to Washington that we don't want their mandate.  Neumann promoted his petition upon which he gathered $25,000 signatures delivering them to Doyle on two dollies.

Both reactions to Obamacare are primarily symbolic since federal law trumps state law.  On this issue, it appeared to be a draw between the candidates.

Illegal Immigration

Neumann stated that Arizona acted appropriately by protecting themselves against illegal immigration.  Interestingly, Neumann was in touch with someone trying to become a legal citizen, which took about 7-years.  Walker went further than Neumann by saying he would sign a law similar to Arizona's while also ensuring that illegal immigrants wouldn't gain access to public assistance, including instate tuition reimbursement.

Walker scored higher points on the immigration issue because he was willing to be more aggressive.  However, I believe he goes too far by denying instate tuition reimbursement to the children of illegal immigrants.  Both candidates hold this position, but Walker was willing to promote it.  This is just my view, but it's my bet that Walker's base appreciate his willingness to deny social services to illegal immigrants and their children.


Walker supported rewards for teachers that perform well while helping those who struggle.  He also promoted limits on teacher wage and benefits so that money can be spend in the classrooms helping students.  Walker would also remove the voucher cap for Choice Schools so area schools can compete.

Neumann, however, spoke about the schools he founded and how their test scores were above the national average.  He also criticized bureaucratic mandates from Madison that tie up the process with red tape while shutting parents out of the process.

Neumann scored higher points on this issue due to his educational background and personal involvement founding successful private schools.


Both candidates did well on the issue of taxes emphasizing its importance while stressing the necessity of spending reductions.  On many issues, they mirrored each other, but there were two disagreements in the debate.

First, Walker called out Neumann on his plan to initiate what he calls the biggest tax cut in Wisconsin history by calling it a tax shift.  Although it was a theoretical disagreement, both can't be right.

Second, they disagreed on whether Walker had increased spending in Milwaukee County at a rate greater than Doyle.  There is a big debate on this issue because Nuemann has been caught adding budget items to Walker's budget that weren't also included in Doyle's budget.  That's like comparing the times of two runners while one of them is required to run a longer distance.  Also, Neumann allocated a 3 year loan taken by Milwaukee County to the 2010 county budget without averaging the payments out for three years.  It becomes an issue of honestly you allocate a three-year loan to a one-year budget.  

On a more personal note, one issue that bothered me was Walker's emphasis on instate tuition reimbursement for the children of illegal immigrants.  It's one thing to deny illegal immigrants government services because you don't want to incentivize law breaking, but making it more difficult for innocent children, who have defied the odds and done well in school, to compete and do well in society because of what their parents years before is misguided.

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