While waiting for my scheduled interview with Scott Walker, I tried recounting the more important questions in my head. But as I began to reflect, that pesky receptionist kept interrupting my train of thought. Who are you? And where are you from? When I told her I was with El Conquistador, she gave me a curious look. You know, the sort of look when someone tilts their head to the side. She immediately asked, "What do you think about Arizona's immigration bill?"
I admit it, I was taken aback by her question. This was a question I had prepared for Walker, so I didn't expect to answer it myself. But after thinking a bit, I said, "I think we need to start by putting up a fence that actually works. And because our federal government hasn't secured our border, Arizona is taking an initiative that may result in tearing apart good Hispanic families." She seemed to agree with my sentiments, so I presumed that I had passed her test.
In just a few minutes in the waiting room, I saw a volunteer staff that Hustled. Every person I saw seemed to walk by briskly and with purpose. All of this made me wonder what Barrett's campaign office looked like. Were they young volunteers like Walker's staff? Were they politically curious like Walker's receptionist? Did they move with urgency? After all, it did take Barrett a few months to create a campaign website even after he announced his candidacy for governor. Then I thought about Republican candidate Mark Neumann and figured he probably went with an online Internet office to stay consistent with his online gubernatorial announcement months ago.After the meet and greet, Walker and I began to talk about number of things. Walker talked about how the Arizona's immigration law had overstepped state boundaries and usurped the rights of the federal government. He talked about how Wisconsin Democrats used their majority in the state legislature to pass new corporate tax law that harms businesses like Harley Davidson and Briggs and Stratton. And he talked about how Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett raised taxes by more than 4% to reach a budget surplus while he reached a surplus by streamlining efficient government. These are the things I wrote about in Part I of my interview with Walker. What we didn't talk about was Mark Neumann, Walker's Republican opponent in the governor's race.
Mark Neumann is a wealthy businessman who believes his business experience is what Wisconsin needs to get us out of our fiscal mess. When asked about Neumann, Walker seemed to hold back his punches. Perhaps it was too early in the campaign to come out swinging. But this hasn't stopped Neumann from starting an offensive. Recently, Neumann attacked Walker for an email he dispatched to his followers that accused Neumann of misleading Republican delegates.
Neumann seems to think that Walker's a dispatch was unnecessary and created only more confusion. The problem, however, is that Walker's email was correct. Dozens of Republican delegates, including some influential state leaders, had received calls from Neumann's staff pretending to be the Republican Party. When Neumann's staff learned that a delegate supported Walker, they pressed them about a recent poll that showed Neumann and Walker in a dead heat.
The idea, apparently, was to establish Neumann as a legitimate contender - an idea that ought to make a delegate hesitate before pulling the lever for Walker at the Republican convention. In two weeks, delegates will vote to endorse a candidate for governor, which requires at least 60% of the vote. Whoever wins the endorsement will receive substantial momentum going into the primary since the state party will put its entire weight behind the chosen candidate while ignoring the other.
When asked about Neumann, Walker says he does not blame him for making calls to delegates to promote his own candidacy. However, he had a problem with misleading tactics. Walker said this wasn't the first time Neumann had pulled a political stunt. In fact, a few months ago, Neumann told a reporter that Walker was running for a U.S Senate seat rather than for governor. This created somewhat of a buzz on Talk Radio and the local media, and it didn't make Neumann a house favorite among conservative talking heads.
With Florida Governor Charlie Crist changing party affiliation to independent, this has some in the Republican Party fearing that Neumann might take a similar path. Walker told El Conquistador that if Neumann changed his status to an Independent, the only thing it would guarantee is that Mayor Tom Barrett would be our next governor.
By changing to an Independent, Neumann would effectively bypass a tough primary battle and skip to the general election. This would create a three-way match up between Neumann, Walker, and Barrett. Although Walker entertained the question about Neumann going Independent, he said that both of them were smart enough not to run as a third party because electing Tom Barrett to governor would mean 4 more years of Jim Doyle's tax and spend policies.
When I told Walker that he and Neumann didn't seem to have many ideological differences, he conceded the point, but added they had different backgrounds. Walker said that Neumann had valuable business experience on his side, but if you are looking for the best candidate for governor, why not go with someone who has successfully managed a government with thousands of employees? Walker went on to say that no other candidate in the gubernatorial race has faced more challenges streamlining government like he has.
In eight years, Walker has done everything a good governor would do. He has cut Milwaukee County's debt by 10%, reduced the size of their government workforce by 36%, increased the county's bond rating, and ran a county surplus of $8.9 million while Wisconsin ran a record breaking budget deficit of $6 billion.
And the remarkable thing, Walker said, is that he did all of this while keeping the county's core programs intact. Last year, Milwaukee County Parks received a gold medal for the best parks program in the nation. He managed an airport that had a 40% growth rate while airports across the nation suffered a 3% loss. And the Milwaukee County Behavior Health Division received an award from Harvard University for their "Wrap Around" program that helps youth with diagnosable mental disorders. Walker concluded that if he can do it in Milwaukee County, then he can do it in Madison as well.