Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is not flashy. He's not known for soaring rhetorical flourishes. He's not "a crowd pleaser" or a "matinee idol." What he is, however, is tough—and that toughness has made him into a national conservative hero.
Upon coming into office Walker took a look at the state's finances and discovered a lot of bad news. He proposed—and got passed—a series of reforms that provoked the ire of Wisconsin's entrenched public employee unions which have been engaged in an all out war to stop him.
They've failed at every turn. They and their allies tried to intimidate the state legislature. They tried and failed to take over the state Supreme Court. They tried and failed to take over the state Senate through a series of recall elections. And now they're trying to recall Walker himself on June 5.
The polls show they're likely to fail here as well. Most all of them show Walker's support at 50 percent or more against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the same Tom Barrett whom Walker beat 52–47 in November 2010. Moreover, Walker's reforms are working.
A study by Boston's Suffolk University shows that the Walker-backed Act 10, "which curbed collective bargaining for most unionized public employees, in the whole has saved taxpayers more than $1 billion," according to WisconsinReporter.com. The website reported:
What the analysis found is that without the law, which in part requires covered public employees to contribute more to their benefits and holds wage increases to the rate of inflation, Badger State governments would have been forced to raise taxes or make deep job cuts to meet budget expenses.
It's a case of good policy also being good politics, as Walker's refusal to back down in the face of attempted intimidation have turned him into a national conservative hero and potential running mate for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
It's an unlikely turn of events for a state known for its progressive traditions. What is particularly important, however, is that both sides are spending millions of dollars to try and win the debate. For the public employee unions, this is something of a survival battle. If Walker's reforms can carry the day and be proven to work in a state like Wisconsin, it has the potential to change the topography of the national election. It's a strong argument that the state, and states like it in the industrial Midwest, could be in play in 2012, which would make Obama have to fight to defend what should already be his rather than have the ability to reach out and try and pick off GOP-leaning states like Virginia and Florida once again. It also doesn't auger well for his hopes to win in critical Ohio, where the polls show Obama's support is slipping.
The biggest lesson to come out of the race if Walker wins is that fights previously thought "unwinnable" can, in fact, be won. Republicans can take on the public employee unions and their many millions of dollars in political spending and survive, as long as they advocate good public policy that works.