Historian John Gurda does not think much of Scott Walker. Gurda, the authority on Milwaukee history, concludes that Walker is an “ideological outlier” that “richly deserves to be recalled.”
The piece seemed out-of-character for Gurda, whose columns usually focus on the connection between Milwaukee’s history and current events. However, I suppose the recall election and the divisions that preceded it are historical events that merit the perspective of Milwaukee’s premier historian.
I found Gurda’s discussion of Walker’s time as County Executive to best illustrate the contrasting perspectives on the Governor’s (all but) elimination of public-sector collective bargaining. Gurda writes:
“As Milwaukee County’s chief executive, Walker showed little interest in the details of service delivery and even less in the nuances of public policy.”
If you accept that, you likely view Walker’s rollback of collective bargaining as a punitive attack on those delivering government services. Similarly, you likely see cuts to shared revenue and reductions in school aids as an attempt to defund the public sector, not balance the state budget.
However, I think there is a case to made that Walker’s reforms were shaped by his experience in county government, not his disinterest. As Walker has stated, he saw first-hand the way collective bargaining can limit the actions of a public sector executive.
Now, local government needs checks and balances; but that is why school boards, city councils, and county boards are democratically elected.
As I have written before, effective local government plays a crucial role in establishing the quality of life of a place. Public investment in local government is a necessary precursor to effectiveness. However, so is a structure that makes local government efficient, and sustainable.
So is Walker an outlier or a visionary when it comes to local government? I imagine that one will be debated for a long while.
Did the Governor overreach in his rollbacks of collective bargaining? That we should know by tomorrow night.