HORTON: What Arkansas should learn from Wisconsin

By   /   June 7, 2012  /   No Comments

By Nic Horton | The Arkansas Project

Nicholas Horton

LITTLE ROCK — Well, it’s over.

After months of protests, stump speeches, presidential drama and an onslaught of union-funded ads, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has become the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election — and he won fairly decisively.

How on earth did he do it? By slaughtering the sacred cows.

Now, by slaughtering, what I really mean is putting them on a diet.  And by sacred cows, of course, we mean taxpayer-funded benefits for Wisconsin public union members.

But really, how did he do it? How did he survive? All we ever hear from liberals and the media is that voters won’t support radical reforms and that entitlements are untouchable. We can now see that, at least in Wisconsin, this is untrue. Can these types of reforms work in other states or will voters revolt?

Arkansas faces a Medicaid crisis. Public officials will have tough choices to make in the coming months. Conservatives should be preparing themselves for a fight. The scare tactics have started, and they will continue.

But facts are stubborn things, and Arkansas can avoid the California-lamity if Arkansas conservatives follow Walker’s lead. Here are a few guidelines that Arkansas legislators, and legislators everywhere, should live by:

1. Stand Your Ground: Voters Like Principles. Walker won the 2010 gubernatorial election, because he promised to fix the state’s budget crisis. He took office with a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall; in two years, he erased it. In fact, the state is projected to have a $154 million surplus by the end of next summer.

Despite being called a radical, having the Capitol occupied by thousands of union-financed protesters, seeing opposing legislators flee the state to stall the reforms, and having millions of dollars of negative ads run against him, Walker didn’t back down and he didn’t compromise on the principles he was elected on.

This is an example that Arkansas conservative legislators should follow. There will be significant pressure from all sorts of liberal interest groups whenever real reforms start to take place, but that pressure will be far from an irresistible force. If conservatives hold their ground, voters will reward them.

2. Read my Lips: Voters Dislike Taxes. A poll released not long before Tuesday’s election showed that 72 percent of Wisconsin voters favored increasing the amount that public employees pay into their retirement and 71 percent favored increasing the amount public employees pay for their health care — which is exactly what Walker’s reforms accomplished.

Another poll showed that Wisconsinites overwhelmingly opposed tax increases to cover the bloated costs of public employee benefits. It is never a bad idea, politically speaking, to be on the side of the majority of voters in your state.

Here’s some news for Arkansas politicians: Arkansans don’t like taxes either. In today’s political climate, perhaps for the first time in our state’s history, trimming the fat is much more palatable to the majority of voters than increasing the caloric intake.

3. Make the Case: Defend Your Reforms. Post-presidency, George W. Bush has spoken often about how he felt it was beneath the office to respond to liberals’ charges that he was guilty of war crimes, calls for his impeachment, etc. In my estimation, this was one of his biggest failures as president, and it contributed greatly to the loss of public trust in his administration.

Walker’s success, administratively and politically, is due, in large part, to the arguments he has presented to the people for his reforms. The reforms have worked, and the public is more than willing to accept that — if they are told.

If conservative lawmakers in Arkansas fail to make their case for their reforms, they will fail. On the other hand, if they follow Walker’s example and take the message to the voters, they’ll win and the state will prosper.

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