By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
MISSOULA –The same night Montana held its primary elections, Wisconsin voters were busy keeping GOP Gov. Scott Walker safe from recall.
That outcome of that June 5 recall, some say, will reverberate in Montana politics, though it took place more than 1,000 miles away.
Republican U.S. House nominee Steve Daines, a Bozeman businessman, told GOP loyalists at the state convention here Friday, that he was eagerly awaiting Wisconsin results the night of June 5.
“The most exciting race that I was watching that night was that race in Wisconsin,” Daines said in his lunchtime speech.
Walker’s 2011 Act 10 ended collective bargaining for a majority of Wisconsin’s public sector workers, putting him on the electoral chopping block. His critics said the legislation was an attack on the states working families.
Walker’s 53 percent to 46 percent win made him the first U.S. governor to survive a recall.
Daines applauded the results, saying Walker’s win will embolden voters seeking government reform and spending reductions.
“They came at Gov. Walker and they missed,” Daines said of recall proponents.
House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, told Watchdog.org the failed recall encourages leaders to take special interests, including public sector unions, out of government.
“I think that the general trend of the country is that we better rein in government and we have to rein in the influence of unions,” Milburn said, adding that unions serve a purpose, but occasionally overreach — to the taxpayers’ detriment.
But the man who could make dramatic changes to the state’s relationships with public sector unions seems afraid to rock the boat.
Former U.S. House Rep. Rick Hill, the GOP’s choice to face Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock in the November contest for the governor’s mansion, told Watchdog.org Friday he has no plans to pursue Walker-like reforms when legislators come to town in January.
When asked how he would take the Walker message to the Capitol building in Helena, Hill offered up priority budgeting, or performance-based budgeting, as a solution for reducing state spending and encouraging government efficiency.
“It’s a way to sort through what’s important,” Hill said.
Even as the state suffers from a $2.5 billion pension deficit — created in part by a union-backed 2001 cost-of-living adjustment — Hill suggests Montana’s problems just aren’t that bad.
“We have challenges in Montana … but I don’t think we have anywhere near the abuse they had in Wisconsin,” the former congressman said. “I don’t think the magnitude is quite the same.”
Even if Montana’s difficulties were equivalent to the Badger State’s, Hill might be not up to the reform task, instead allowing lawmakers do the dirty work.
“The Legislature really has the final word on those negotiations,” he offered.
Still, Daines and others remain optimistic about the post-recall political landscape.
“I think it’s going to give more leaders … courage and hopefully a stronger backbone to stand for the reforms that need to be done,” Daines said.
“We have a culture of self-preservation in politics today where they will only do what’s right for the next election versus the next generation.”