Why Scott Walker won’t win


A lot can happen in 18 months. But one thing unlikely to take place is Scott Walker mounting a winning campaign for governor. Everything I’ve heard about Walker from state politicos is that he’s a formidable candidate in many ways. He’s a skilled fundraiser and networker and is extremely ambitious and hardworking. However, his performance as Milwaukee County Executive is likely too big of a black eye to overcome.

Nearly four months ago the state took over control of key services run by Milwaukee County, citing a re-occurring pattern of inefficiency and incompetence by the county government. While some on the right claimed the move was politically motivated, the state nevertheless had some good statistics lined up to defend its decision:

• The county’s poor performance in the programs includes answering only 5% of the hundreds of thousands of phone calls to the county’s public assistance call center every month.

• The county fails to process 30% of its benefit applications within the required seven days, with some families waiting weeks or months for food or health care.

• In 2007, 60% of county decisions to deny food or health care benefits were overturned within two months. That resulted in benefit delays and forced families to go through time-consuming appeals or a second round of applications.

• The county’s high food assistance error rate means nearly one in five deserving applicants were cut off from the program in fiscal 2008.

Granted, as somebody who’s never worked in county government, I wouldn’t be surprised if these numbers are actually not as bad as they seem. Here’s the problem for Scott Walker though: to people who have never worked in county government (99% of the state) those numbers look really bad. I can already see the 5% figure in an attack ad.

Moreover, the numbers seem to mesh with Walker’s radical anti-government mantra, evidenced most prominently by his refusal to accept federal stimulus money for a county with some of the worst poverty in the country. Not that Wisconsin has a stunning record of thinking of the welfare of inner-city Milwaukee, but Walker’s brand of Republicanism is far too ideological and includes what I would consider a somewhat vulgar, Gingrich-style rejection of poverty that belongs in the South, not in Wisconsin.

I would say that Walker’s hope is based on a continuation or worsening of the recession well into 2010 and the public opinion turning against the Democrats. Stranger things have certainly happened.

Without a significant ideological shift in the state electorate, Walker will be sunk by the simple attack that he has not proven himself as an executive and has spent his career campaigning for himself and an ideology.

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