You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Bold moves by new GOP governors spur a political backlash

Walker, Scott read wins as mandates

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Impeach Scott Walker? Recall Rick Scott?

Although it's highly unlikely either first-year governor will be booted from office anytime soon, both are among a list of tea party-backed Republican state leaders who are facing significant public backlash after less than four months on the job.

Online petitions to impeach the governors or redo their elections are common. Polls show that Mr. Walker, of Wisconsin, and Mr. Scott, of Florida, along with freshman GOP governors in several other states, would lose to their 2010 Democratic rivals in a do-over of the Nov. 2 elections.

"They're all trying to govern ideologically, and that's a very difficult thing to do, [politically] left or right," said John Zogby, a national pollster. "There are problems with governing on one side and appealing to a base on one side."

Emboldened by GOP successes in November's elections, the governors have pushed their boldest and most controversial legislative issues early in their tenures.

 "I don't think it's crazy [for the governors] to have interpreted the [election] results as a mandate," said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin at Madison political science professor and co-developer of Pollster.com. "The GOP was emboldened to move in ways that upset the existing rules of the game that the parties have been playing by in a number of states for a long time."

Some say the governors pushed their conservative agendas too far after misinterpreting the GOP's electoral success.

"The devil is in the details when it comes to cutting" costs, Mr. Zogby said. "Each in their own way are making cuts on the basis of what appeals to their base, but not necessarily what appeals to a majority."

Mr. Walker's high-profile standoff this winter with Democratic legislators over his push to curtail collective-bargaining rights for most state employees and public teachers was met with enormous resistance from organized labor and the general public. Thousands of opponents of the governor's plan protested daily at the state Capitol during the weeks-long dispute.

Many analysts say public blowback is a natural — and often temporary — reaction to any governor who takes strong steps to fix their states' fiscal woes.

"Scott Walker set out and did what he said he was going to do," said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist. "Anytime you shake up the status quo, there are going to be people who don't like it, and they're going to voice their opinion very loudly."

In Florida, Mr. Scott angered many residents, including some lawmakers in his own party, when he returned $2.4 billion in federal funds for building a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando. A Scott proposal to slash the budgets of publicly operated mental health hospitals also was met with widespread public disapproval.

A Quinnipiac University poll released in early April showed that 48 percent of state voters disapproved of Mr. Scott's performance during his first three months in office, compared with 35 percent who said they thought the new Republican governor was doing a good job.

"We've certainly had [Florida] governors with lower popularity ratings; it's just not usually in their first few months in office," said Aubrey Jewett, University of Central Florida political science professor. "This is normally when people have at least a little bit of a honeymoon, and he's just not gotten that."

Although Mr. Scott ran last year as a political outsider who promised to shake up state government, polls suggest his actions once in office caught some voters off guard.

"Most elections are not policy mandates because most voters are not policy voters," Mr. Jewett said. "They're looking at other things, they're looking at party, they're looking at the nature of the times, the health of the economy, and, particularly in this past election — even though it was a governor's race — it was widely perceived as a referendum on Barack Obama."

First-year Pennsylvania GOP Gov. Tom Corbett would lose a do-over election by 5 percentage points to Democrat Dan Onorato — a 14-point swing compared with their November contest — according to results of a Public Policy Polling survey released last week.

Much of the public ire is fueled by Mr. Corbett's proposed education-related budget cuts, including a 50 percent reduction in support for universities.

"Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin all had extremely unpopular Democratic governors a year ago at this time — now they all have extremely unpopular Republican governors," said Public Policy Polling President Dean Debnam. "Working as the chief executive of a large Midwestern state might be one of the toughest jobs in the country right now."

Political analysts say there's plenty of time for the governors to reverse their slumping poll numbers before they face re-election in 2014. But if their unpopularity lingers into the 2012 presidential season, it would cause problems for the Republican Party's White House nominee, particularly in battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.

"Governors play a critical role organizing the party and the machinery to get out extra voters" in a presidential election year, Mr. Zogby said. "It's troublesome [for a Republican nominee] to go into state where the governor is unpopular."

© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.