- - Thursday, March 11, 2021

Economic and fiscal crises. These were some of the challenges I faced when taking office a decade ago, and they’re similar to what many governors around the country face as we recover from the negative impact of a global pandemic. To prevail will require big ideas and bold leadership. 

In Wisconsin, we had to deal with a floundering economy and a fiscal mess. The unemployment rate had peaked at 9.3 percent in 2010, and the state lost more than 133,000 jobs during my predecessor’s final term. In addition to job losses, many other workers took significant pay cuts just to stay employed. 

With that in mind, we took immediate action calling state lawmakers into a special session on the economy. We pushed a big, bold agenda to support our state’s job creators through tax relief, workforce training, education reform, regulatory relief, access to affordable market-driven health care options and marketing for our tourist attractions. 

It worked. During our two terms in office, the unemployment rate dropped below 3% (which had been the previous low), and more people ended up working in our state than ever before. The average household income went up. Wisconsin was moving forward. 

Chief Executive Magazine listed us as a top 10 state in which to do business. That was quite a turnaround, as the same publication had our state in the bottom 10 before I took office. Our words and, more importantly, our deeds showed that Wisconsin was open for business — and that helped the workers of our state. 

Wisconsin also faced a fiscal crisis when we took office. Even after a massive influx of federal aid from that Obama/Biden “stimulus bill,” state and local governments were facing major problems. We inherited an immediate budget deficit (which required me to introduce a budget repair bill) and a $3.6 billion shortfall for the two-year state budget that started on July 1, 2011. 

Our options were bleak: We could have laid off 10,000 to 15,000 public employees. We could have cut billions from Medicaid, which supports needy families and seniors. We could have raised taxes. Or we could have tried to duct tape the problems passed on to us.  

Instead, we chose real reforms. The big government special interests reacted with hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of protesters who occupied our State Capitol. 

Fourteen Democratic state senators left the state to try and stall passage of the bill. Me, my family, members of our administration and lawmakers all received threats during this time. One threat shown to me said that they’d gut my wife like a deer. Another addressed to my wife warned her that no Wisconsin governor had ever been assassinated but that I could be the first. They even claimed to know where our children went to school.  

Ironically, none of the elected Democrats spoke out. In fact, some of the liberal politicians actually encouraged protesters to occupy the State Capitol. 

Despite the efforts to try and intimidate us, we prevailed. 

On March 11, 2011, I signed into law some of the most significant reforms in the country. After a month of massive protests with 100,000 people occupying our State Capitol, our Budget Repair Bill had become Act 10.  

Less than a year later, I became the only governor in American history to prevail in a recall election. Our common-sense conservative reforms worked — as they still are today — and the voters gave us a chance to see them through.  

Since 2011, our reforms have saved state and local governments billions of dollars. At the same time, we saved the hard-working taxpayers more than $13 billion. That’s real money. 

More important than savings, our reforms in Act 10 took power out of the hands of the big government special interests and put it back into the hands of the people and those who they elect to run their local governments. For example, schools can staff based on merit and pay based on performance. That means schools can put the best and the brightest teachers into the classroom and keep them there. 

The things we went through a decade ago, and the years since then, prove that common-sense conservative reforms work. That is why the left worked so hard to stop us. If our reforms can work in a blue state like Wisconsin, they can work anywhere in the country. 

Liberals are at it again. They are trying to intimidate conservatives like they tried to do to me. Instead of a recall, they want to cancel us. We see this particularly on college campuses, where they literally try to block the free speech rights of conservative students and speakers. Now, more than ever, we need to stand up and let our voices be heard.  

The answer for real recovery is not more big government. Instead, we need real reform. And we need the courage to fight for it. 

• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at swalker@washingtontimes.com or follow him @ScottWalker.

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