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Policy: Labor

Scott Walker has already won -- on labor union reform

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Politics,Opinion,Philip Klein,Columnists,Labor unions,Labor,Wisconsin,Campaigns,Scott Walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will have to wait until November to find out if he'll be elected to a second term in office. But in an important respect, Walker has already won.

However long he governs, Walker's time as governor will be known for the union reforms he put in place. That's what caused pro-union protesters to swarm Madison, made Democratic legislators flee the state in a failed effort to stop him, and triggered ill-fated recall efforts against him and other Republican lawmakers. Yet as the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, the issue is not a defining one in his re-election battle.

As the Journal explained, Walker's expected Democratic challenger Mary Burke "largely steers clear of the 2011 law championed by Mr. Walker." The article noted that, "As Democrats see it, there is no realistic path to victory over Mr. Walker in November by building a campaign around restoring Wisconsin's public-employee unions to their former status. That fight has been fought — and lost, many Democrats said. Mr. Walker won a recall election in 2012 that was largely a referendum on his tussles with the unions."

On the campaign trail, the Journal said, Burke "doesn't say she would repeal the law, called Act 10. Nor does she favor lifting the requirements that many public employees contribute more to health and pension benefits."

One of the biggest question marks surrounding Walker's reforms when he signed them was whether they would survive in a Democratic-leaning state once he left office one day. Sure, if Burke is elected, she may take aim at parts of the law (such returning more collective bargaining power to unions). But rhetoric of repealing the entire law has been tossed aside. That alone is a major victory for Walker.

When I spoke with Walker in March, he emphasized that Republicans would have more luck limiting the size of government if they would focus on implementing successful reforms, which are more sustainable than mere cuts. Wisconsin is a good example of why.

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