Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin who is battling an effort to recall him from office, told Yahoo News that his controversial law that ended many collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees and sparked protests from labor unions and their allies one year ago is accomplishing his goal.
"You've literally had tens of millions of dollars of savings all throughout the state just by allowing, through our reforms, by allowing school districts to bid out their health insurance," he said.
"The law is working," he added in an interview with Yahoo News in which he said he was able to close a $3.6 billion budget gap without tax increases, massive layoffs, or cuts to Medicaid because of the legislation.
Yet Walker's opponents hope the law will prove to be the cause of his political demise. Labor unions and their Democratic allies gathered roughly 1 million signatures, nearly double what was required, to get a recall election on the ballot. Walker is expected to confront his mobilized opposition at the polls in May or June.
"They had more field staff and campaign offices than even some presidential campaigns have had in our state," Walker said of the petition campaign.
His campaign and allied groups have already spent more than $7 million on his effort to keep his job, but Walker expects to spend less than his opponents.
"I think I'll be woefully outspent," Walker said in explaining why he believes the recall election will be tougher to win than his 2010 race. "So, in terms of being confident, I'm cautiously optimistic. The reason for caution is if we're able to break through the money gap and get our message out to compete with all this money from out of state interests, then I think we can win."
Walker mentioned the outside special interest groups and their money no fewer than six times in the course of a 20-minute interview. Portraying his opposition as being from outside Wisconsin and without the state's interests at heart has been at the center of Walker's message since he was caught unprepared for the enormous onslaught of organized protests that descended on the state capitol in Madison last year.
In addition to trying to engender sympathy among voters for being targeted by forces outside his state, Walker is eager to sell himself as a politician with the courage of his convictions.
"Voters complain all the time that politicians don't do what what they say are going to do -- that they make campaign promises and then they
break them. Voters say all the time that elected officials don't have the courage or the guts to tackle the really tough issues," Walker said.
Walker said he sees a direct line from the protests in his state last winter to Occupy Wall Street, the 99-percent-vs.-the-1-percent movement that emerged in the summer.
"Once they were done there, they went back to their states and back to New York and the East Coast and suddenly started doing the Occupy
movement there," he said. "I don't know if the Wisconsin folks were the birthing of that, but I think the folks that came from other states and went back to those respective areas probably decided that they'd go to places like Wall Street."
Walker won't be endorsing a 2012 presidential candidate, he said, for fear that it may splinter his support among Republicans in his recall campaign.
"Being 100 percent focused on the recall and not having any margin for giving up any Republican support, there is really no benefit in me being involved in the presidential election until my recall is done," he said.
Walker echoed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's recent concerns that the conversation in the presidential campaign has drifted away from jobs and the economy in a way that could be perilous to the Republican Party chances for victory in November. He credited Mitt Romney for being the one candidate in the race that he said was trying to keep the focus on the issues that are most pressing to voters.
"It's not that it's not important," Walker said of the social issues that have become dominant in the presidential campaign. "But the
No. 1 reason there is going to be a change in the presidency is because of how people feel about the economy and to the extent that anything that distracts from that is a potential problem. The last week or two has been a little bit of that. I think Romney, more than anybody, keeps trying to get that back on track."
Walker went on to say that he thought the eventual Republican nominee will have a lot of work to do to win Wisconsin in November, but that
he expects it to be more competitive than it was in 2008, when Barack Obama won the state with 56 percent of the vote.
David Chalian is the Washington bureau chief for Yahoo News.
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- Scott Walker