Gov. Scott Walker to Mitt Romney: Channel your inner Ronald Reagan

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, at a Monitor breakfast Thursday, also reflected on a lesson from his own bruising recall battle: Talk about the problem first, then fix it.   

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

If he could have a do-over, Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin says he would have done a lot more explaining before he pushed for austerity measures that cut the collective bargaining rights of most public unions in his state.

Governor Walker’s act-first, explain-later approach sparked public outrage, including the occupation of the state capitol, and led to a rare recall election last week that he won – but at a great cost, both in campaign spending and on the state’s psyche.  

“My problem, I was so eager to fix it, I fixed it, then talked about it,” Walker told reporters Thursday in a breakfast hosted by the Monitor.

“If I had said to people in my state, do you know – this was before the reforms – do you know that most school districts in Wisconsin have to buy their health insurance from just one company, and that costs school districts tens of millions of dollars more than it has to, I think most voters would have said, 'fix it,' ” Walker says.

Most politicians talk about problems but never fix them, he says. The  lesson, he says, is to talk about a problem, and get the public to understand it. “But don’t use that as an excuse not to ultimately fix things,” he says. “The two can go hand in hand. “

Walker arrived in Washington this week a conquering hero, having dealt a major blow to unions’ political clout. He rejects talk of a place on the Republican presidential ticket in November, instead pointing to Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee – and a fellow “cheesehead,” Walker notes – as his choice for Mitt Romney’s running mate.

“If you believe the fiscal crisis facing our country is one of our top challenges, I don’t know who’s better equipped,” Walker says.

But he also touts fellow governors as good veep material, such as Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Mitch Daniels of Indiana.

Walker had some other advice for Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee: Channel your inner Ronald Reagan, the last Republican to defeat an incumbent Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. Candidate Reagan successfully explained not only why President Carter had to go, but also exactly what he would do once in office.

“I don’t know that voters are there yet with Governor Romney,” Walker says. “It doesn’t mean he hasn’t talked about it. It doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about it.  But I think he’s got to have a simple message of not only why we need to replace the current occupant in the White House, but also why he would be better.”

Walker also suggests that Wisconsin is very much in play for Romney in November, despite the improvements in the state’s economic picture, including unemployment down to 6.7 percent. Walker attributes the state’s improved economy and fiscal picture to steps he has taken as governor.

But, he adds, if Romney thinks he can win Wisconsin just because he has an "R" next to his name, that’s not enough.

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