By Ruth Conniff
Scott Walker is dialing down his reputation as a rightwing ideologue.
This newfound moderation and recent displays of bipartisanship seem to be further steps along the path toward a presidential run in 2016.
After shoring up his financial support last month by flying out to Simi Valley, CA to give a high profile speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (sponsored by Clean Energy Fuels, a T. Boone Pickens natural gas company), and consolidating his power within the party by being elected Co-chair of the Republican Governors Association, Walker traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Obama to discuss the federal budget.
The November 2012 state and national election results made two points clear to Walker.
First, that white men espousing extreme policies that hurt the majority of the population can no longer win national elections, no matter how much money they have.
And second, that returning Republican majorities to both houses of the Wisconsin State Legislature means that he can take a back seat on conservative social issues like further restricting access to abortion, suppressing the vote by eliminating same-day voter registration, and more union-busting right to work proposals.
In recent weeks, Walker has publicly distanced himself from these policies, saying they are a distraction from his work on the 2013-2015 biennial budget. At a press conference on homeland security a couple weeks ago, Walker dodged a question about whether or not he supported four Wisconsin Right to Life initiatives by talking about his budget priorities.
"I think people want us to focus on creating more freedom and prosperity for people in the state," he said.
At a "Talk with Walker" event earlier this week, Walker also said flatly that repealing same day voter registration was both too costly as well as a distraction from his agenda.
And in response to questions about a potential Right to Work law coming to Wisconsin, Walker said, "The potential for thousands of protesters coming to the Capitol is a huge distraction and creates uncertainty for businesses."
Stopping short of promising to veto any of these proposals, Walker added, "Anything that takes away or distracts me from the five priorities I've been elected to promote, I will not support."
But as a matter of fact, his support is not required. In Wisconsin, a governor has three choices about what to do with a law that comes across their desk: Sign it, veto it (or in the case of an appropriations bill partially veto it), or completely ignore it. Absent a veto, a bill automatically becomes law after six days whether or not the Governor has signed it.
Wis. Constitution Article V. Section 10 (3) states: "Any bill not returned by the governor within 6 days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to the governor shall be law unless the legislature, by final adjournment, prevents the bill's return, in which case it shall not be law."
This frees Walker to distance himself from the more outrageous and divisive laws favored by the Wisconsin GOP, and affords him plausible deniability in any potential presidential campaign that he ever supported such initiatives. At the same time, the Tea Party extremists get their laws passed with a wink and a nod from Walker as he performs a Pontius Pilate routine over in the executive washroom.
However, labor organizers and activists will not fooled by this sleight of hand. After the last week in Michigan, they are preparing to create a very large distraction at the capitol if and when any similar right to work legislation is introduced.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.