Be Careful What You Wish For

Be Careful What You Wish For

I walked the dog at eight o’ clock  on the evening of Tuesday June fifth. 

The neighborhood was utterly silent. No one was to be seen. No distant drone of Beltline traffic. No chatter in the park. Even the birds were quiet. If it weren’t summer, you would have thought the Packers were playing in the Super Bowl.

But it was recall election night. After millions of words and dollars, the citizens of Wisconsin were being asked to vote again on Gov. Scott Walker and, more specifically, on the altered status of public unions. So the people cleared their throats and spoke once more.  

The results clarified Scott Walker’s employment status. But also left much unsaid. Now it will be up to Governor Walker to say it.

There is an old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” Surely that rings true to union supporters who pushed for the recall. But now it becomes true for Scott Walker.  He wished for victory and got it. Now his real work starts. And many are not sure if he can do it. He has to unite and govern all the citizens of Wisconsin, and bring the madness of Madison to an end.  

The restructuring of the state’s finances and relationship with the unions was a bold move. Walker Wisconsin Ranger had the votes and didn’t explain. He banged it through. Perhaps it was the only way for such a change to be done. Change the majority of citizens eventually supported in the recall.

This would be the governor’s time to look to history. He could learn from Abraham Lincoln’s approach to the South after the Appomattox courthouse. It will teach him much about how to treat a vanquished foe. So could George Marshall’s approach when assigned the task of helping Germany and Japan rise from their ashes rather than live in devastation for decades. Scott can also learn from the French after the papers ending World War I were signed in a rail car, immediately setting in motion the forces to create World War II.

How can Scott do this?

First, he has to speak and work with those who opposed him more than those who fawn over him. He has to reach out to state workers and communicate his vision for how their jobs and livelihood will be better in the future. How they will be incented to do good, critical work for the people of the state and our communities. This means spending less time chatting with out-of-state Republicans and more time in
Wisconsin in the small towns Tommy Thompson served so well.

Walker must be able to paint a vision for all when asked, “Where are we going next?”

That answer will be the explanation Scott never gave any of us before passing the legislation that changed the landscape of Wisconsin in such a definitive, controversial and historic way. Our young governor must be willing to work with the Wisconsin folks who don’t play checkbook politics but just show up at their jobs, weary of the vitriol. The recall being counted, as every neighborhood waited in silence on Tuesday night of June fifth, was less about Scott Walker than it was a desire of citizens to have a new, more fiscally responsible state government.

But if he is smart, the governor will understand that the recall wasn’t about him. It was about changing collective bargaining. The next time the streets are quiet and the votes are being tallied, the outcome will be about him, and whether he did the much harder work of healing our state.

Because any hack can pull us apart. But it will take a statesman to bring us together.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at