Mordecai Lee Analyzes Governor's State Of The State

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Mordecai Lee Analyzes Governor's State Of The State

Premiere Date: 
January 24, 2014

The UW-Milwaukee governmental affairs professor talks about Gov. Walker's address.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

And the last word on the State of the State tonight goes to none other than political analyst, Mordecai Lee, professor of governmental affairs at UW-Milwaukee. Mordecai, thanks for being here.

Mordecai Lee:

Thanks for inviting me.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, because you are that professor of governmental affairs, we always ask you and so I will again, how would you grade Governor Walker's address?

Mordecai Lee:

I'd give him an A or an A-minus. I thought it was very well done in the sense that he was closing the circle from his original campaign for governor. He's saying, this is my last State of the State for my term that I was elected to. Here's what I've accomplished and here's how it lines up with my promises. Now, presumably 47% of Wisconsinites are going to like it, 47% are not going to like it, but it's winning that middle 5% that's going to make all the difference in the world.

Frederica Freyberg:

Did you get a sense that his demeanor, not to mention his message, which was able to be more robust, of course, looking back on his tenure, but did you notice that the demeanor has moderated since he first began?

Mordecai Lee:

Well, he's not the world's best public speaker, but he's a very good public speaker. He's smooth. He doesn't get rattled easily. I especially noticed that his performance really went up a notch at the end. He had a -- where he said something like, now is the time, and then he repeated it three or four times. He was very animated, very emphatic. I think that's sort of the Scott Walker for President kind of person we're going to be seeing.

Frederica Freyberg:

Yeah, absolutely. Did you get the sense at all, too, that Chris Christie’s troubles have kind of invigorated Scott Walker's camp?

Mordecai Lee:

Well, you know, I never really thought that Chris Christie was an opponent of Scott Walker. Generally speaking, when a Republican is running for president, there's a kind of a sub-primary. Who's going to be the conservative candidate? And then there's usually a moderate. And so, for example, John McCain was the moderate. Beat anybody who ran against him. But Rudy Giuliani is a moderate, got clobbered by the conservatives. I think Chris Christie would have been in sort of the Giuliani/McCain role, and I don't think he's competition for Scott Walker.

Frederica Freyberg:

How powerful are the Democrats, particularly his challenger, Mary Burke’s criticisms of the governor’s record in tax plans following his address?

Mordecai Lee:

I think it shows what an excellent politician Scott Walker is, that he didn't give her a lot of stuff to chew on. So for example, the income tax cut only goes to the lowest level of the taxpayers, the lowest rate payers, and so she can't say he's giving too much to the rich or he's disproportionately giving to the rich. He also made a point of talking about, for example, employment for the disabled. He made a point of talking about, we want unemployed people to get the benefits they deserve, but we want to help them get a job. I thought he was really trying to expand his base to show that he's not some kind of a pinched conservative type, old-fashioned type.

Frederica Freyberg:

The other thing, in keeping with that, that I thought was interesting that he did, one of the main criticisms of Scott Walker, or at least the main kind of negative talking point, is his issue with his promise of 250,000 jobs by the end of his four years. Well, he talked about that, he even said the number 250,000, and he talked about how, well, they have created 100,000. And he seemed to be able to kind of spin that to his advantage. Is that what you saw?

Mordecai Lee:

Well, sometimes when he does it, it works. Sometimes it doesn't. When he did it about the 250,000, I thought that was very adept politically. In other words, he's not running away from it. But on the other hand, when he talks about the structural deficit, it seems to me that it isn't quite jiving, because he said in the speech, we solved the structural deficit that we inherited from Doyle. In other words, that was something like $2.5 billion. But then he presents a tax cut that will leave the state with a structural deficit of about $700 million. And I don't quite understand why he can sluff off the $700 million structural deficit, but really emphasize the accomplishment of eliminating somebody else's structural deficit. I think that might be an opening that Democrats might take advantage of.

Frederica Freyberg:

That’s a good point. And yet on the other hand he also says, but by doing these tax cuts now, we will grow the economy to the point where we will obliterate any kind of structural deficit. He has it coming and going both ways.

Mordecai Lee:

Well, Frederica, that's sort of the old Laffer curve that Ronald Reagan endorsed. In other words, if you cut taxes the economy grows. It turns out that the dirty little secret of state government is that state government is not like the federal government. State governments can't impact their economy the way the federal government can impact the national economy. So it's really wrong, incorrect in terms of public finance, to say that state tax cuts promote the local economy. State government has the weight of a feather when it comes to the economy. So I think we're seeing sort of old economics and new economics, in the same way that we're seeing new conservatives versus old conservatives. Old conservatives, like Mike Ellis and Dale Schultz, care about the structural deficit. That's an old-fashioned definition of being conservative. The modern conservative, the Walker conservative, all they care about is cutting taxes regardless of the consequences.

Frederica Freyberg:

And really, in closing, what's better for a candidate than giving people money?

Mordecai Lee:

Well, I'm old enough to remember when Lee Dreyfus did it, and then three years later he had to increase the sales tax to a fifth cent, temporarily, to deal with the deficit that happened. So I'm not sure this will play out. But Scott Walker has been a very lucky politician. I suspect it's going to work for him.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Mordecai Lee, thanks a lot.

Mordecai Lee:

Thank you. 


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