After appearing at a Chamber of Commerce lunch with Hugh, the Wisconsin Governor dropped by the studios of KKNT 960 in Phoenix to continue the discussion.
HH: Sitting across from me, the Governor Wisconsin, who’s not in the very cold far north. Scott Walker and I had a little Q&A in front of the Chamber of Commerce [earlier today]. Governor Walker, thanks for coming over to KKNT and continuing the conversation.
SW: Thanks for having me on, and thanks for a great interview over there at the Chamber. It was outstanding.
HH: Well, it was pretty easy after about a thousand people gave you a standing ovation. You’re kind of getting used to that, I think. And we’ll come back to some of that. But I sat down here, and there’s breaking news everywhere.
HH: Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s been charged with desertion, the Saudis are massing troops on the Yemen border. This is what you’re going to have if you decide to run for president – headlines breaking. So how do you prepare for walking into an interview when Bowe Bergdahl all of a sudden is charged with desertion?
SW: Well, every day, I’ve started with Mike Gallagher, I was going to say a “former” Marine, but you’re never a “former” Marine.
HH: Captain, two tours, Anbar Province, right?
SW: Right, a great, great guy. He’s now our national security advisor, and used to work for Senator Corker on the Foreign Affairs Committee, really super guy. Every day, he gives us great information, great briefings, and I obviously reach out to a lot of others. But there’s things happening all over the place. And as we talked about at lunch, and we’ll talk about even more here, you’ve got to be ready on multiple fronts. When I think about this desertion charge, the thing that gets me the most frustrated is this administration gave up five Taliban, five Taliban for this guy, and I can’t, I mean, logic tells you all this information that they’re bringing against the sergeant now isn’t something that just happened since then. This is stuff they knew about when they put American soldiers’ lives at risk to try and rescue him. And they gave up five Taliban leaders in return for a guy who now is going to be charged.
HH: It does to the question of judgment, Governor Walker. And earlier today, Eliana Johnson said of your campaign in National Review, “the best of times, the worst of times.” And yesterday on this program, Dave Weigel said Walker’s going to be haunted by the speech where he compared public employee unions to ISIS, and I said “He actually didn’t do that.” But nevertheless, the small becomes large, and the large becomes small. What do you think of the President’s judgment, not your judgment, but the President’s judgment as it’s evolving and unfolding?
SW: Well, the unfortunate reality is this is what happens when you put someone in office who’s never led before. He’s not listening. When you’re a governor, you’re a mayor, you’re a county executive wherever you’re at, and when you have a cabinet and you have to act on behalf of not just the people who elected you, but the whole group, the whole constituency as we talked about a little bit at lunch. You’ve got to lead, and you’ve got to listen to people who hopefully are smart or smarter than you are on any given topic. You ultimately have to make the decision. This president, unfortunately, having been a senator, a state senate, and community organizer, never led anything. And so he’s never been in a position to make those sorts of judgments. And so we’ve seen time and time again, they’re just faulty decisions, which would be one thing if it was something off on the side. But this is affecting not only American policy and American lives, but people around the world.
HH: You mentioned today, you called it “the safety issue,” not the “national security issue,” that sort of brings, explain to people why you use that terminology.
SW: I do, because I think it’s come to the forefront not so much because “national security,” that, to me, as I said [at lunch], is on page 6A of the newspaper where only a handful of us read into that. But when people see the videos, when they see the Jordanian burned alive in a cage, when they see the Egyptian Christians who were beheaded, when they see some of these other folks from around the world, including James Foley, who went to Marquette University where my son’s a junior, and suddenly, that becomes very real to everyday Americans.
HH: One of the beheaded Islamic State videos.
SW: Absolutely, whose parents are actually from New Hampshire, not far from where I was at a weekend ago, and you just realize, you can see it on your phone, you can see it on your iPad. You don’t need the filter of the network news or the daily newspaper to tell you how bad this is. It suddenly becomes an issue of safety, because that’s not something, national security, foreign policy is something over there. Safety is something you feel inside your chest, you feel in your heart. And I think increasingly, Americans feel a sense of concern that particularly if they have family members or loved ones that ever want to travel again, they see France, they see Canada, they see other places around the world, not just the Middle East, and it’s a safety issue. And they, and then I would just add to this, as they look at this more closely, they see a president whose drawn a line in the sand and crossed it, who called ISIS just a year ago the “jayvee squad,” who called Yemen last fall a success story, who calls Iran now a place where we can do business. Think about how screwed up that is. I remember the movie in the 80s, Trading Places…
SW: …you know, with Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy, it’s like Iran and Israel are trading places in the sequel. In the eyes of this president, our ally is supposed to be Israel. Our adversary has been historically Iran. And yet this administration completely does it the other way around. We need to call radical Islamic terrorism for what it is, and a commander-in-chief who’s willing to act.
HH: Now I asked maybe one of your potential competitors yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio, who I know is a friend of yours.
SW: Good guy, yeah.
HH: I asked him yesterday would you disown and agreement that this president signs with Iran that leaves Iran uranium enrichment. What’s Scott Walker think about the deal, because that’s the outline, it appears?
HH: Would you reject that deal if you took the Oval Office?
SW: Absolutely, on Day One. I mean, to me, it is, the concept of a nuclear Iran is not only problematic for Iran, and certainly for Israel, but it opens the doors. I mean, the Saudis are next. You’re going to have plenty of others in the region. People forget that even amongst the Islamic world, there is no love lost between the Saudis and the Iranians. And so they’re going to want to have a nuclear weapon if the Iranians have a nuclear weapon. This is something that just escalates right before our eyes. And the fact that this administration began these discussions essentially conceding that they’re going to allow enrichment to go forward with the Iranians just shows you that they don’t have the same level of concern that I think I and Senator Rubio and many others out there have, that a nuclear Iran is a problem for the entire world, not just for Israel.
HH: Does the rising of these headlines, Saudi Arabia may be going to war with Yemen before this broadcast is over, if some of these Reuters reports are true.
HH: And the Quds Force general is in Tikrit, right? So the world’s on fire. Does this hurt a governor’s claim to the presidency and elevate perhaps senators who have been there or other people who have been abroad and done that sort of thing? Or does it help you?
SW: Well, I think leadership is the fundamental ingredient that’s important in anything, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. And I won’t belittle any of the other would-be candidates. I would say, though, that my lifetime, the most significant president when it comes to foreign policy was a former governor, Ronald Reagan. The most faulty president, I would argue, when it comes to foreign policy and national security is a first term senator by the name of Barack Obama, who was on the Foreign Affairs Committee. And so, just those qualifications alone aren’t enough. Now again, I think Senator Rubio and I are very much aligned on these issues. I agree with a number of my other colleagues who might be prospective candidates should I and others get into the race in the future. What people need to look at is what do you bring to the table, who do you surround yourself with, what kind of leadership style do you have, and people, I think in this case in particularly, not just in the travels and the studies, need to know how you think. In this case, I think Americans more than anything want a commander-in-chief of the future who does a couple of things – 1) calls out radical Islamic terrorism for what it is, and says we will do whatever it takes to take the fight to them before they bring the fight to us, because unlike the Cold War, when containment was enough, when the Soviet Union and the United States could have leaders like Gorbachev and Reagan talking about containment, that’s not enough. When you have, not only with ISIS and al Qaeda, but you have an Iran, you have other places around the world groups that that want to not only annihilate Israel, but annihilate us in America, it’s like a virus. You’ve got to eradicate it. You can’t take out part of it, or it will come back.
HH: You also have people like Putin, Governor Walker…
HH: …who are pushing everywhere, and we’ve got Baltic allies. And people are wondering whether or not we’d actually come to their defense if Putin pushes into Estonia or Latvia or Lithuania. What do you think?
SW: We absolutely have to. I mean, NATO is the strongest military alliance we’ve had in history. It was part of, through Reagan’s leadership, but certainly part of the ingredient that allowed us to win the Cold War without firing a shot. If we don’t defend NATO members in a scenario like that, now I think we preempt that by showing strength in even dealing with Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, but is very much geographically aligned with what we’re talking about. Remember, Putin isn’t just aggressive for the sake of being aggressive. He’s a nationalist. He believes in the history of Russia and the old Soviet Union. Part of what you see here is the old Lenin adage that you probe with bayonets. If you find mush, you proceed. If you find steel, you withdraw. Well, in Ukraine, he’s found mush, and he’s found mush not only from the United States, but from others like, others and NATO partners out there. If it were to extend, and my belief is we need a president who’s going to act aggressively by giving lethal force to the Ukrainians and others to try to preempt that from happening. But a couple of weeks ago, I met with the president of Estonia. Certainly, we saw a week ago the Lithuanian leadership is literally giving out literature telling their own citizens what to do if Russians invade. Latvia, I just talked to someone the other day whose mother immigrated here from Latvia, and in each of those Baltic states, there are real serious concerns about what happens if we don’t deal with this in Ukraine. We need American leadership not just for America’s sake, but for the world.
HH: We’ll come back after break, but very quickly, they’re finding mush everywhere. I love your line. The bayonets are finding mush everywhere. To replace that, we need Defense spending.
HH: And there is an effort being led. Ron Johnson, your colleague from Wisconsin was on yesterday. Are you fully supportive of the effort to get back to the [DoD] baseline 2012…
SW: You look at the Gates proposed budget in 2012 to get to where we need to go going into 2016. I’m for limited government. I think the federal government’s too big, too expansive, too much a part of our life, and I’d like to send a big chunk of it back to the states, and ultimately to the people. But in the end, Defense is something that we should be doing, and we should be doing well. You can’t do it if you’ve cut beyond muscle into bone. And that’s why we need to go back to where the Gates budget it. And that’s what I would support going for.
HH: I’ll be right back with Governor Scott Walker. We’ll talk domestic policy, particularly the reform efforts, the right to work in Wisconsin, congratulations, another win.
SW: Thank you.
HH: You’re not resting on your laurels, huh? The second term is not for…and what he said today about education. Don’t go anywhere, America. It’s KKNT 960. You can follow Scott Walker, @ScottWalker on Twitter. It’s the easiest Twitter account to do so. I’ll be back to talk about as well his timing, if and when he’s going to make a decision. And by the way, Tonette Walker is a star.
SW: She’s awesome.
HH: I’ve been married a decade longer than you, but she is a lot like the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt. She’s a star.
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HH: During the break, we were talking New Hampshire politics. So I’ve got to go back and say, so New Hampshire’s like Wisconsin?
SW: It is. I mean, if you look at the upper two-thirds of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Madison are the bottom third. That’s the big population base. But the upper two-thirds, the geography’s a lot alike, the size is a lot alike. If you look at Green Bay, Wisconsin, of course, the home of the Green Bay Packers, about 100,000 people, it’s about the size of Manchester. Concord’s about 45,000, so that’s like a number of our cities in the northern two-thirds of the state. There’s a lot of similarities.
HH: So what in New Hampshire is like Madison, because that’s kind of like your left wing university…
SW: Yeah, there’s nothing in the state of New Hampshire. Concord’s the capital city. But it’s nothing like…Madison’s more like Berkeley.
HH: Now you got a jab in at lunch. I happened to bring up the fact that Ohio State, The Ohio State University, won the first ever national championship in college football on the backs of the Badgers….
SW: Hat tip to that, yeah.
HH: But then you came right back, your Badgers are still fighting for the…
SW: I said last time I checked, I didn’t see Ohio State in the Tournament. So Wisconsin Badgers well on their way to hopefully a repeat in the Final Four, and this time I think we’ll beat Kentucky.
HH: All right, on a more serious subject, one of the things you’ve done that impressed people the most is your education reform in the public sector. Tenure is gone.
HH: Merit pay is there. How has that worked out in the classroom? And then I’m going to transition to Common Core, obviously, so you can cover them both at the same time. But how’s it worked out actually on the ground in Wisconsin?
SW: Well, it’s great. I mean, we can hire and fire based on merit, pay based on performance, put the best and the brightest in the classroom. When you look at the statistics, the data doesn’t lie. Graduation rates are up since I took office, third grade reading scores are higher, ACT scores are now second-best in the country. And what’s great for teachers, for really quality, excellent teachers, they could be rewarded. They don’t have to deal with the union steward. They can talk right to their principals. They can interact. And for the handful, and there aren’t many, but the handful of teachers at schools, at least in our state, who weren’t cutting it, and most good teachers knew who those bad ones were, they’re gone. They don’t have the tenure protection, or they don’t have the shield that principals say they couldn’t get rid of them. And so when I go around our state and I talk at schools, usually they kind of look both ways and whisper, because there’s still a few union activists there, but the bottom line is people know that it’s worked, and it’s working better. And I’m glad, because I had two kids in public schools. I’ve got two nieces in public schools. I want great public schools, just like I want choices in the private schools and charter schools and home school environments out there.
HH: I had three kids who all went through public school all 12 years, and 13 years in kindergarten, and they had great teachers. And teachers are of two minds.
HH: Conservative teachers are afraid that if you take tenure away, they’ll get lopped off by liberals, and vice versa.
HH: What do you tell them about that?
SW: I say in the end, in practice, if you’ve got good principals, and you have good people who are willing…a lot of people in the past weren’t willing to run for school boards, because they knew they couldn’t really do anything. Well, in our state, because of all the reforms we did with collective bargaining, the taxpayers are in charge, and the people they duly elect are the ones running the schools now. And so if you have good school board members, and good superintendents and principals, good teachers are always going to do well, and the same that in the private sector outside of government, if you work hard and you do well and you perform, most times, it’s not 100% guaranteed, but most times, people who do well in their businesses with their employers are going to do well.
HH: Two years ago, I would have said Obamacare would have been the defining issue of the primaries.
HH: Now, I say it’s Common Core. And I know the pros and I know the cons. What’s your position on it, and what do you, I’m sure you’ve seen it erupt at the grassroots.
SW: Absolutely. Over the last couple of years, that’s what really got my attention back in 2013 in particularly, actually, even late after the recall election of ’12, but particularly in ’13, where it wasn’t even on our radar screen. And we just literally got it from listening to parents, and even from many teachers who were frustrated at this saying what is this, this comes from outside our state, they’re making us do all these things, it doesn’t make any sense. And so we started looking at it, worked with our legislature to try and repeal it, because it, in our state, had been put in long before I was governor. And I don’t have a cabinet position for education. I’m one of those few states that has an independently-elected superintendent of public instruction. So if I want to make a change, I actually have to make it in the statutes. And that’s what we’ve done with our budget proposal. We took out any funding for the Smarter Balanced tests, which is based on Common Core, and we put in place language that says that no school district has to use it, because I’m all for high standards. I just mentioned a moment ago the second-highest ACT scores in the country for states where more than half the kids take the ACT. I’m proud of that. But I want those standards set not by people from outside of my state or any other state, I want them set by parents and teachers, school board members and business community leaders at the local level, because that’s where it’s going to make all the difference in the world.
HH: Now Scott Walker, I’ve got to ask you about, Dave Weigel is a good reporter…
HH: We disagree, but yesterday he said on this program, talking to me about you, you’re going to be dogged by that CPAC comment. Now I was on Meet the Press that day, and I said that was not a gaffe.
HH: He did not say that. But if you’re going to be dogged by it, what are you going to do about it?
SW: Well, I said, I mean, I did that Sunday as well, I did Fox News Sunday, and I clearly spelled it out. I don’t think any of the people that were there at CPAC took it that way. They took it as hey, it’s a sign of leadership, and I immediately said after that, I said let’s be clear. I’m not comparing the union protesters with ISIS or anything else. I’m talking, my point was it’s about leadership. The closest thing that I can compare to the type of pressure the next president’s going to be under is what I went through four years ago with not just the protest, but the death threats, with the intimidation, with all the interruptions, with the recall and all the things that happened. And we didn’t back down. We won without caving not just when it came to the ballot box. We won without caving when it came to policy. And I think that’s when Americans want, whether it’s taking on radical Islamic terrorism, or whether it’s taking on the size and scope of the federal government, or whether it’s pushing to put the power back in the hands of the hardworking taxpayers. They want someone who’s going to fight and win every single day.
HH: Now today was off the record, at lunch with a thousand people, which doesn’t really work.
SW: Age of Twitter, right.
HH: But as I listened, yeah, you made a comment and I’m going to put it on the record. You said when we were talking about drug legalization…
HH: You’re against it. You said “my friend, John Hickenlooper, Democrat…”
HH: …and you said it casually. It wasn’t a point. I just picked up on it that you have friends who are Democrats. This is going to shock a lot of the public employee union activists out there.
SW: Yeah, it doesn’t fit their narrative.
HH: That’s it. do you think you could go to D.C. as Reagan did and get the Democrats to reform the public sector?
SW: Well, I think we’d certainly try. I mean, you mentioned Hickenlooper, Jack Markell, there’s others out there I’ve worked with, and you know, to me, I used to tell new lawmakers when I was first in the state assembly in state government at the most local levels in state government. I used to say for new members don’t personalize your differences, because your opponent today may be your ally tomorrow. And so that doesn’t mean you should back away from policy. Obviously, if people watch me, I didn’t back away from the big challenges. I took on the big issues not just on public employee unions, but right to work, you name it. And voter ID just got upheld the other day. We’ve done all the big issues. But we don’t personalize it. The other side might, at least some of the activists might. But I still meet every week with the Democratic leadership in the state assembly and state senate.
HH: Something you pointed out the President has not made a habit of doing.
SW: Yeah, just like I do with Republicans out there. And I don’t get why you wouldn’t. I mean, to me, that’s just a fundamental thing. If you’re talking every week, it’s hard to be nasty. You can have your disagreements, you can speak out. It doesn’t mean, sometimes I think there’s a mistake that it’s one extreme or the other. Working with people on the other side doesn’t mean caving. And that sometimes in the media it means, bipartisanship means just do what the Democrats want. On the other side of it, working, talking, actually communicating with the other party doesn’t mean you’re caving in, so that people who are strong conservatives think well, you can’t ever talk to them. Sure, there’s a lot of things you can do that when it comes to, for example, Iran, there’s a lot of Democrats out there, that like us, have some real serious concerns about a nuclear Iran, and we need to pull them into the mix.
HH: Back to Defense, because I always ask everyone the same thing about the Ohio Class submarine and carrier groups. You’ve got one minute, Scott Walker, what do you think about our Navy?
SW: Well, I think it’s dangerously low right now. Not only do we need to make sure that we invest in the Ohio Class submarines, nuclear, that gives us, that’s you know, one part of our nuclear triad, and it’s probably the most important part. We’ve got bombers that are getting old, we’ve got intercontinental ballistic missiles. But in the larger context, we’ve got a Navy that’s about, headed towards about half the size as it was under Reagan. We need to reinvest in that. And that’s why I push and support going forward the Gates level funding as a minimum, and we need to make sure that instead of heading down to 250 vessels, we probably need to be at 325 to maybe 340, 346 at some point in the future, under a new commander-in-chief.
HH: Governor Scott Walker, great to be with you twice today. Thanks for coming to KKNT.
SW: Thank you, Hugh.
HH: Follow him on Twitter, @ScottWalker.
End of interview.