Scott Walker is running for president hardened by four years of fighting for fiscal pragmatism and public sector reform as governor of Wisconsin. Those bruising battles, and his victories in them, underscore nearly every position he has staked out on the road he hopes will take him to the White House.
He touts legislative accomplishments in a blue state, his defeat of militantly hostile unions, and his reversal of the state's budget deficit. Walker slashed wasteful spending by forming a special commission tasked with rooting out abuse, and forced the state government to publish its expenditures online.
Candidates often talk about waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government. But Walker's promotion of "big, bold reforms" during his gubernatorial tenure suggests that fixing Washington's waste would be high on his presidential agenda, and that he'd tackle it the same way he did in Wisconsin.
Examiner: What do you see as the most wasteful use of taxpayer dollars in the federal government today?
Walker: I don't know if there is any one thing. I think if you look across the spectrum, certainly, if you look at a lot of these individual earmarks over the years, they are pretty amazingly wasteful. But it's not just the item-by-item, it's where's the best use of those dollars? My belief, my push, my thought is about pushing money from Washington back to the states and even, in some cases, back to local governments.
Shift power to states
I'd do it for everything from Medicaid to transportation, workforce development, environmental protection, education. I think a fair amount of the waste is not just those areas, but the fact that they could be done in a way that is much more effective and efficient and definitely more accountable at the state and the local level. That's one of the things that I am going to try to push for in the first hundred days: the particulars, that kind of a fundamental reform shift.
Examiner: You promoted open government legislation in Wisconsin. What would you do to promote transparency at the federal level?
Examiner: A couple of different things. One part I just mentioned, but the more you shift some of these responsibilities that aren't the appropriate role of the federal government to the states and local governments, the more you can hone in on the things that the federal government appropriately does. And I've been pleased, both at the county level and the county executive and now as a governor as well, to put expenditures online so that any citizen can see what the federal government is spending money on.
Having a federal government that, instead of being too big to fail, is small enough to succeed would allow people to be able to track where their dollars are being spent, and hold federal officials accountable for it.
Examiner: How would you balance the need to streamline the federal government's bureaucracy with the fact that doing so would inevitably cut government jobs?
Walker: In two parts. One, by shifting money and power back to the states, that wouldn't necessarily be a reduction in jobs. It would be a shift to the jobs at the state and local level, as opposed to the concentration in Washington. We found last year that reports said six of the top 10 wealthiest counties in America were in or around Washington, D.C., which shows kind of a disconnect. I think the president and people like Hillary Clinton think you grow the economy by growing Washington.
I think most of us believe our cities and towns and people create jobs, not the government. But the other part is by having, again, a government that instead of being too big to fail is small enough to succeed. That's really putting not only power, but money and resources, back in the hands of the American people, and I think they're better off investing those dollars in ways that'll improve the economy, and create more jobs and higher wages ... And so I think in the end, if you do that particularly early on in the administration, it's going to have a positive impact on jobs and a positive impact on wages.
Examiner: Jeb Bush has called for a six-year lobbying limit for former elected officials. Do you agree with that approach, and how would you curb the power of special interests?
Walker: Oh I think, much better than that ... To me, the most fundamental way to do it is what I've talked about: shifting power and money from Washington, from the federal government, literally back to the states and to local government, where it is much easier to hold people accountable. It's kind of what I did as governor. Early on, I came in and passed some of the most significant reforms in not only my state, but across the country.
And in doing so, what we fundamentally did, was not just take on the big government union bosses. We transferred power from the big government special interest to the hard-working taxpayers ... The local taxpayers now get to elect people to run the schools, their cities and their towns and their counties and the state government in a way that they weren't able to do before.
That's the kind of power shift ... that I'd like to see us do at the federal level as well. So some of these other ideas are certainly worth looking at, but ... that's the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental reform happens when you shift the entire base of power, not just pass a few laws.
Limit EPA power
Examiner: How would you balance environmental protection concerns with the need to reduce regulations so businesses can be successful?
Walker: All 50 states have the equivalent of an Environmental Protection Agency. In my state, it's called the Department of Natural Resources. Other states have different names, but again, I'd shift that power and that money out of Washington and basically just leave in place an umbrella organization that really is limited to mediating interstate conflicts over, say, where a body of water or a piece of land goes through multiple states.
Other than that, I'd leave those requirements and those responsibilities to the state government, where the people making those decisions have to live with them. And I think that's part of the balance. I'm all for a sustainable environment, but you have to balance it with a sustainable economy, and I think in our state we've shown you can do that hand-in-hand. Given the opportunity, I think states can do it all across America much better than the federal government.
Examiner: But you wouldn't eliminate the EPA altogether?
Walker: Well, I'd essentially take their responsibilities and send them back to the states. The only role I think the federal government should have left in that is one where there's some sort of ability to mediate disputes between the states over, for example, the Mississippi or other large bodies of water that goes through multiple states. It makes sense to have a place to mediate interstate disputes, but in terms of the responsibilities, I'd shift those all back to state government.
Examiner: Which specific federal programs or agencies would you eliminate as president?
Walker: I'd shift the power and the money back [in areas such as] education and transportation and Medicaid and other social services, certainly workforce development, environmental protection. Those are all areas where I think it's appropriate to shift money and power back to state and local governments.
Examiner: But are there any examples of a particularly wasteful program that you think can just be eliminated altogether?
Walker: Oh, I'm sure we'd go through that. In my state I created a waste, fraud and abuse commission, and right off the bat in the first few months we found over half a billion dollars worth of waste, fraud and abuse that we brought forward. And we would do that. But again, those are good anecdotes. To me, the bigger shift that has to occur is literally where the power base is at, because that's how you put in place sustainable, long-term reform.
Examiner: Shifting to Hillary Clinton, as you know, she's had a lot of controversies. What do you see as the most problematic for a potential future president?
Walker: Well, I think that the theme you see with Hillary Clinton is that she seems to think there's a different set of rules for her and her family than there is for the rest of America. And I think that just shows that, overall, this is somebody who is fundamentally out of touch. Even if it wasn't against the law, the idea that someone in your family can be getting millions and millions of dollars of compensation for speeches from foreign countries at the time when she was the secretary of state — I think most Americans look at that and say, 'That is a huge conflict of interest.'
And again, I think that the pattern there is that there's a different set of rules for the Clintons than there is for the rest of America. We see it with the emails and we see it with the donations to the foundation and we see it with the pattern of other things that she's been involved in. And I think that's something where people just say, 'I don't want a president who thinks they're above the law ... I want someone who can relate to me and understand me and who's going to stand up for me.' You have to understand that the president and the members of Congress should have to live by the same standards that they impose on the American people.
IRS has lived too long
Examiner: Do you agree with Ted Cruz that we should get rid of the IRS completely?
Walker: Those are all things that we'll look at. I think that, and plenty of other fellow agencies, have lived past their usefulness. How you go forward, again we'll be laying out in the coming months as we talk about specific reforms.
Examiner: President Obama has been criticized for shielding major initiatives from Congress, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran deal. What would your White House do to be more transparent when it comes to working with Congress?
Walker: We'll start right off the bat. We won't wait until the first day. We'll start reaching out to the Congress the day of the election. That parallels what I did when I was governor. I didn't wait until my first day in office. I started working on Nov. 3, 2010. I reached out to my legislative branch and we put together a positive legislative agenda. We wanted them to be a partner. And because of that, we were able to pass some of the most dynamic reforms in the country over the past four and a half years.
And we've continued down that path, and that would be our approach at the Congress: that on the day after the election we'd start reaching out ... to start putting in place plans to rebuild our military, to send out draft legislation, to repeal Obamacare ... Those are things that are going to take a lot of work with the Congress to get done because that's a major change from where Washington is today.
But those are things we're talking about now; it's why we're talking about things we're for, not talking about what we're against or who we're against, but rather talking about what we're for and how we're going to get things done now so we can lay out a clear pathway going forward to work with the Congress and get things done.
That's what makes me different. [There are] a lot of great Republicans out there, but I think what makes us unique is we've not only fought for these good, common-sense conservative reforms — we've actually won. We've won those battles. We won in a blue state like Wisconsin, and not just on the ballot three times, but if our ideas can win and they actually work there, in a blue state, then I believe there's no doubt we can apply that same measure to America.