Matt Pommer: Is it fair to judge Gov. Walker on jobs results?
New federal numbers have added fuel to the debate over private-sector job creation during Scott Walker's years as governor.
Numbers from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages indicate Wisconsin was 35th in private job growth among the states in Walker's first three years as governor. Wisconsin trailed all neighboring states in the Midwest, including Illinois, which was 33rd.
For 2013, Wisconsin was 37th among the states. The annual average was 1.3 percent for Wisconsin compared to a national rate of 2.1 percent.
In late spring, a statewide poll conducted by the Marquette University Law School showed that 46 percent of the 805 respondents believed the economy was about the same. Some 27.9 percent said it was better, and 24.3 percent replied that it had worsened.
Democrats already have started a TV ad campaign to focus on job growth over the last three years. Earlier the Democrats had focused on Walker's 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first four years as governor. Even Republicans conceded he'll fall far short of fulfilling that promise.
Walker remains confident that the job-promise question wouldn't substantially affect his ability to win a second four-year term as governor. The governor prefers to campaign on the tax issue, comparing his record to his predecessor, Jim Doyle, a Democrat who was elected in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.
Mary Burke, who is expected to win the Democratic nomination for governor in the August primary, served several years as secretary of the Department of Commerce in Doyle's cabinet. Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature abolished that agency in 2011.
Its job creation efforts were shifted to a quasi-independent Wisconsin Economic Development Corp (WEDC). The new agency's early days were marred by losing track of loans made to some private companies.
Walker is the incumbent, and a key economic question for voters is how he should be judged at election time. Is it proper top compare Walker to the previous Democratic administration? Or should the Walker administration be judged against how other states have done in his first three years as chief executive?
Comparison with the previous administration can be slippery, given the fact that national leaders have more to do with the American economic picture than the governors of the 50 states. Republican George W. Bush was president for the first six years of Doyle's period as governor. Democrat Barack Obama has been president for all of Walker's three years as governor.
The Marquette poll asked respondents how they viewed themselves politically. Conservatives were 37 percent of respondents. Some 9.3 percent said they were very conservative, while another 27.7 percent said they were “just” conservative. About 28 percent described themselves as liberal: 9.8 percent said they were very liberal, while 18.5 percent called themselves “just” liberal.
But the largest category was “moderate” with 30.4 percent. The numbers weren't surprising. Political experts have long viewed Wisconsin as a swing state. Remember that voters ousted Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold from the U.S. Senate and, at the next election, rejected former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson's bid for the U.S. Senate.
Feingold and Thompson had been popular with large segments of the public during their years in office.
Walker says a sliver of the electorate, some 5 percent to 6 percent, will decide the 2014 gubernatorial election. Earlier he said the number of votes in play was about 11 percent—the percentage of voters who had backed Obama's election and supported Walker during the 2011 recall election.
Matt Pommer writes this Wisconsin Newspaper Association weekly state government newsletter. He is dean of the state Capitol correspondents, having covered government action in Madison for 36 years. Readers can contact Pommer at email@example.com.