MADISON, Wis. -- Teachers' unions and representatives of every liberal interest group in the country may have taken over the streets of Madison for demonstrations, marches and speeches, but inside the Wisconsin governor's mansion its chief tenant remains calm and resolute. The Badger State's budget will be balanced, Gov. Scott Walker (R) assured The Heritage Foundation in an one-on-one interview. The stakes in Wisconsin are high not just here, but across America.
"I've said all along the protesters have every right to be there, but I'm not going to let tens of thousands overload or overshadow the millions of people in Wisconsin, the taxpayers of the state, who want us to do the right thing and balance the budget," Gov. Walker told us. (Click here to watch the interview.)
Fourteen state Senate Democrats fled to Illinois last week, preventing a quorum and blocking passage of Walker's budget repair bill. But that doesn't dissuade Gov. Walker. He told Heritage he would prefer to see the stalemate last indefinitely rather than compromise on his principles.
The political role model Gov. Walker looks up to is also important, as it is none other than President Ronald Reagan. Of Reagan, Gov. Walker said, "He knew who he was, he knew where he was going and he did what he had to do to get there."
Reagan was no stranger to bold and difficult decisions, and Gov. Walker said he was prepared to follow in the former president's footsteps for as long as he served in office.
In 1981, about six months after taking office, Reagan defined the tenor of his administration with his own bold decision to fire more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who ignored the president's orders to return to work. Reagan emerged victorious, his presidency emboldened by the conflict.
The stakes were high for Reagan then—he risked an enormous public backlash by disrupting commercial air travel—and they're high for Gov. Walker now. In many ways, Wisconsin will be the prototype for other deficit-laden states whose leaders attempt to balance their budgets.
Gov. Walker is aware of just what Wisconsin—and the rest of the country—stands to gain or lose with the ultimate outcome of this debate. That's precisely why he insists the outcome be a balanced budget. For that, he'll endure personal insults, the comparisons to deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. He'll face days of chanting outside his window and threats to his safety.
In fact, Gov. Walker is not merely enduring—he's "feeling good," he said. He's even found something in common with the protesters: They share the same taste in music. The songs blaring over the loudspeaker take him back to his college and high school days.
The music's not the only aspect of the protests Gov. Walker appreciates. He's also grateful they've remained peaceful—even this weekend, when his supporters turned up to counter the protesters. Maybe that's why Gov. Walker seems so grounded even in the midst of the churning: He's appreciative of, rather than worried about, what the protests signify—that the people of Madison, those on both sides of the issue, care enough to come to the Capitol to debate.
But that's where he draws the line, promising to remain committed to his principles in the face of adversity. "We have to be clear and realistic about our challenges," he said, "but optimistic about our solutions."