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Scott Walker on Education Funding, Climate Change, Donald Trump

John Pemble
Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in his campaign RV during a stop in Webster City. 8/17/2015

 CM: Governor, you’ve been spending a lot of time in Iowa, even before you initially announced that you were running for president. All this time here, two to three words, how do you describe Iowa?

SW: A lot like Wisconsin.

CM: That’s four words, but we’ll take it, I guess. You said in the debate during your campaign for reelection that you would do four years as governor. What made you change your mind to decide to get into the race?

SW: I’ve got two words on that one: Matt and Alex, those are my two sons. It’s the same reason I ran for governor. I saw my state back years ago wasn’t heading in the right direction. I wanted to do something about that. Right now I think the country’s not heading in the right direction and I want to do something for them and their generation.

CM: Is it hard to governor Wisconsin when you are spending so much time campaigning in Iowa?

SW: No, actually. Unlike Hillary Clinton, I have two iPhones. So every day, I just talked before I came here, to my chief of staff, I was just with my cabinet the other day at the Wisconsin State Fair. We’re on top of things. Ask any small business owner, they’ll tell you they get as much work done traveling out seeing clients as they do sitting in the office, and I think the same thing’s true for me.

CM: What do you see as a crowning achievement from this legislative session in Wisconsin?

SW: Well, the biggest thing since I’ve been governor, of course are reforms. We fundamentally took the power out of the hands of the big government special interest and sent them back to the hard working taxpayers and the people they duly elect at the local and state level. It wasn’t just about unions, it was really about that power transfer. For example, in our schools now, despite all the protests years ago, we’ve seen four years in a row, schools have had higher graduation rates, third grade reading scores are higher, ACT scores are now second best in the country. That happened even with the changes in the budget because we made fundamental reforms go into effect in our state.

CM: You bring up education. It’s something really important in the state of Iowa, a lot of talk. You tout Wisconsin’s public education system quite a bit, yet U.S. census data shows that per pupil funding has gone down about eight percent. How is that making things better for public education, when you are taking money away per pupil for students?

SW: Because quality is not based on money. If that were the case, some of our largest urban cities in America would have the highest test scores, and clearly they have some of the worst test scores even though they spend far more money. It’s how you spend it and where you spend it that has the biggest impact. In our state, for example, even though we made budget adjustments, we empowered schools to hire and fire based on merit, the pay based in performance. They got for the first time in many of our schools got very reasonable and responsible pension and healthcare contributions. Many of our school employees and local government employees had never made a healthcare premium, health insurance premium contribution, nor contribution for their retirement. All the rest of the people, the farmers, the small businesses owners, the other citizens, were paying huge amounts. It really wasn’t a fair scenario. So what we ended up doing was allowing state and local employees to pay something similar to what most people pay outside of government, and that in turn allowed those resources to go into the classroom instead of just into the education bureaucracy.

CM: You bring up small business planning for the future. Education, school administrators, need to plan for the future. If they have less funds to work with, doesn’t that put a pinch?

SW: No. They have more money. They just have less money coming in from the state government. In the end, they’re able to use the dollars more effectively. Before, they had money locked in in terms of where they could spend it. They were forced to spend it on overtime. They had other conditions in the union contracts. Those conditions aren’t there anymore. In fact, a number of independent groups talked about the billions of dollars that schools and local government saved because our reforms. That’s money now they can put right back in the classroom. They don’t have to do it the way the union bosses want. They can actually do it the way the principals, the superintendents, and the school board members want.

CM: There was a lot of buzz earlier on this year about your campaign doing really well in polls. It slipped a little bit. There’s been a lot of talk these days about Donald Trump as the front runner. Do you think that’s hurting the conversation in the Republican primary?

SW: No. In October of 2007, even later in the cycle… Right now Gallup ran a report that showed that Hillary Clinton was by far the front runner amongst Democrats. John Edwards followed, then Barack Obama. On the Republican side Rudy Giuliani was the front runner, along with Fred Thompson; and then further down the line was John McCain and Mitt Romney. These races have ebbs and flows. What I think you see, not just out of the front runner but out of a couple of the candidates, three in particular who have never held office, is a high sense of protest that people have had it with politicians in Washington. Republican voters in particular are upset with the Republican leadership in Washington. They feel like they were promised, they were promised, that Obamacare would be repealed, or at least a bill would be passed to repeal Obamacare, and a whole bunch of other promises. And here it is in August and that hasn’t happened. And so I think it’s a matter of protest. I think though in the end, what makes us viable here Iowa and across the country, is that people look at our records. They’ll realize I came in after the 2010 election with a lot of the same frustrations. I had to first take on my own party, and some of the status quo defenders, even the Republican Party before I took on the unions and the Democrats. And in the end I’m not intimidated by anyone, be it in my party or anywhere else. I’ll do what’s right for the people I represent. I think people look at that and they say, “If you want someone who can fight and win, actually get results, and do it without compromising their principles,” I’m the only one in the race who has that record.

CM: What are you going to do to get traction back; to get your name out there more and maybe see a surge in the polls?

SW: Again I think it’s showing the passion we showed today at the soapbox, when people see that we’re not going to back away from a fight. I think sometimes people mistakenly think those of us in the Midwest who don’t yell and scream and holler as much as maybe sometimes people do on the East or the West coast, that’s a sign that we just sit back when truth be told, when times are tough, I think leaders in the Midwest stand up and accept those challenges. And I hope people saw it today, obviously a big group of people who came in from outside the state of Iowa was trying to intimidate us, didn’t intimidate us at all. And I hope it showed a lot of voters here that we won’t back down from any challenge, where it’s here in America or around the world, if I’m elected president.

CM: A lot of times that comes across as divisive among parties. You have to appeal to some Independents in the state, maybe you want to bring a few Democrats over. How do you appeal to a voter base when there might be a feel that there’s some divisiveness in support for you?

SW: Well, I’ve done it three times in four years in a state that’s almost as evenly politically divided as Wisconsin and Iowa are, two battleground states. I not only carried almost universal support amongst Republicans, I carried Independents by 11, 12 points in Wisconsin. I think it will be the same way here in Iowa. In the end, what people really want more than anything is somebody in Washington to get things done. The reason I did so well amongst Independents in three of the last four and a half years is cause they are sick and tired of politicians who say they are going to do something, and then get in office and sit on their hands and don’t do anything. Clearly I didn’t sit on my hands. Whether you agree with me or disagree with me on every issue, there’s nobody out there that can dispute that I went out and tried to fix things. And I think, not just Republican base voters, primary and caucus voters, I think in the end Independents and even some discerning Democrats, what they want more than anything, it’s the reason why not only you have a protest on the Republican side, it’s the reason why Senator Bernie Sanders is doing so well on the Democrat side is, they’re sick and tired of politicians they think will do and say anything to get elected, but won’t do anything when they’re in office. Say what you might about me, nobody will accuse me of not going what I say I’m going to do.

CM: You were asked a question today on the soapbox about climate change. You gave an answer you regularly do about being an Eagle Scout, leaving the campsite as clean or better than it was when you left. You also said you want clean air, you want clean water, but at the same time want to make sure that being economically sustainable. Flesh that theory out a little bit for me.

SW:  To me I think one of the best places to do that is by sending the powers of environmental protection from Washington. Send those enforcements back to the states. I think states are much better equipped, all 50 states have an equivalent of the EPA. But I think that instead of having bureaucrats from Washington tell farmers and small business owners and land owners here in Iowa or anywhere else what to do, it’s better done at the local and state level. It’s what we’ve done in Wisconsin. I know sometimes there are opponents of ours who say, “Hey, citations are down in the state of Wisconsin,” and I say, “Absolutely.” My goal is to have no citations, because in the end if you have a citation that means something bad has happened. What you want to do is have agencies go out and proactively work with landowners, with small business owners and farmers, to make sure we try and achieve our common goals, which are indeed clean air, clean land, clean water, but do so in a way that’s reasonable and responsible.

CM:  Final question: Is there something that you felt really strongly about at one point in your life that you have changed your mind about?

SW: I’m sure there is, there’s not something off the top of my head.

CM: You can’t think of one thing?

SW: Not off the top of my head. No I’ve been pretty straightforward with things. There’s probably something somewhere along the 47 years I’ve been alive, but not something that pops right in my head.

CM: You’ll let me know?

SW: Yeah, sure.

CM: Alright, Governor Walker, thanks so much.

SW: Thank you.