From the Atlantic:
One is a bald, blue-eyed former hospital executive brand new to public office. Another is a career politician who leads statewide motorcycle tours to boost tourism. And the other is a former congressman and FOX News host who called a cop who gave him a traffic ticket last month an “idiot.”
All three are newly elected Republican governors facing massive political upheaval over their slash-and-burn approach to state spending and rejection of billions of federal dollars for high-speed rail projects.
Call them the “Three Scrooges”: Rick Scott of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and John Kasich of Ohio. Walker and Kasich replaced Democrats, and Scott replaced a Republican-turned-independent.
The three governors sit at the center of a nationwide debate that pits a tea party movement threatening to mow down any tax-and-spenders in its path against labor unions and advocates for children, the elderly, and the poor. In a sign of the anti-establishment movement’s influence, Scott unveiled his bare-bones budget earlier this month at a tea party rally, breaking with the tradition of formal announcements in the state capitol.
In another sign of the blurring of lines between campaigning and governing, Kasich has been Tweeting encouragement to his compatriots in Florida and Wisconsin.
Whether the three governors from key political battleground states succeed could have implications for the 2012 election, when voters will decide whether the newly empowered GOP improved the nation’s fiscal health or cut too close to the bone. With 18 of the 23 winning Republican candidates for governor in 2010 in their first terms, they are largely charting new terrain.
President Obama lent the Democratic Party machine’s support to the thousands of protesters storming the capitol in Madison this week and called Walker’s proposal to strip collective-bargaining rights from public employees an “assault on unions.” In response, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, released a statement in Walker’s defense.
“Republicans in Congress–and reform-minded GOP governors like Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Chris Christie [of New Jersey]–are daring to speak the truth about the dire fiscal challenges Americans face at all levels of government, and daring to commit themselves to solutions that will liberate our economy and help put our citizens on a path to prosperity,” Boehner said.
Former Republican Govs. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Jeb Bush of Florida, potential presidential candidates in 2012 and 2016, entered the fray on Friday. “The nation’s governors don’t need a lecture from a president who has never balanced a budget,” Pawlenty snapped. “Stay strong @Gov Walker,” said a particularly chatty Bush in one of five consecutive Twitter posts on the Wisconsin protests.
Wisconsin has been at center stage as thousands of civil service employees rallied in the capitol against legislation that would force them to pay more for health and pension benefits. Democratic state senators went so far as to leave the state to avoid voting on the plan, which Walker says is necessary to help close a $137 million budget gap.
The protests have shut down school districts and some state agencies.
“I think the body politic is going to reject this,” said Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “This is an unchecked power grab…. Reducing the quality of life of the middle class is going to continue to make people respond here and across the country.”
Ohio has also seen massive protests in the capitol over a similar proposal to limit collective-bargaining rights.
And in Florida, Scott faced a mini-rebellion from members of his own party this week when he joined Walker and Kasich in turning federal money down for high-speed rail. A veto-proof majority of the Florida Senate rebuked Scott in a letter that urged the federal government to give the state the money anyway, saying: “Politics should have no place in the future of Florida’s transportation.”
Coming to Scott’s defense were tea party activists, who plan to target the 26 senators who signed the letter.