Over the holidays, I took my kids to the Governor's Mansion to meet Jim Doyle. It's not that I was ever a big Doyle fan. But when I got the annual holiday party invite, which I had ignored for years, I was suddenly motivated to RSVP. I wanted my daughters to get inside the building and see the leader of their state before the door slams shut on the era of even moderately progressive government in Wisconsin.
Inauguration Day dawned dark and cold. The kids headed back to school, and our born-again Christian governor announced at his prayer breakfast that the Creator, not government, gives us our freedoms.
Get out those prayer beads, because the Republican Legislature kicked off its session by taking up bills to repeal same-day voter registration, create property-tax credits for manufacturing and biotechnology firms (unless they engage in embryonic stem cell research), and give gun owners the right to use deadly force against people they discover invading their homes or property (known as a "castle doctrine" or "make my day" bill).
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch has already achieved national notoriety by declaring that gay people (including her dear old uncle) should not be allowed to marry, because once gay men and women can marry each other, people will soon start marrying "inanimate objects" and dogs.
Let's not forget that Walker himself authored a bill that would have let pharmacists refuse to fill women's birth-control prescriptions, presumably on instructions from a Creator directing them to which particular patients' freedoms ought to be curtailed.
But that's just old business, left over from the days when the Democrats were in the charge and all those good anti-birth-control, anti-voting-rights and pro-gun bills didn't stand a chance.
The new agenda for Wisconsin's dawning red-state era, Walker and the Republican leadership assure us, is job creation and getting the economy moving again. The new governor has promised that the state will create 250,000 jobs during his four-year term.
Never mind those 1,600 jobs in Milwaukee he sent packing when he returned the $810 million in federal stimulus money for high-speed rail. The rest of the governor's economic agenda looks downright awful, starting with his attack on state workers and his pledge to "right size" a lot of Madisonians right out of their public-sector jobs.
Protesters who greeted the new governor on the Capitol steps pointed out that he did precious little to improve the employment situation in Milwaukee when he was county exec there, from 2002 to 2010.
But if the little people in the unemployment lines are upset with the governor's plans, big business is applauding his aggressive leadership, starting with his proposal to replace the Department of Commerce with a public/private board that he would appoint and chair, and a proposal to have his office vet all state agency administrative rules and regulations.
"This is an unprecedented power grab to undercut the Legislature," Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, told The Capital Times. He said Walker's proposal to circumvent the authority of government agencies would turn the governor's office into "the state's largest waiting room for lobbyists."
In short, Wisconsin is about to become the laboratory for Republican economic ideas.
Will fulfilling lobbyists' dreams of tax breaks for business (except the state's illustrious biotech industry), regulatory repeal, and turning back public investment create jobs and revive the economy?
We are about to find out.
Either the economy rebounds and Walker looks good, or we are about to go through something like the Great Depression with no WPA or other public investment programs. The Walker era could be a bleak season indeed.
Over the next four years, we should hold the governor to his job-creation pledge and, as the Milwaukee protesters organized by Citizen Action proposed, demand to see exactly how many jobs are created for each of the governor's business tax rebate and deregulation policies.
It's one thing to indulge a bunch of lobbyists in the high-flying Tommy Thompson era. It is another thing altogether when the governor elects himself lobbyist-in-chief in one of the worst economic downturns our state has ever seen.
Doyle didn't have a very merry last few weeks in office, having to cancel a big federal stimulus project and watching his own party's leader in the Legislature screw over public employees just to give him a thumb in the eye.
As Ed Garvey once said, Doyle seems to have spent his time as governor systematically alienating his base of support. He never had Walker's ambition or chutzpah. He copied a Republican property-tax freeze that cost schools but only saved homeowners $1, and got mixed up with his own shady lobbyist crew.
But Doyle did stand firm on reproductive rights. And he brought the state thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of federal dollars. Before, that is, Scott Walker gave it all away.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.