Andy Manis, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. — The triumph of a second victory at the polls may be in hand for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but he doesn't lack for challenges to tackle as he completes his first term.
There's the campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs on which to make good. There's the question of whether state finances will improve enough to allow for the across-the-board income tax cut he wants. There's the objections, including some from inside his own party, to his support for a law allowing a new iron ore mine to open in northern Wisconsin.
While he survived the recall, not every member of his party can say the same: Democrats appear to have taken control of the state Senate for the rest of the year. While he's safely in office for another two years, many of Walker's allies in the Legislature are back on the ballot this fall. And there's a legion of conservative donors out there who could come calling after giving a record amount of money to his campaign.
Meanwhile, back in Milwaukee, there's an ongoing criminal investigation that's led to charges against five of Walker's former aides and associates from his time as county executive. He's already been forced to spend at least $160,000 on legal bills.
So where does Walker begin? His top advisers met Friday to discuss the path forward, and while his office would not release specifics about their plans, it's a safe bet the talk at next week's "brat summit" and for much of the rest of his term will be about one thing: jobs.
"He's very much got jobs on the brain, he does," said Brian Schimming, a Republican consultant who previously worked for GOP Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum.
An exit poll of voters that was conducted for The Associated Press on Tuesday suggests Walker is right to focus on the issue. More voters said their family's economic situation worsened under Walker's first year in office than improved, 35 percent to 20 percent. A 54 percent majority, roughly the same percentage that Walker won re-election by, said they approved of what he's doing to create jobs versus 46 percent who disapproved. Walker won the recall with 53 percent of the vote.
To date, Walker hasn't made much progress on his 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs during his four years in office. Just how many jobs Wisconsin has added — or lost — during his watch was a key point of contention during the recall campaign.
But Walker hasn't shied away from the pledge, bringing it up at his first cabinet meeting after the recall. "We're going to spend the remainder of this term focused like a laser beam on creating jobs," Walker told state agency leaders before leaving to spend the rest of the week touring businesses around the state.
Just what he's going to do — or ask lawmakers to do — to fulfill that pledge hasn't yet come into that sort of focus.
Suggestions are sure to come from many of the powerful business groups, like the Wisconsin Bankers Association and the Wisconsin Realtors Association, that backed Walker in the recall.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business lobbying group, has said it spent $2 million on ads backing Walker during the recall campaign. It supports a variety of proposals, including the income tax cut, regulation changes to speed the issuance of permits and better workforce training.
Walker proved during the first part of his term that he's willing to give those interest groups what they want. His first budget included income and corporate tax breaks for manufacturers and agriculture producers and scaled back a host of regulations. He also revamped the state's economic development agency, creating a public-private partnership that he said would be better able to work with job creators.
"There's no doubt that there were people who were greatly concerned that things would revert to more of a business-hostile climate if Walker wasn't re-elected," WMC vice president James Buchen said.
In his effort to work better with Democrats, Walker will find plenty of political opponents who also want to focus on jobs, said Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. Signing on to support legislation sponsored by Democrats last year that focused on workforce development and job creation would prove he's serious about bipartisanship, too, he said.
"I don't think there was ever any intention to move one single Democratic bill forward last session," Barca said. "It's time not to worry if there's a D or an R behind the bill."
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