How much will Tea Party activists demand of their all-Republican state government?
As John Boehner tries to convince Capitol Hill veterans that they need to make good on some of the Tea Party-infused rhetoric on earmarks, Madison Republicans may face the equally daunting task of convincing many of their new members that the first session of the GOP majority in the legislature will not be a one-way trip to the Promised Land on the Tea Party Express.
Incoming Joint Finance co-chair Robin Vos (R-Caledonia) tells The Sconz that Republicans can't promise to get through all of their preferred tax policies in the first budget. The representative, who is entering his fourth term, says he wants to avoid steep cuts in education funding and predicts the second budget cycle will be when the GOP can make good on most of Scott Walker's tax cut promises.
"It was not about the first budget but the first term," he said. "By the time we get to the second budget, we'll be able to have a lot of the tax increases passed under Doyle rolled back."
To Mark Pocan (D-Madison), the outgoing JFC chair (and a personal friend of Vos'), the GOP will not be able to fulfill many of its promises but will have a hard time telling that to some of the new members, many of whom are new to politics and won election on hard-right anti-spending platforms.
"A lot of these [new members] are Tea Party folks, far right-wing folks," he says. "Many of them didn't expect to win."
Fears of GOP majorities based on problem children, such as incoming Sen. Frank Lasee, were present well before Election Day. Those concerns were partially quelled by the extent of the GOP victories, which mean Republican leaders will unlikely be dependent on any single member of the Senate or Assembly.
However, in order to protect its majorities in the next cycle, GOP leaders will probably need to ensure that some of the rowdier freshmen are willing to play ball and compromise, both in terms of policy and rhetoric. Most importantly, it will probably need to teach quite a few reps the importance of constituent services and district presence.
Will passengers on the Tea Party Express be effective advocates for their constituents who are looking for unemployment checks and Medicaid benefits? Will ideology prevent Frank Lasee from following in cousin Alan's footsteps and lobbying for constituents who seek government assistance?
A sustainable GOP majority in Wisconsin may include cutting of some taxes and regulations, but it will also entail working within the structure of government to please constituents, ala Tommy Thompson.
It's tough to say what the GOP calculation will be. Some point to the presence of far-right leaders like Glenn Grothman in the GOP leadership as evidence that the party is not willing to compromise. In fact, many of the old bulls of the party are some of the most conservative -- those who voted against the spending (including generous public pensions) that Thompson and other Republicans, including Rep. Scott Suder, supported in the 90's.
But my guess is that Vos, while conservative, is pragmatic, and understands the fragility of the "mandate" that Wisconsin voters gave them. I predict the first budget will include one of the GOP's less ambitious tax measures and a lot of cutting. They will claim to have cut taxes while maintaining basic services for public safety and education.