Keep the focus on the jobs

The huge, black sports utility vehicle pulls up right to the front door, accompanied by a police escort. Out steps the next governor of the state of Wisconsin.

The location – the Newsroom Pub and the adjoining Safehouse in downtown Milwaukee –  has been swept by a security team. Smiling, the next governor enters the pub, where he will speak at a Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon.

Scott Walker is on familiar turf. He has spoken at the club’s Newsmaker Luncheons as Milwaukee County’s executive many times. But on this day, he will speak for the first time as Wisconsin’s governor-elect.

Gone are the days when Walker could simply walk across town to attend the luncheon or park his car and plug a parking meter. On this day, he is accompanied by a team of handlers and a security detail. Every minute of his every day is pre-scheduled.

“Everything’s different,” Walker tells me as he enters the Newsroom Pub. “It’s like I went to bed on Nov. 2, and the next day, the whole world changed.”

Indeed. Come Jan. 3, Walker and his family will move into the governor’s mansion in Madison. It will be the first time a Milwaukeean has lived there since Martin Schreiber served as interim governor in 1978.

In state politics, Milwaukee needs an advocate. The anti-Milwaukee bias in the state Legislature is palpable. As problems persist at Milwaukee Public Schools, that chasm only grows wider.

Here’s hoping that Walker is a counter-force against that bias, because – let’s face it – the days, weeks and months ahead are not going to be easy. Every state dollar will need to be accounted for and justified.

Walker has promised to take actions to help the state create 250,000 jobs in his first four years in office. That’s 62,500 per year. If he succeeds, Wisconsin will once again live up to its state motto: “Forward.”

Walker is already off to a controversial start with his rejection of $810 million in federal funds for a high-speed rail line that arguably would have produced thousands of jobs with relatively minimal costs for the state.

The good news is that Wisconsin has some momentum. The state’s unemployment rate of 7.8 percent is well below the national average of 9.6 percent. Two of Wisconsin’s core industries – manufacturing and agriculture – appear to have rebounded nicely and are poised to grow again.

Walker will be able to move his agenda forward with new Republican majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.

Will the Walker team keep its focus on job creation and economic development in Wisconsin? Or will the state get bogged down in pet social issues such as health care reform lawsuits, conceal and carry, voter identification, stem cell research restrictions and illegal immigration laws?

By this time next year, the answers to those questions should be abundantly clear.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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