The worst combination in an executive is incompetence and irresponsibility.
An executive can be incompetent and still lead, if he is willing to acknowledge his errors, work to address areas of weakness, and rely on the advice and counsel of more capable people.
But if an incompetent executive is too self-absorbed to recognize that he is screwing up, or worse yet too ideologically certain of his views to change course in the face of overwhelming evidence of failure, then his irresponsibility creates a threat that ought not be neglected.
Meet Scott Walker.
The governor’s critics frequently paint him as corrupt, and he has certainly been surrounded by plenty of scandal. But debates about Walker’s personal and political morality miss the point.
Even if he is entirely honest, even if he is entirely sincere, the twin realities of Walker’s gubernatorial tenure are beyond debate: He is exceptionally incompetent and he is exceptionally irresponsible.
That was confirmed in brutal detail last week by two separate stories that explain the mess Walker has made of Wisconsin’s economy.
First came the formal confirmation that Walker had failed to keep the promise he made in 2010 to create 250,000 new jobs during his first term as governor. Walker did not even come close. According to final figures for the four years from January 2011 through December 2014, Walker’s first term saw the creation of only about 129,000 new private-sector jobs. That's 121,000 fewer than promised.
No one has ever accused Walker of being good with math — or economics — but these are not difficult numbers to understand. On the major test of his first term, the standard that Walker established when he was running initially and reaffirmed when he was scrambling to keep his job in the 2012 recall election, the governor got 52 percent.
There is no curve that makes that final result more than a failing grade.
In fact, because Walker opted for austerity policies that cut spending on public services and attacked public employees, rather than a growth strategy, Wisconsin has steadily trailed other states when it comes to job creation. According to latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin ranked 40th in the nation in job growth and trailed the national average.
But that’s not the worst of it.
Anyone looking to explain Walker’s failure should begin with his decision to create the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., a secretive and absurdly unaccountable scheme to steer tax dollars into the accounts of private corporations.
Walker put himself in charge of the operation, as chairman of its board, and maintained his leadership role with WEDC even as concerns about wrongdoing and ineptitude were raised.
Walker’s pet project, which he staffed with political cronies, has been dogged by turnover in leadership positions and serious morale problems. Audits have pointed to severe mismanagement and noncompliance with the law.
Complaints about pay-to-play politics have also been raised with regard to WEDC. Legislators are focused, in particular, on reports of a $500,000 loan given — with few strings attached — to a financially troubled business after the owner of the business gave $10,000 to Walker's initial gubernatorial campaign.
Now, amid calls for a federal investigation, Walker says he no longer wants to chair WEDC.
Get a load of this guy. He creates what legislators correctly refer to as a “hot mess,” and he makes things worse by maintaining policies and approaches that he is repeatedly warned are wrongheaded.
With the WEDC mess exploding, Walker is trying to run away without taking responsibility for the crisis he created.
Scott Walker is incompetent.
And Scott Walker is irresponsible.
He may imagine that he has what it takes to be president. The truth is that he does not have what it takes to be governor.
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