The new book by veteran reporters Jason Stein and Patrick Marley is likely to be the definitive chronicle of the first two years of Scott Walker’s term as Governor of Wisconsin. Straddling the line between journalists and witnesses to history, Stein and Marley provide in More than They Bargained For considerable detail on the events of this period—arguably the most politically significant for Wisconsin since the reform days of “Fighting Bob” La Follette’s Progressive Movement.
Both award-winning journalists have covered Wisconsin politics for years before they joined the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newsroom. Stein was a politics and business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, and Marley covered local government for the Kenosha News. As such, they know many of the principals involved on a personal as well as professional level.
What makes their new book so significant and perhaps unique is how Stein and Marley draw from a vast array of traditional resources—interviews, newspaper stories and other print research—and well as some new ones like social media, websites, and other digital outlets. The book itself has twenty chapters: some quite short (seven pages of Walker’s family history in Chapter 2) and some considerably more extensive (twenty-two pages on the “First Protests” in Chapter 7).
Accessibly written in a journalistic rather than an academic style, the book is filled with first-hand accounts of events, personal profiles of many of the primary and even secondary characters, and anecdotes that enrich and personalize elements that might otherwise overwhelm the reader with facts or seem dryly historical.
More than They Bargained For is a treasury of historical fact, drama, surprise, and even a little mystery. Some of the details described in the book might shock some readers, and likely dismay, disturb, or anger others.
Chapters flow chronologically, beginning with a chapter on the Republican victories in the November 2010 elections and ending with the June 5, 2012, gubernatorial recall election. While each chapter is followed by Notes that provide detail on referenced materials and sources alike, footnotes would have eliminated a lot of page-flipping. Stein and Marley also include a separate and useful description of key actors, a six-page chronology of key dates, and several pages of illustrations. Of special interest is a short eight-page Conclusion that brings the story into the year 2013 and hints of future events with potential significance to Wisconsin and the United States.
The principle focus of the narrative is, of course, on what is known to most as Act 19—also referred to as the Budget Repair Bill of 2011. This piece of legislation included fiscal items that had budgetary significance to Wisconsin’s state and local governments, but also contained highly controversial features that virtually stripped public unions of collective bargaining rights—a move that substantially diminishes their role as major forces in politics.
Perhaps the most riveting chapter is one called “Dropping the Bomb” which details the events of February 2011 that led to massive public protests, the departure of the Democratic minority State Senators to Illinois, and ultimately the passage of Act 10. Other notable chapters describe the Capitol “In Lockdown,” the “End Game,” the legal maneuvering (Chapter 18, “A Court Divided”), and the role the Wisconsin Supreme Court plays in the story.
Almost anticlimactic are the chapters that summarize the run up to the recall elections of Governor Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch (Chapters 19 and 20) as well as the campaigns and financing of these elections and the eventual outcomes.
More than They Bargained For also reveals some details of this history previously unknown to the public. The authors are very good storytellers as well as excellent reporters of current events. Their carefully crafted chronicle emphasizes the human side of the storylines as much as the political and historical implications involved in epic clashes of human beliefs and values.
Also noteworthy, for both present and potentially future significance is the description of “A State Divided” on many levels in terms of personal relationships, political ideology, and geography. Left unanswered is whether the political wounds from all this will heal eventually and the state will return to a more normal atmosphere. Or is this period merely a preface of or precursor to the state’s long-term future.
Despite their proximity to these people and events over the past two years, Stein and Marley have managed to produce a very readable, well-researched, and thoroughly interesting narrative without any notable bias—a major accomplishment. For those interested in the political climate of Wisconsin’s recent past as well as the near future (and who isn’t?), More than They Bargained For: Scott Walker, Unions, and the Fight for Wisconsin is a compelling read.
And while their concluding essay leaves the reader with more questions than answers, it reflects the fact that the legal challenges to Act 10 are as of this date unsettled. Likewise, the political direction of Wisconsin is very much up in the air as well as the political future of Governor Walker. The book notes that while both parties have victories to claim over the past two years, the winners of the titular “Fight for Wisconsin” will not be revealed any time soon.