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Capitol Newsletter: United States 'is' or United States 'are'?
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Before the American Civil War, this country was described a unified collection of its many states, such as "the United States are ..." After the war, "United States" became a collective noun meaning many individual parts form a single entity and accompanied with a singular verb, such as "the United States is ..."

Now Gov. Scott Walker, seeking to be the next president of the United States, wants many of the details of the many social programs to be decided at a state level. He contends the 50 state legislatures can do a better job than Congress has done.

It's splendid politics. It absolves Walker of any immediate need to provide details about how America would be after he gets to the White House. Just send some money and tell them to work out what is best for each state. As always, the devil is in the details.

Walker lacks a college degree, but he brags he has the experience equal to a master's degree in politics. Few would dispute the claim. Walker has some no-stick Teflon qualities and he has chutzpah in pressing for changes he likes.

Walker has engineered changes limiting voting hours, requiring a photo ID to vote, and dramatically weakening the political power of organized labor. He signed the redistricting law in 2011 which gerrymandered legislative boundaries to guarantee that Republican would control the legislative process through 2022.

The governor helped in the ill-fated Republican effort to gut Wisconsin's nationally-regarded open records laws that guarantee citizens the opportunity to ask questions about how their government works, and, for the most part, prevent governments - and legislators - from hiding their actions. But the blame for the recent "closed records" scheme has shifted to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. The idea was dropped like a hot rock after a sharp public and news media reaction.

Now, the governor wants to replace the Government Accountability Board which oversees elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics. It has been a national model for good government, but GOP legislators are furious about some of its decisions.

The board is composed of six retired judges appointed by the governor and approved by the State Senate. Walker has appointed two-thirds of the board, but he claims he wants something that is more responsive to citizens. The legislators seem to want to return to a system in which legislators, rather than an independent panel of judges, make many of the decisions.

Walker's political smarts showed when he surfaced clearly as the first committed candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination. He talked to billionaire donors early and was on the television talk show circuit before other Republicans had geared up their campaign efforts.

Walker also was quick to react when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on same sex marriage. The governor said he'd favor an amendment to the U.S Constitution that would allow each state to decide whether to approve same sex marriage. It allowed him to test his idea of an expanded role for states in the political world.

The governor was among 10 Republican presidential candidates appearing Thursday in the nationally televised presidential debate sponsored by Fox News Channel and Facebook on the Fox News network.

But the mid-summer TV debate is a long way from the primaries. It's a bit like the first day of spring training for baseball.

There will be plenty of time for Walker to push a "United States are" approach.

- Matt Pommer is a 35-year veteran of covering state government in Madison. His column is published Saturdays in the Times.