By Ron Knecht and Geoffrey Lawrence

Nevada State Controller and Assistant Controller

With 15 major Republicans already declared – the best presidential field since Ronald Reagan ran for re-election – GOP voters should be able to tap a very strong candidate to lead their party next year.  Which one would best unify and represent them?

Good cases certainly can be made for (in alphabetic order) Dr. Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Marco Rubio.  But we think Scott Walker offers the best package of strong executive experience, personal qualifications and reliable, across-the-board limited-government reform politics.

Why? First, he has probably the strongest executive leadership record. As Wisconsin governor, he’s been so good that in the past Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has been quoted as saying that if he had Republican majorities in both houses of our legislature he’d do the same things here that Walker has done in Wisconsin.

Walker has shown that the long-term growth of the public sector relative to the economy – the biggest problem our country faces – can be stopped and reversed even in a historically blue (Democrat) state.  He has not only led Republicans to turn Wisconsin red, but has won three state-wide elections there in four years.

He has also demonstrated important personal qualities, especially guts, by standing up fearlessly to predatory special interests such as public-employee unions. He not only beat them on key policy and budget matters, but also when they tried to recall him for beating them and promoting public-interest reform. He’s the only American governor ever to defeat a recall election.

So, Milwaukee Democrat prosecutors struck back. “The early-morning paramilitary-style raids on citizens’ homes were conducted by law enforcement officers, sometimes wearing bulletproof vests and lugging battering rams, pounding on doors and issuing threats,” wrote columnist George Will. Their purpose was to make false charges against Walker’s campaigns, but they have not laid a glove on him, and he has stood strong.  Courts have stopped the bullies with strong warnings, and federal civil rights actions are now pending against prosecutorial abuse.

All this shows not only how effective his reforms have been (to precipitate such a response), but also his ability to take real heat, stick to his principles and continue to lead.  No other candidate has endured such trial by fire.  It makes him truly inspirational.

When Walker took office in 2010, Wisconsin faced a $3.6-billion budget deficit.  Instead of raising taxes, he scaled back government excess and required state employees to contribute to their retirement plans on a matching basis with taxpayers.  Earlier this year, we used the same approach to propose a Nevada budget with modest cuts in requested spending, sound programs (especially K-12 education) and no tax increases.

He balanced Wisconsin’s books without tax increases.  In fact, he cut taxes.  We need that at the federal level, too.  Many candidates say they stand for limited government reform. Walker has the strongest record of actually keeping such promises.  Over two decades, he’s done what he said he’d do, and it has worked.

All the while, he’s shown an unflappable temperament, with a mild disposition, almost never getting provoked or losing his temper. He stays focused and on message and frames his positions carefully. He articulates a natural economic conservatism with conviction, not moral defensiveness.

His wholesome, authentic, Midwestern down-to-earth friendly nature – the preacher’s son who eats lunch daily at his desk from a brown paper bag and has not enriched himself in public office – makes him an ideal candidate.

Maybe he’s not exactly a combination of Gregory Peck’s noble deacon of decency, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Jimmy Stewart’s everyman paragon of perseverance, Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  But he’s close.

True, he does not have foreign affairs experience, and he needs to return to his roots on immigration issues.  And strong cases can be made for the other eight candidates we named.

But he’s as much a genuine real-guy doer as Barack Obama is a preening pretentious phony bloviator.  Unlike Hillary Clinton, he’s about service instead of $250,000 speeches and family foundation influence peddling.  After eight years of disaster from the former, we need Scott Walker to stave off more of the same from the latter.