Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who 18 months ago became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election, is increasingly sounding as though he will seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
Meeting twice recently with members of the Washington, D.C., press corps — at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Friday and a small session with reporters hosted by National Review one week before — Walker touted his successes in Wisconsin since surviving the recall over his signature on a law opposed by public-sector unions.
"This year, I signed the third straight cut in property taxes in a row," he said, proudly adding that it was enacted with support from Democrats in the state legislature.
Walker, 47, noted that "unemployment has dropped to 6.5 percent from 9.2 percent when I ran for governor. We went from a $3.62 million deficit when I ran to a $760 million surplus today, and our rainy day fund is five times bigger than what it was when I became governor."
Walker discussed his stance on a number of political issues of the kind likely to come up in a presidential election.
Asked by Newsmax why he did not follow the example of Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and pursue enactment of right-to-work legislation, Walker said that Wisconsin's political climate had grown so polarized during the recall that "employers told us 'things need to cool down.' We need to get things back on track."
Walker emerged triumphantly with 53 percent of the recall vote and promptly invited Democrats — as well as their spouses and staff — to the governor's mansion for beer and brats and discussion of what they could work on together.
Walker spelled out why he felt conservative Republicans can win without trimming their ideological sails.
Republicans should "not be wimpy" but should "stand up and not wilt under pressure," Walker said. "But we can't be viewed as the party of 'No.'"
Regarding same-sex marriage, Walker simply said, "I don't spend my time focused on it. In 2006, the Wisconsin constitution was amended to define marriage as between one man and one woman. To change that would take two consecutive sessions of the legislature and a vote of the people. There's not a lot of debate" in the state to change it, he said.
Walker pointed out that issues such as same-sex marriage usually come up "when there is a larger void on fiscal and economic issues. If you don't articulate a clear plan, these other issues rise to the surface."
Walker strongly defended his state's voter ID law that has been denounced by civil rights groups.
"If my vote is jeopardized, it's a problem. When law first came up, there were few, if any, cases of fraud, but the Milwaukee County district attorney, a Democrat, prosecuted them," Walker said.
"We provide state-issued ID cards for someone who doesn't have access to a driver's license. But the elderly and minorities usually find this an insulting argument — that they could not have access to things that are necessary to survive today."
As for the vote by the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate to reduce the vote to end a filibuster to a simple majority, Walker said that "conservatives were frustrated during the Bush presidency about appointees held up by Democratic filibuster. And there was a sense that deference should be given to the chief executive officer to fill executive positions."
Walker addressed the recent national Republican debate on what the 2016 nomination process should look like and applauded the proposed shrinking of debates among presidential candidates. "Twenty-three debates was unmanageable last time," Walker said.
"There needs to be more attention on pruning the process," he said, backing the decision to hold the GOP convention in June rather than late August.
"We now have 29 states with Republican governors, some of them bad states for Republicans, but won by governors who in some cases are more conservative than our party's nominee for president was last year," said Walker. "Most are pro-life, but they don't obsess [on the abortion issue]. Democrats obsess on this because they realize we're focused on the economy."
Walker noted that, if he were nominated for president in 2016, he would be the first major-party nominee without a college degree since fellow Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Having worked part-time for IBM while an undergraduate at Marquette University, Walker said, he accepted a job with the American Red Cross after IBM's office relocated. The Red Cross position required him to work full-time and his plan to complete the credits remaining for a degree were interrupted by marriage, fatherhood, and his career in politics. He said "because my time gradually became others' time," he never did returned to college.
"But in Wisconsin, we've expanded the opportunities for adults to complete the education they started," said Walker. "And who knows? I may take advantage of this opportunity myself."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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