GOP unfazed with governor’s lack of commitment

Gov. Scott Walker answers reporters' questions March 19, 2014, at the Wisconsin’s Governor’s Conference on Emergency Management and Homeland Security in Appleton.
Gov. Scott Walker answers reporters' questions March 19, 2014, at the Wisconsin’s Governor’s Conference on Emergency Management and Homeland Security in Appleton. (WLUK/Chad Doran)

MILWAUKEE (AP) – Scott Walker isn’t saying whether he’d serve a full second term as governor but delegates at the state GOP’s annual convention Saturday didn’t care, giving their hero a wild standing ovation as he took the stage.

Walker is trying to win a second four-year term and will likely face Democrat Mary Burke, a former Trek Bicycle Corp. executive and state commerce secretary, in the November election. But the governor also is pondering a 2016 presidential bid after his law stripping public employees’ union rights and his victory in an ensuing recall attempt transformed him into a national conservative star. Time magazine last month named him one of the 100 most influential people of 2014.

The presidential race would fall in the middle of Walker’s second term. He won’t say whether he’d finish the stint in Wisconsin.

If he left before he finished his term in Madison, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch would inherit the office. The former TV news anchor survived a recall attempt alongside Walker but her office carries no real responsibilities and she’s largely untested as a policymaker. She also was criticized in 2010 for saying that extending benefits to same-sex couples could lead to people marrying dogs and furniture.

Marinette County GOP Chairwoman Shirley Kaufman said she’d like to hear the governor commit to a full second term.

“I do believe you have to make a commitment to serve out your whole term,” Kaufman said in a telephone interview ahead of the convention. “I’d like to see our man stay in Wisconsin and be our governor. I would like to hear him commit. But I know many people would not like to hear that. He probably would make a very good president. But I’m worried about our state.”

There was little buzz about a possible Walker presidential bid at the convention. Delegates sprang to their feet and whooped as the governor took the stage to strains of Brooks & Dunn’s “Only in America.”

He made no mention of running for president, focusing instead on whipping up support for another gubernatorial term. He played up tax cuts he and Republican legislators have implemented as well as the state’s nearly $1 billion surplus and 5.9 percent unemployment rate, the lowest it’s been since November 2008.

“Are you ready to help us with four more years?” Walker shouted.

“Yeah!” the delegates yelled back.

“The real story is Wisconsin is better off today than it was four years ago and will be even better four years from now if Republicans continue to reform our state government. That’s the real story. That’s the real message,” the governor said to cheers.

The crowd gave him another ovation as he walked off.

Wisconsin Democratic Party spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in a statement that Walker is serving his own interests rather than the state’s middle class. She also called Kleefisch underqualified and questioned how Republicans could be comfortable with her becoming governor.

Delegate Shaun Melarvie of Sturgeon Bay said Saturday that Walker’s lack commitment doesn’t bother him at all.

“It’s not important to me,” Melarvie said. “If (his term) lasts two years, I’m sure the lieutenant governor or whoever replaces him will continue his policies. The smart thing is to be noncommittal. His opponents will simply use that against him.”

Eau Claire County GOP Chairman Mike Conlin said in a telephone interview before the convention that Walker deserves a pass for not committing to a full term when he’s clearly a serious presidential contender.

“I think he’d be a fool to (publicly commit to a full term),” Conlin said. “The only way he could make a commitment is if he absolutely has no plans of running for the presidency. If he decides to step up as president he’ll still be serving Wisconsin. He’ll just be serving 49 other states, too. It’s not like he’s ditching his job.”

Republicans acknowledged Kleefisch may not be a seasoned politician, but noted her husband, Joel Kleefisch, serves in the state Assembly and she has had four years to learn from Walker. Kleefisch, who served as the convention’s chairwoman, gave a confident speech about herself, getting out from behind her podium and moving around the stage as she played up the budget surplus and tax cuts.

Delegate Nate Nelson of Oshkosh said Saturday he has faith in Kleefisch. He said he was impressed with how she handled herself during the recalls and during a bout with colon cancer in 2010.

“She’s already proven herself,” Nelson said. “She handled it all with style and grace.”

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