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LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker told Wisconsin Republicans on Saturday that in his four-plus years in office he has transformed the state by enacting numerous conservative priorities, including defunding Planned Parenthood, legalizing concealed carry and weakening public union power.
In a 20-minute speech at the Republican Party convention, Walker didn't mention his own likely run for the White House, but did call on party activists to do all they can in electing a Republican for president next year. Wisconsin hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
"We're going to change that too, by the way," Walker quipped.
Following his speech, for which he broke tradition and spoke on the convention floor rather than behind the podium, Walker left for Iowa where he was to hold a pair of fundraisers and appear at an evening event with other Republican presidential hopefuls.
Walker, his shirt sleeves rolled up, ticked off a list of laws that have been enacted since he took office in 2011. That includes effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers, making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, legalizing concealed weapons, requiring a photo identification to vote, defunding Planned Parenthood and cutting taxes by $2 billion.
"We didn't just win an election, we transformed the state," Walker said to a standing ovation from the roughly 1,000 people. "We took the power away from the big government special interests and put it back in the hands of the hardworking taxpayers."
Prior to his speech, Walker took questions from reporters and defended the quasi-private economic development agency he created four years ago, despite his call for reform this week in the wake of a critical audit.
Walker's critics have said that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has been a total failure, pointing to Wisconsin trailing the national average in job creation and not meeting Walker's promise to add 250,000 jobs in his first term.
Walker sidestepped a question about whether he felt his vision for the agency in charge of the state's job-creation efforts had been a failure.
"The broader vision is actually very successful," Walker said. "You look at all the audits and you look at the reaction of regional economic development efforts, you look at chamber of commerce members out there, overwhelmingly they'll say the work of front line staff has been very aggressive. They feel it's a partnership between regional, local, municipal and state economic development efforts. In that regard it's been highly effective."
An audit released last week found numerous ongoing problems with the agency, which Walker leads, including not following state law or properly tracking job creation by companies that received taxpayer money.
Walker announced Friday that he wanted to phase out direct loans to businesses and put the money instead toward tax incentives tied to meeting certain benchmarks, like creating a set number of jobs.
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff cited Wisconsin's ranking as 40th in private-sector job creation, based on the most recent numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for the 12-month period ending in September.
"Walker's WEDC was supposed to drive our economy, and by that measure they've failed," Baldauff said.
Walker was also noncommittal Saturday on a new idea floated by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to structure the private school voucher program similar to open enrollment.
Under the plan, any public school student could apply for a voucher and there would be no enrollment cap. Students would receive funding from their district of residence to attend a voucher school. That is estimated to cost public schools $48 million over the next two years, according to a memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
"We're open to working with the Legislature in a variety of different ways but I don't know that we're set to any one in particular," Walker said Saturday.
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