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EUREKA, Ill. (AP) — Republican presidential contender Scott Walker promised to tackle union power at the federal level just like he did as governor in Wisconsin, saying in a fiery speech Thursday that he wants to "wreak havoc" on Washington.
The governor chose Ronald Reagan's alma mater of Eureka College for a speech aimed at invigorating his flagging campaign less than a week before the second GOP debate. Walker spoke on the same stage where Reagan, as a freshman in 1928, gave a speech during a student strike, and his remarks were infused with references to the late president. Walker spoke in front of a banner reading "Wreaking Havoc on Washington."
Walker talked about Reagan's firing of striking air traffic controllers in 1981, before turning to his own record and recounting how he "didn't back down" when curbing collective bargaining power of Wisconsin public workers and passing a "right to work" law.
"To wreak havoc on Washington, it takes a leader who's got real solutions," Walker said.
He said that starting his first day as president, he'd require federal employee unions to disclose and certify the portion of union dues used for political activity and prohibit the government from withholding that amount in paychecks of its workers.
Doing so would protect workers from being forced to give money to political candidates they don't support, Walker said. He said he would give more details Monday about his proposals "to transfer power from the big government union bosses to the hardworking taxpayers."
No political contributions are made to federal candidates from union dues, and forbidding workers from having dues voluntarily deducted is a "blatant political attack on federal employees and an attempt to wipe labor unions off the map," said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
"Union dues are used for negotiating with management on better working conditions, protecting employees from discrimination and retaliation in the workplace, and educating lawmakers and congressional staff from both sides of the aisle on issues of vital importance to employees," Cox said.
While union gifts to federal candidates must be drawn from voluntary member contributions, compulsory dues can be used for political activities such as polling, voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts — activities that can often be steered to benefit favored candidates.
Walker is trying to get his campaign back on track after a lackluster performance in the first GOP debate a month ago, a series of statements he's had to clarify or back away from, and the rise of Donald Trump.
After touring a Reagan museum on the Eureka campus, Walker gave two thumbs up to a college official and said he hoped the speech "would give us momentum going into Wednesday." That is when Walker will join other GOP contenders in the second presidential debate, being held at the Reagan Library in California.
The renewed focus on unions puts Walker back on familiar ground. He built his career as governor on fighting, and winning, against unions. In 2011, just six weeks after taking office, Walker proposed effectively ending collective bargaining for nearly all public workers in Wisconsin.
That led to massive protests as large as 100,000 people and made the state the center of a national debate over worker rights.
Anger over that law, and a variety of other initiatives Walker and the Republican-led Legislature pushed through led to a petition drive that drew more than 900,000 signatures, forcing Walker to stand for a recall election in 2012. He won, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to defeat such an effort.
In March Walker signed a law that prohibits private-sector unions in Wisconsin from requiring workers to join and pay dues as a condition of their employment.
His latest plan will be fleshed out Monday in Las Vegas as part of a weekly release of "day one" promises detailing what he would do when taking office.
Walker has already said he plans to send a bill to Congress seeking to repeal the health care law and replace it with his own alternative, undo the Iranian nuclear arms deal and end the practices of "sanctuary cities" where local officials have decided not to use their police to enforce some federal immigration laws.
The promises are similar to a campaign ploy Walker used when first running for Milwaukee County executive in 2002, printing up pledge cards of promises to voters.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Walker would prohibit the government from withholding a portion of union dues in its employee paychecks, not all dues.
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