By M.D. Kittle and Kirsten Adshead/Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Wisconsin’s presence rang like a bell through the packed Tampa Bay Times Forum Tuesday night in Tampa, Fla.
When Gov. Scott Walker took the stage to tell the Badger State story, Wisconsin delegates led a standing ovation that rattled the rafters of the Republican Party National Convention.
But Walker, true to conservative form, stayed on task and had no intention of basking in the glow of the moment, moving right on with his speech – truncated by a stacked speaker agenda, the result of a hurricane-abbreviated convention schedule.
The Republican governor launched into the record of his political survival — the late spring recall election pushed by Democrats and organized labor who abhorred his agenda that curbed collective bargaining for public employees and his cuts into a state budget running $3.6 billion in the red.
“On June 5, voters in Wisconsin were asked to choose between going backwards to the days of double-digit tax increases, billion-dollar budget deficits and record job losses, or moving forward with reforms that lowered the tax burden, balanced the budget and helped small businesses create more jobs,” Walker said, a refrain he drew from his recall election campaign speeches.
He used “June 5” as an antithetical rallying cry, painting his campaign as a battle of faith in free-market versus belief in the broad powers of government.
Wisconsin’s battle, Walker asserted, is the nation’s struggle in this presidential election, pointing to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his Wisconsin running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, as the team to take on the fight.
Perhaps one of Romney’s finest hours of courageous leadership, Walker said, was when he selected rising Republican star and Janesville native Ryan as his VP nominee.
“With this pick he showed the ‘R’ next to his name doesn’t just stand for Republican, it stands for reformer,” Walker said.
“Now, more than ever, we need reformers: leaders who think more about the next generation than the next election,” the governor said, turning a familiar line during his recall election campaign.
With Republican National Committee Chairman and Kenosha’s own Reince Priebus leading the Tampa convention, Wisconsin’s prominent position at the front of the floor, and Ryan fever burning among conservatives, Tuesday, arguably belonged in large part to America’s Dairyland. The delegates in foam yellow cheddarhead hats would attest.
“Tonight and (Wednesday) night are kind of Wisconsin night,” said Joe Heim, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Heim said brought his Wisconsin story home, for whatever reason opting not to carry on the “We Built It” theme, a reference to the GOP indignant campaign against President Obama’s earlier assertions that businesspeople don’t build businesses alone, that someone, including government, helped them along the way.
“It wasn’t a throwing-meat-to-the-crowd kind of speech,” Heim said, adding Walker played selective with statistics on U.S. unemployment and job growth, something he said is expected in particular at party conventions.
Roy Catron said Walker’s speech did exactly what it needed to do.
Catron, a Muskego software salesman, told Wisconsin Reporter he is a tea party activist disenchanted with the GOP for claiming it would hold down government spending while being barely recognizable from what he sees as big-spending Democrats.
He said he now plans to make phone calls and knock on doors for Romney, in large part because of the candidate’s running mate.
“What I really think about Romney is … I don’t think he was as conservative as maybe he is now. But I think seeing the economy and talking to Ryan and Walker when he was here, I think he said, ‘Hey, we’re on to something here,” Catron said.
Reactions on Wisconsin Reporter’s Facebook page ranged from “Did WI PROUD!!” to “As usual he’s a frinkin’ liar.”
“So proud to be a Wisconsinite! My kids have a great future ahead thanks to such a great leader – finally! Now the country has to follow WI lead and elect Romney/Ryan to lead away from the cliff,” Sue Apostoli Swanger wrote.
Others were less impressed.
“He talks a good game, but I don’t see any results, property values are in the (hole), schools are in turmoil, I don’t see any changes,”Keven Kautenburg wrote.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union offered a stinging rebuke of Walker’s speech even before he delivered it.
“While Scott Walker took his brand of divisive extreme right wing governance to Tampa Wisconsin workers stayed home to fight the extreme Ryan/ Walker agenda at home. Today AFSCME workers released this video putting the pair on notice that the fight has just begun,” the labor group which helped lead the recall effort said in a statement.
Walker, in his speech, asserted the presidential election, like his own recall election, is about a pivotal moment.
“Let this be our time in history so that someday we can tell our children and grandchildren that we were there, that we changed the course of history for the better,” he said.
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org