Welcoming audience greets governor in banquet hall
Gov. Scott Walker spoke Tuesday at Forward Janesville's annual dinner. Hundreds of people turned up to protest his appearance.
JANESVILLE Having cleared a wall of protestors outside, Gov. Scott Walker knew he'd find support Tuesday night inside the Holiday Inn Express & Janesville Conference Center.
Walker received a rousing welcome as he took the stage and was interrupted by applause several times in a 25-minute speech at Forward Janesville's annual dinner.
He reiterated most of the points he made on the campaign trail and over the tumultuous two and one-half months of his governorship.
"I've seen the nods and heard the applause tonight," Walker said. "I know I'm preaching to the choir here. This is a business and economic development group."
Walker campaigned on a platform of statewide economic development and job creation anchored by fiscal restraint in Madison. The mission, he said, is to end a fiscal and economic crisis not seen in decades.
His ideas of fiscal restraint—supported in both the GOP-controlled Assembly and Senate—have drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters to Madison outraged by his budget repair bill and a biennial budget proposal that severely limit collective bargaining by public unions and force significant spending reductions at the state and local levels.
For the most part, Walker's comments drew applause and ovations. A handful of tables, however, remained seated and withheld applause, but there were no other outward displays of opposition.
Walker said past administrations looked the other way as they raided money from a tobacco settlement lawsuit, a patients' compensation fund, the state's segregated transportation fund and the federal stimulus program to pay ongoing operations.
"There's nowhere left to kick the can into the future," he said, noting that his budget does what eight preceding state budgets did not: reduce the state's structural deficit without raising taxes. "This budget is a commitment to the future."
He noted that Moody's Investor Services, one of the nation's top bond rating agencies, recently issued a report saying Walker's budget would make the state "credit positive."
"What they've said is that this budget gets serious about tackling the tough challenges," Walker said.
Walker said he's moving quickly to address the state's problems, just as any CEO facing a business crisis would. That includes cutting costs and regulations and making Wisconsin an attractive place to do business.
The results, he said, are starting to pay off as the state added 13,000 jobs in January and February, 8,200 of them in manufacturing.
That doesn't include the announcement early this month that Stoughton Trailers would reopen its Evansville plant and hire 302 workers, plus an additional 176 for its plants in Stoughton and Brodhead, Walker said.
"Small businesses will be the ones that stimulate our economy," he said. "If we get companies that add 1,000 or 3,000 jobs, I'll do cartwheels … but it's really the companies that will add 10, 15, 20 jobs that will bring us back."
Walker said he wants to be at the table with Forward Janesville and the public/private economic initiative called Rock County 5.0 to solve the problems created by General Motors' departure. A mega employer, he said, probably won't fill that void.
Smaller companies that—thanks to his agenda—have their sights set on Wisconsin will replace the lost jobs, he said.
Several times, Walker expressed his knowledge of and fondness for Rock County, which neighbors Walworth County, where he grew up in Delavan. He recalled visits as a teen to Shakey's Pizza and Ponderosa, followed by wanderings at the Janesville Mall.
"Rock County is and will continue to be a leader in turning this state around," he said.
Walker didn't leave the stage without acknowledging the protesters outside. It's been several weeks, he said, since the large protests outside the Capitol.
"Actually, it kind of refreshed my memory," he said. "But it's kind of hard to argue that it's organic when there's a big national Teamsters bus parked out front."
Forward Janesville President John Beckord said he was pleased the evening went off without a hitch, both for the 700-plus inside the hall and for the demonstrators outside.
"Everyone was safe, and that was the most important thing," Beckord said. "The reaction I've received has been nothing but positive.
"And the governor told me afterward that it was all terrific and that he left feeling very welcome in Janesville."