Usually accessible Walker hasn't taken questions lately

AP News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2015 5:42 PM
Usually accessible Walker hasn't taken questions lately

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has repeatedly shown a fearlessness, and even affinity, for patiently taking questions from reporters following the most mundane events or in the face of embarrassing slip-ups.

But in the past two weeks the Republican governor has become much harder to reach as he ramps up for a likely 2016 presidential campaign.

While Walker is ducking from reporters, he's been busy making news. In recent days, he has supported a 20-week abortion ban, signed into a law a measure that prohibits requiring a worker to pay union dues, backed elimination of a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases and criticized Hillary Clinton for using a private email account while at the State Department.

Walker addressed those issues either by issuing statements, holding public events without taking questions or in one-on-one interviews. He hasn't been available to field questions from reporters in Wisconsin since he was in Green Bay on Feb. 24.

When he has taken questions from audience members at speeches he's given lately, Walker has gotten a little tongue tied.

In London last month for a trade mission, Walker refused to answer a number of questions about foreign affairs from reporters and others in the audience at a policy think tank. And when asked by the event moderator whether he believed in evolution, Walker said he was going to "punt" on that one as well.

Less than a week after that trip, Walker's political committee hired a pair of veteran foreign policy advisers.

On Feb. 26, in response to a question from an audience member at a conservative summit outside of Washington, Walker said he was prepared to take on international terrorists because of his experience standing up to pro-union protesters. The comment drew strong rebukes that crossed party lines.

At his first public event in Wisconsin six days after that, a speech to hundreds at a state chamber of commerce event in Madison, Walker didn't take questions. His spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said that he was sick, and Walker referenced having "a little bit of a cold" before delivering a 25-minute speech.

Reporters were kept at a distance on Monday when Walker signed a right-to-work bill into law at an invite-only event outside of Milwaukee. Patrick said Tuesday that his comments at the event spoke for themselves.

The governor also left an Ag Summit in Iowa on Saturday without taking reporters' questions. A spokeswoman for Walker's Our American Revival committee said he was too busy "running from event to event."

Walker has never shown any fear in standing before the press, even under very uncomfortable circumstances.

Walker held a news conference in 2011 on the same day that news broke he had taken a phone call from someone he thought was billionaire Republican backer David Koch, but who turned out to be a prankster who then posted a recording of the call on his blog.

More recently, in December, Walker took questions after news broke that a letter drafted in his name to a Jewish leader about a decade ago ended with him saying "Molotov" instead of "mazel tov."

Walker fielded the questions following a Menorah lighting ceremony.

It's not unusual for candidates at this stage to limit their access, said veteran Republican presidential strategist Charlie Black.

"When you become a prospective national candidate everything you say is national news, so you do have to be careful if you want to get your own message out," said Black, who advised Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "I've always told these guys never say anything in public you haven't thought through and rehearsed in private."

Despite Walker's recent reluctance to meet the press, there's been no change in policy because "there is no set policy," Patrick said. She said there have been multiple instances where Walker did not take questions. The example she gave was when Walker signed the state budget in June 2013.

"As we typically do, we will advise the Governor's public events the day ahead of the event and will note in the advisory whether he will be taking questions, as time allows," she said.

Walker's critics, including the liberal political action committee American Bridge 21st Century, say he's dodging reporters while "doubling down on extreme positions that are taking him closer and closer to the right wing conservative base."

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP