SAN DIEGO (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told a sympathetic crowd of state lawmakers from around the country Thursday that he would trash the nuclear deal with Iran on his first day as president, striking a combative tone on how he would govern on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues.
Walker addressed the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose conservative agenda has made it a target for Democrats, organized labor and liberals.
Hundreds of protesters rallied Wednesday outside the downtown San Diego hotel where the meeting is being held, some carrying signs that read "Stop the Assault on Working People" and "Big $$$ Out of Politics."
"I understand you had a few protesters yesterday. For us that's just getting warmed up," Walker said to applause before recalling his fierce battles with organized labor.
The Republican governor touted efforts in Wisconsin to restrict access to abortions and require voters to present photo identification, pledging to pursue those efforts as president. He became most animated on the agreement with Iran to ease sanctions in exchange for concessions on the Islamic nation's nuclear program.
"Iran is not a place that we should be doing business with," he said, drawing a standing ovation during a 25-minute speech that stuck to familiar themes of a lightly regulated economy and muscular foreign policy.
Tea party leader Mark Meckler, who heads the conservative group Citizens for Self-Governance, said the enthusiastic response was notable because foreign policy isn't a governor's strong suit. "I think he's trying to build his foreign policy credentials and it obviously resonated here," Meckler said.
Walker and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were the only presidential contenders scheduled to appear at the conference. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz canceled a Friday appearance, citing a need to be in the Senate for votes.
Huckabee, meanwhile, lashed out Thursday at the U.S. Supreme Court for making same-sex marriage legal and warning about trade agreements that cost American jobs.
ALEC, the acronym by which the group is known, promotes model legislation for state lawmakers on business-friendly issues, including "right-to-work" measures to prohibit companies and unions from requiring employees to be union members.
Opponents have pressured companies to break ties with ALEC over the group's positions on the environment, criminal justice and other matters, and ALEC has suffered high-profile defections.
Bill Meierling, a group spokesman, said the "vast majority" of corporate departures occurred after Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman while walking home in Florida in 2012. Less than two months after the killing, ALEC ended its support of stand-your-ground self-defense laws, he said.
About 2,000 predominantly Republican state lawmakers belong to ALEC, along with about 300 corporations, policy advocates and others, Meierling said. Some 1,300 of them registered for the meeting, which kicked off with workshops on governing higher education, criminal justice, electronic cigarettes and drug patents.