By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Milwaukee and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch will play host to a gathering of Republican lieutenant governors and second-in-command candidates beginning Sunday.
The session, organized by the Republican State Leadership Committee and its Republican Lieutenant Governors Association, runs from Sunday through Wednesday morning at undisclosed locations in Milwaukee, and is expected to be the “largest gathering of Republican lieutenant governors in history,” according to RGLA spokeswoman Jill Bader.
The organization chose Milwaukee to showcase Wisconsin’s success story, and the fight in Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his trusty lieutenant, Bader said.
With less than three months of campaigning left before a tightly contested gubernatorial election, Bader highlighted the first term accomplishments of Team Walker and Kleefisch — chief among them, turning a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall into $900 million-plus in excess revenue and then sending that money back to Wisconsin taxpayers in the form of a hefty tax cut. And they survived a bitter partisan recall campaign on top of it all, handily defeating their Democrat opponents.
“Wisconsin is the model for the nation in how you take a blue state with entrenched special interests (public sector unions), a dismal jobs record and a deficit budget and turn it all around without raising taxes,” Bader said.
Democrats have castigated Walker for balancing the budget on the backs of public employees through deep budget cuts in 2011, and for failing to, so far, meet his pledge that Wisconsin businesses would create 250,000 jobs in his first term. As of the most recent quarterly jobs figures, which lag well behind current employment statistics, Wisconsin’s economy has added more than 100,000 jobs.
Walker and his defenders say that’s a far cry better than the 133,000 jobs lost during his predecessor’s — Democrat Gov. Jim Doyle — administration. The massive hemorrhaging of jobs did occur during the worst recession in more than a generation, however.
Kleefisch said the political uncertainty wrought by Wisconsin’s historic recall season didn’t help administration efforts to put Wisconsinites to work.
“Folks need predictability,” the lieutenant governor told Wisconsin Reporter in an interview Friday. “The unfortunate part is when unpredictable behavior out of politicians who simply seek to rock the boat for their own political gain like we saw in the recalls. It’s not us you damage. We survived. It’s the families of Wisconsin, it’s the small business owners of Wisconsin, it’s the students you end up harming.”
Kleefisch will take on either state Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, or Mary Jo Walters, an Occupy Madison activist, in the November contest, depending on the outcome of next week’s partisan recall elections. Walker is pitted against Madison school board member Mary Burke, the Democrat’s presumptive candidate, a former Trek Bicycle executive who served as state Commerce secretary under Doyle.
The most recent Marquette Law School Poll shows the governor’s race a dead heat.
Kleefisch is expected to close the meeting of lieutenant governors with an announcement about the party’s effort to recruit Republican women for political office. Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor chairs the Right Women Right Now initiative, which, in 2012, identified 185 new Republican women candidates from 36 states.
This year’s goal is to recruit 300 women nationally.
“Spoiler alert: We’ve busted that number wide open,” Kleefisch said.
Bader tells Wisconsin Reporter the number of first-time Republican women candidates is nearing 500.
So much for the left’s charges that Republicans are leading a “War on Women,” Kleefisch and Bader said.
“I didn’t grow up in a household where I was told there were different standards for me and my sister. We were told girls could do anything boys could do. There were no barriers, and that type of mindset has behooved me,” Kleefisch said.
But she acknowledges there have been challenges in recruiting Republican women to run for political office, as there have been struggles in bringing more women into the GOP tent.
“Oftentimes, we have a brand that has been defined by our opponents for so many years that it has been tough to make a comeback in the hearts and minds of voters established as Democrats unless we think outside the box and think more creatively,” Kleefisch said.
Republicans, the lieutenant governor said, need to get to the “real,” the issues that really matter to voters. While the big numbers are something to boast about — $2 billion in tax cuts under Walker, in particular — it’s the savings to everyday working families that matter.
“That’s a struggle folks in politics have,” she said. “Instead of telling everyone we cut taxes by $2 billion, I’ll tell you an (average) family of four will see $681 of their own money that they can budget for. I think that’s more meaningful on a personal level than $2 billion … ($681) is 195 gallons of gas you can budget for.”
The Badger State is becoming a go-to destination for political conferences. Last August, the National Governors Association hosted its summer meeting in Milwaukee.