MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker played up his historic recall victory in a speech Tuesday at the Republican National Convention, saying taxpayers chose to stick with a leader with bold plans for reform.
Walker told delegates at the convention in Tampa, Fla., that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is reformer just like him and can help the nation's unemployed get back to work. He praised Romney, too, for choosing U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville as his vice presidential running mate.
"With the announcement of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Gov. Romney not only showed that he has the experience and the skill needed to become president, he showed he has the courage and the passion to be an exceptional president," Walker said to applause. "With this pick he showed us that the 'R' next to his name doesn't just stand for Republican, it stands for reformer."
Walker has become a rising star in national GOP circles after pushing through a bill last year that stripped most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. Walker said he had to make the changes to balance the state budget and give local leaders fiscal flexibility, but the move sparked a massive protest at the state Capitol that went on around the clock for three weeks.
Labor unions form one of Democrats' most important constituencies, and the party tried to exact revenge by forcing Walker into a recall. Republicans across the country rallied around Walker, though, pouring millions of dollars into his campaign fund. He went on to easily dispatch challenger Tom Barrett in the June 5 election, becoming the first U.S. governor to survive a recall.
The chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Mike Tate, said he agreed with Walker that the "R'' next to Romney's name doesn't just stand for Republican. But Tate said in a statement that it stands for "return," meaning "a return to the very same failed economic policies that crashed the economy in the first place."
The liberal group One Wisconsin Now slammed Walker just ahead of his speech, accusing him of a "win at all costs mentality" and of "slavish devotion" to corporate special interests.
"His divide and conquer approach to passing his agenda has left Wisconsin bitterly divided along partisan lines as never before," Scott Ross, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
Roughly the first half of Walker's short speech alluded to the recall, but in mostly vague terms. He said voters were asked to choose between returning to days of huge budget deficit or moving forward with reforms that helped balance the budget and create jobs.
"On June 5, voters in Wisconsin got to determine who was in charge — was it the big government special interests in Washington or the hard-working taxpayers of our state," Walker said. "The good news is that — on June 5 — the hard working taxpayers won."
Thanks to his reforms, he said, Wisconsin has added thousands of new jobs and the state's unemployment rate has dropped from when he first took office in January 2011.
According to the state Department of Workforce Development's latest quarterly report, the state added nearly 37,500 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, but lost about 9,360 government jobs for an overall gain of about 28,000. The agency's latest monthly data shows the state lost 6,000 jobs in July, although those figures are subject to heavy revisions.
According to the monthly data, the unemployment rate stood at 7.3 percent in July, down from 7.4 percent in January 2011.
Walker said Romney, like himself, understands that people, not the government, create jobs.
"Now, more than ever, we need reformers ... leaders who think more about the next generation than just the next election," Walker said. "That's what you get from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan."