This week, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker prepared to speak at the annual Citizenship Dinner for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) in Oklahoma City, hundreds of demonstrators opposed to his free market and fiscally conservative policies demonstrated outside.
Among more than a thousand attendees at the event, several older attendees remembered OCPA’s early days, when a couple of hundred or so supporters might gather for such an evening. This year, there were as many demonstrators outside as there once were at those early assemblies of the conservative think tank.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin introduced Gov. Walker as a “profile in courage” for battling his state’s powerful public sector labor unions. She credited Walker as a man who “talked the talk, and walked the walk” of fiscal restraint and limited government.
At the beginning of his remarks, Walker, the star of the evening, spoke with affection of the Sooner State’s chief executive, saying “there no doubt, when you look across the country” that Fallin is a conservative star.
Walker recalled a trip he took in 2011 to the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix for an event similar to the OCPA gathering. After speaking there, he traveled to Santa Barbara, California, and went to the nearby Reagan Ranch.
He recounted standing at the spot where the late President, in August of 1981, signed the largest income tax in American history to that point, “a true economic recovery act based on Art [Laffer’s] philosophy that if you put more money back in the hands of the American people, it would work. That’s exactly why you’ve got to help Mary do that here. That philosophy worked a generation ago, it can work again here in Oklahoma – and you can lead the country.”
After loud applause, he continued, “Too many people in the media forget about the fact that President Reagan’s tax cuts – slicing the marginal tax rate by 25 percent – brought about the longest peacetime economic boom in American history — more than 21 million new jobs, more than 5 million new businesses. We could stand a little bit of that today.”
The evening’s opening prayer had included a fervent and generous prayer for the outside protestors. That moment had apparently had an effect on Walker, who told the crowd, “I’m the son of a preacher, so I pay really close attention to the prayer.
"I’ve got to tell you, I appreciated that prayer. I particularly appreciated praying not just for all of us and our leaders, but for the folks who are outside.”
Walker told the crowd briefly about his children, who attend public schools. He said that in Wisconsin, Sundays are an important day – for Church, and the Packers. One particular Sabbath last fall in his home state, there was time between the end of the Church and the 3:15 start of a Packers game.
During that window of time, Walker said, he was raking leaves at his personal home (not the governor’s mansion in Madison) with his two sons and a friend of the boys.
As they raked in the front yard, Walker said, a man drove by honking. Walker and the three lads looked up, the driver rolled down his window and the guy, he said, “flips me off.”
Gavin, his sons’ friend, then asked, “Mr. Walker, how do you put up with that?”
Walker recounted the conversation this way: “Well, you know, it’s America. That’s what great about America. People can do and say what they want. But it’s a little raw, though. It would be one thing to do it at the Capitol, one thing at the governor’s residence. But literally out in front of somebody’s house, that’s a little cheesy out there. But you know what, instead of getting mad at them, literally, I pray for them.”
He continued, “I figure if somebody flips you off in front of your own house, there’s probably something more wrong with their life than just whether or not they agree with my policies or not. So, I think they need a little bit of God’s grace. So I pray for them.”
He concluded by saying, “Gavin, if you just stay positive in moments like this, God will provide something better to counter that in the future.”
Walker, a bit self-consciously said he hoped that was a “nice lesson.”
The story wasn’t quite over. About 90 seconds later, there was “another honk” and they looked up. Walker remembers he, “thought maybe I should have raked leaves at night. Two cars. They both roll their window down and lean out the window and go like this” – making a fist bump of support.
The appreciative crowd applauded the story, and Walker concluded the tale, saying Gavin asked him, “Mr. Walker, did you know that was going to happen?”
He replied, “No, but it proves my point.”
Walker reflected, “In the end, the truth is what’s on our side. As long as we speak the truth, if we don’t allow our actions to get in the way of the truth, ultimately the truth will prevail whether it’s here or in Washington.”
Walker is a controversial figure, but there is little if any gap between his policy proposals and the issues on which he campaigned in 2010. Most contentious has probably been his push to limit public sector union powers.
Walker told the Oklahoma crowd his state in 2010 faced a “fiscal and economic crisis of unbelievable proportions.” He ran to be “CEO of my state.” He told voters "what I’d do. The news media was shocked that I’d actually do it.”
When Walker — who had previously served as county executive in Milwaukee and before that as a member of the Legislature, took office after his victory in that election — he told the Republican legislative caucus, “it’s put up or shut up time.”
In his opening weeks on the job, Walker pushed through an aggressive jobs agenda, property tax reductions, streamlined regulations, tort reforms to curb what he called “frivolous and out of control lawsuits.”
When reporters at the time challenged him, asking why he pushed so many issues so quickly, the said, “If you were the CEO of a company and you were taking over a company that was failing, you wouldn’t wait a year or six months or even a month, you wouldn’t wait.. … Wisconsin couldn’t wait.”
In the three years before he took office, the state had lost 150,000 jobs. In the first two months of 2012, businesses in the state created 17,000 new jobs. Walker reflected, “We’re turning things around, we’re moving in the right direction. It’s not just where you’ve been, it’s where you’re headed.”
Four Democrats are seeking to replace Walker and are running an early May primary. Walker faces a June 5 recall election.
He is currently trailing in opinion surveys, although the margin is close. Walker is often mentioned as a potential Republican vice presidential nominee.
Sponsors for the OCPA event included the Allen Family Foundation, Bowen Charitable Foundation, Ann and David Brown, DeBee Gilchrist attorneys, Devon Energy, Josephine Freede, Rae and Hubert Gragg, The Helmerich Foundation, Jean and Dave McLaughlin, LaDonna and Herman Meinders, Jeanette and Dick Sias, the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Donnie and John Brock, Ellen and Henry Kane, Michelle and Chip Mullens, Marianne and Pat Rooney, Lynn and Fed Standefer, Charles Sublett, the Chickasaw Nation, Bud Vance, Pat and Jim Wallis, Ward Petroleum, Linda and Daryl Woodward, Jennifer and Mark Alln, Terry and Lee Baxter, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mary and Bill Braum, Roberta Collins, Covenant Global investors, Julie and Charlie Daniels, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Friends of Jim Inhofe, Koch Industries, Ann Lacy and Carolyn Anne and Gene Love
Patrons included Arlene and Glenn Ashmore, AT&T Oklahoma, Kay and Robert Avery, Evelyn and Bill Boulton, Kayla and Michael Carnuccio, Chesapeake Energy, Dorothy and Joe Cox, Dan Mullins Nissan, Bobbie and Melvin Gragg, Janet and John T. Hanes, Jones PR, Sheryl and Joe Kaufman, Suzy and Lew Meibergen, Lloyd Noble II, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Catherine and Andrew Oster, Valerie Rhodes, SageNet Al Snips, Lorena Sublett, Jeanne and Bob Sullivan and Steve Wells.
The annual Citizenship gala drew a large crowd to the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. Dr. David Brown, the OCPA chairman and a national conservative leader from years of involvement with the Heritage Foundation, welcomed guests to the event. He introduced University of Oklahoma Professor Rufus Fears, an OCPA fellow, and former Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Bill Thurman, now retired in the Pacific Northwest but home in Oklahoma for the event.
OCPA President Michael Carnuccio, as the evening began, told the crowd of supporters of his group that the State Policy Network (SPN), a consortium of groups from across the nation that perform policy research and analysis along the same lines as OCPA, will hold its 2013 national meeting in Oklahoma City.
The group’s annual Citizenship Essay award winners – students from public, private and home high schools in the state – were also honored at the gala. OCPA Vice President Brian Bush delivered the invocation Walker appreciated so much.A quartet deemed “Four Fun” delivered a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Among those present were U.S. Reps. Tom Cole of Norman and James Lankford of Oklahoma City, and conservative statewide elected officials such as Fallin, Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello, Commissioner of Insurance John Doak, Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony and Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb. A few dozen state legislators also attended.
KWTV News9 anchor Ed Murray served as master of ceremonies for the Citizenship Dinner.