OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma — In one of the top oil-producing states in the country, Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday called to end the U.S. ban on crude oil exports.
While addressing the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Walker said the U.S. economy would improve if a 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil were lifted.
“We’ve got an abundance of supply,” he told the crowd. “Think about the impact we could have, not just economically, but from a security standpoint, if we lifted that crude oil ban that has been in place and allow to export in places like our allies in Europe, where instead of being dependent on (Vladimir) Putin and the Russians, they could be dependent on Americans.”
Walker’s appearance at the conference marked his fifth trip out of Wisconsin in recent days. Before stopping in Madison on Wednesday to sign legislation, Walker had traveled to Iowa on Saturday, New Orleans on Monday and Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Illinois on Wednesday.
Walker was the first of about a dozen 2016 presidential hopefuls to address the crowd at the three-day event. He has not formally declared his candidacy, but has said he would decide on a run after Wisconsin lawmakers complete their work on the 2015-17 budget.
Walker also spoke at a Thursday morning breakfast to kick off the event, Oklahoma Republican Party chairman Randy Brogdon said, and spoke to members of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association at a private event. At that event, Walker said securing the U.S. border is crucial to keep out those who have motives other than finding jobs, according to video of the event posted online by the liberal political research group American Bridge.
But the central issue at the conference titled “Energizing America” was fossil fuels. Domestic energy is a key issue for Oklahoma, which is one of the top five oil producing states. Walker’s comments fell in line with what conservative Oklahomans wanted to hear, according to Brogdon.
“Energy is a big deal to Oklahoma. And actually, energy is a big deal to the entire United States and I am one of those guys that believes in energy independence. We need to do a much better deal when it comes to domestic drilling,” said Brogdon. “The government has put way too many restrictions and really encumbered that drilling process.”
On domestic energy, Walker supports fracking and had previously supported building an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin to create jobs. Mining company Gogebic Taconite, which donated $700,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth, a supporter of Walker during his 2012 recall election, had planned to build a massive mine in that area but recently decided it was unfeasible to do so.
Walker was accused earlier this year of flipping his position on ethanol. He said in March at the Iowa Ag Summit that he was opposed to federal ethanol mandates, but would keep them in place for farmers for now. In 2006 he called for an end to mandates, but Walker has said he was talking about state mandates.
The Oklahoma audience erupted in cheers when Walker ticked off what he called “conservative reforms” he pushed for in Wisconsin such as pushing the state to adopt right-to-work laws and requirements to ask for identification when voting, as well as de-funding Planned Parenthood. Walker on Thursday largely echoed speeches he has made on the stump in recent months, mentioning shopping for bargains at Kohl’s department stores and revealing he decided to seek a high state office to make Wisconsin a better state for his children.
He also reiterated his desire to begin an effort to fight terrorists in the Middle East, which resonated with conference attendee Becky Shepard of Fort Smith, Arkansas.
“He’s such a proven leader,” she said after waiting in line to be photographed with Walker. “Foreign affairs is very important to me and I like what he has to say about dealing with ISIS before ISIS comes over here to deal with us.”
While in Oklahoma, Walker met with the state’s Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and Attorney General Scott Pruitt, AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for Walker’s political fundraising committee Our American Revival, said in a statement. But he left the conference without taking reporters’ questions.
The conference draws from 13 states, from Florida to the West Coast, said Brogdon, who added he considers the event “the beginning of the road to the White House.”
“You’re going to have to carry the South to become president,” he said. “This is a very important conference. I tell you what, I haven’t even picked my horse yet — this is what’s pretty awesome. I would hate to be a Democrat today, because they only get one or two choices.”
Brogdon said Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will likely draw the largest crowds — though physician Ben Carson had drawn significant crowds to the conference as of noon on Thursday.
The three-day event culminates with straw poll results Saturday.
Conference attendees also have their choice of attending a birthday party for billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens, who turns 87 on Friday, and an “Energizing America” gala hosted by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz that night. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will host the National Federation of Republican Women Breakfast on Saturday.