EUREKA, ILL. — Presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker, who catapulted to national fame by confronting public-sector unions in Wisconsin, said Thursday that he would take aim at federal employee unions in his first day in the White House.
Walker spoke at Eureka College, alma mater of his political hero, former president Ronald Reagan.
After seeing his support tumble in recent presidential polls, Walker sought a favorable contrast with his GOP rivals by emphasizing his contention that he has a more detailed plan for the presidency.
That plan, Walker said, involves bringing the same upheaval to the nation’s capital that he brought to Wisconsin’s.
“We’ve got a plan to wreak havoc on Washington, and our plan starts on day one,” Walker told a crowd of more than 150.
Walker vowed that “we’re going to tell the American people what we’re going to do when it comes to taking on the big-government union bosses.”
Walker’s labor plan won’t be detailed until a Monday event in Las Vegas. But his campaign said Thursday that one part of it would be ending paycheck withholding of the portion of federal employee union dues used for political activity.
“On day one, I’m going to stop the government from taking money — money out of the paychecks of federal employees for political union dues,” Walker said. “I don’t think any worker in this country should be required to put money into a political fund that doesn’t support candidates that they don’t support.”
Membership in federal employee unions is voluntary, and workers can’t be required to pay dues or fees if they choose not to join the union.
In a statement responding to Walker, the head of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, said that union doesn’t make political contributions to federal candidates from union dues.
The statement from AFGE president J. David Cox Sr. called Walker’s plan “a blatant political attack on federal employees and an attempt to wipe labor unions off the map.”
Ann Hodges, a University of Richmond professor and labor law expert, said at least two states, Arizona and Alabama, have adopted some version of Walker’s proposal. The proposal would place “a huge administrative burden” on federal employee unions by forcing them to solicit members for dues instead of automatically deducting their full dues from their paychecks, Hodges said.
“It will really limit the ability of federal unions to get involved politically. So it then reduces their power in the ballot box,” Hodges said.
Walker’s proposal bears some similarity to a provision in Act 10, the landmark law he signed in 2011 that sharply curtailed collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public-sector unions. The provision says Wisconsin public employee unions can no longer automatically collect dues from their members through paycheck deductions.
Walker’s speech Thursday also focused on other elements of his day-one plan for which he previously had shown support. Those include a pledge to send a bill to Congress to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care law, end Obama’s executive actions to defer deportation for some living in the U.S. illegally and terminate the proposed U.S. deal with Iran.
In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal earlier this week, Walker acknowledged that after topping polls much of the spring and summer, he had recently strayed from his fundamental campaign formula and is going back to basics.
He had a brutal August in which he failed to make a strong impression in the first GOP presidential debate. A high-profile series of gaffes followed, in which Walker took three different positions on the issue of birthright citizenship, asserted there are just a “handful of reasonable, moderate followers of Islam” and suggested that building a wall on the U.S.-Canadian border is a “legitimate issue.”
He faces another debate test on Wednesday, when top GOP candidates meet for their second national forum at the Reagan Presidential Library in California.
Walker, speaking after his speech Thursday, told reporters that the events of recent weeks haven’t rattled him.
“I think I’ve shown in my track record, I don’t back down from anything,” Walker said. “So none of this intimidates us.”
Walker gave his speech in the same chapel where Reagan, as a Eureka College freshman in 1928, gave what he later described in his autobiography as his first speech. In the speech, Reagan called for a strike by students protesting cutbacks to the college’s faculty, according to his autobiography.
Walker sought to liken himself to Reagan, saying America’s challenges are large but not insurmountable.
“Just like Reagan, I’m an optimist,” Walker said, “and I believe in the American people.”