GREEN BAY -- Wisconsin's top Republicans rallied their supporters Saturday, May 12th at the party's state convention. Heavy hitters both nationally and within the state all agree the party's top priority is keeping Gov. Scott Walker in office.
Walker faces Milwaukee's Mayor, Tom Barrett in a June 5th recall election sparked by anger over collective bargaining reforms. Opponents view the reforms as a plan to pick apart the rights of union workers. Those suspicious were flamed by the release of a 2011 documentary clip that shows Walker telling a wealthy Janesville donor he would use a "divide-and-conquer" strategy to pass those reforms.
Republicans says Walker simply meant he'd have to be be deliberate in passing reforms that would get public employees to pay their fair share.
"We knew there had to be changes. We were on an unsustainable course and I think that's what the governor was talking about. We were gonna have to take steps that would help us balance the state budget without laying off thousands of public union employees," Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Fitzgerald said.
Democrats, who will run Barrett against Walker in the recall election, say the clip is proof of a nefarious long-term plan to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state.
"If they can do that here, if they can make the working men of Wisconsin crawl on their belly like dogs here in Wisconsin, they can do it anywhere. To stop this Tea Party agenda, we have to do it here," Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski said.
Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch said Saturday she doesn't expect such legislation to reach the governor's office any time soon. However, she wouldn't say whether Walker would sign such a bill were it to pass the state assembly.
Congressman Paul Ryan (R - Janesville) says the reforms currently passed stretch beyond Wisconsin's borders. He says the recall election will determine what happens in other states facing budget problems.
"That's what I mean when I say courage is on the ballot. What state senator, what state representative, what governor is gonna tackle these fundamental drivers of their state debt if you get recalled for trying to do it?" Ryan said.
That's why the Republicans believe, far-and-away, their party's top priority is keeping Walker in office, while Democrats believe they can swing national momentum by sending Barrett to Madison.
Republican Party officials say last year's convention drew 1,300 people. They don't have an official tally from this weekend's convention yet, but say the crowd in Green Bay this year was much bigger.