MILWAUKEE — Hillary Rodham Clinton used her first campaign stop in Wisconsin on Thursday evening to frame women’s issues as topics that affect everyone and criticize Gov. Scott Walker over his stances on health care, unions and equal pay.
The Democratic presidential candidate addressed a packed ballroom at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, touting a plan for higher education that she says would allow students to go through college without loan debt.
She also said she wants to allow for existing student loans to be refinanced.
Through much of the speech, Clinton critiqued her GOP rivals over general economic policies that she called “out of touch and out of date.”
The former secretary of state took several swipes at billionaire Donald Trump, calling him a “flamboyant front-runner” and criticizing him for saying he “cherished women.”
“I want him to stop cherishing women,” Clinton said, “and start respecting women.”
Trump, during a phone interview on ABC’s “The View” earlier in the day expanded on his previous comment, saying, “I want to say that I cherish women, and I will protect women, and I will take care of women, and I have great respect for women.”
Clinton took special aim at Wisconsin’s Republican governor, going after him over legislation that weakened unions and moves to defund Planned Parenthood. Clinton said Walker has tried to cast himself as “a tough guy on a motorcycle.”
She went on to say he “gets his marching orders from the Koch brothers,” referencing Charles and David Koch, the wealthy industrialists who support various conservative causes.
Clinton said she supported Planned Parenthood’s work providing cancer screenings, birth control and HIV tests. She didn’t mention Planned Parenthood’s abortion services.
Walker, meanwhile, released a statement defending his work.
“Hillary Clinton could learn a few lessons from the bold reforms we’ve enacted in Wisconsin since I took office,” it read. “We cut taxes by $4.7 billion, lowered property taxes every year, and our unemployment rate today is nearly half of what it was when I became governor.”
Clinton also spoke about climate change, foreign policy and voter’s rights.
She closed the speech calling for automatic voter registrations for all Americans when they turn 18 and said she wanted to see an America where a father could say to his daughter that she could be whatever she wants, “even president of the United States.”
The event came as Clinton has worked to shake criticism over her use of a personal email account on a private server to conduct government business as secretary of state. She apologized recently, calling the decision a mistake while maintaining that she didn’t violate State Department rules.
It marked Clinton’s first visit to Wisconsin since announcing her 2016 candidacy.
During her unsuccessful run in 2008, she lost to then-Sen. Barack Obama in Wisconsin by a significant margin.
On Wednesday, Walker promised to tackle union power at the federal level just like he did as governor in Wisconsin, saying in a fiery speech Thursday that he wants to “wreak havoc” on Washington.
The governor chose Ronald Reagan’s alma mater of Eureka College in Illinois for a speech aimed at invigorating his flagging campaign less than a week before the second GOP debate. Walker spoke on the same stage where Reagan, as a freshman in 1928, gave a speech during a student strike, and his remarks were infused with references to the late president. Walker spoke in front of a banner reading “Wreaking Havoc on Washington.”
Walker talked about Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers in 1981, before turning to his own record and recounting how he “didn’t back down” when curbing collective bargaining power of Wisconsin public workers and passing a “right to work” law.
“To wreak havoc on Washington, it takes a leader who’s got real solutions,” Walker said.
He said that starting his first day as president, he’d require federal employee unions to disclose and certify the portion of union dues used for political activity and prohibit the government from withholding that amount in paychecks of its workers.
Doing so would protect workers from being forced to give money to political candidates they don’t support, Walker said. He said he would give more details Monday about his proposals “to transfer power from the big government union bosses to the hardworking taxpayers.”
No political contributions are made to federal candidates from union dues, and forbidding workers from having dues voluntarily deducted is a “blatant political attack on federal employees and an attempt to wipe labor unions off the map,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“Union dues are used for negotiating with management on better working conditions, protecting employees from discrimination and retaliation in the workplace, and educating lawmakers and congressional staff from both sides of the aisle on issues of vital importance to employees,” Cox said.
While union gifts to federal candidates must be drawn from voluntary member contributions, compulsory dues can be used for political activities such as polling, voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts — activities that can often be steered to benefit favored candidates.
Walker is trying to get his campaign back on track after a lackluster performance in the first GOP debate a month ago, a series of statements he’s had to clarify or back away from, and the rise of Donald Trump.
After touring a Reagan museum on the Eureka campus, Walker gave two thumbs up to a college official and said he hoped the speech “would give us momentum going into Wednesday.” That is when Walker will join other GOP contenders in the second presidential debate, being held at the Reagan Library in California.
The renewed focus on unions puts Walker back on familiar ground. He built his career as governor on fighting, and winning, against unions. In 2011, just six weeks after taking office, Walker proposed effectively ending collective bargaining for nearly all public workers in Wisconsin.
That led to massive protests as large as 100,000 people and made the state the center of a national debate over worker rights.
Anger over that law, and a variety of other initiatives Walker and the Republican-led Legislature pushed through led to a petition drive that drew more than 900,000 signatures, forcing Walker to stand for a recall election in 2012. He won, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to defeat such an effort.
In March Walker signed a law that prohibits private-sector unions in Wisconsin from requiring workers to join and pay dues as a condition of their employment.