Obenshain to head Walker’s Virginia campaign

Scott Walker
Mark Obenshain

State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, has been appointed chairman of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign in Virginia.

Obenshain, who was elected to the state senate in 2003 and narrowly lost the attorney general’s race in 2013, praised Walker as a leader who has “done in Wisconsin what we need to do in Virginia, and he’s done that with great skill and aplomb.”

Walker’s tenure in Wisconsin has been marked by a bitter legislative showdown with public employee unions that lost the right to collective bargaining and tried to oust Walker in a subsequent recall election. Walker survived the recall and won re-election a year later.

“By winning three elections in four years without compromising his conservative principles in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan, I am confident that Scott Walker can defeat Hillary Clinton or whoever else the Democrats put up in 2016,” Obenshain said in a written statement.

In a written statement, Walker called Obenshain “a person who shares the same conservative values and reform mentality in which I so wholeheartedly believe. With his support and the support of the broad coalition he will help us build, we are confident our message of bold reform and big results will make an impact, paving the way for victory in Virginia and beyond.”

Obenshain cited Walker’s record of cutting taxes and the addition of more than 35,000 new businesses to Wisconsin’s economy as among his reasons for taking the role of campaign chairman.

“I think his efforts to make Wisconsin a strong, vibrant economy is especially important because of the challenges we’re facing as a nation,” Obenshain said in an interview, adding that Walker “brought better schools to Wisconsin and held taxes down.”

Some critics of Walker in Wisconsin have challenged the new businesses figure of 35,000 as misleading and a product of counting entities that few people would define as a business. For example, one liberal blogger said the figure included Little League teams, a Girl Scout troop and a bird watcher’s club.

John Torinus Jr., a venture capitalist, business executive and newspaper columnist in Wisconsin, praised some business-friendly initiatives from Walker’s first term, including legislation that will phase out the state’s corporate income tax.

But Torinus said the mood among business executives has soured since Walker proposed cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin, a sum that ended up as $250 million when Walker signed the 2015-17 state budget. Torinus said some state dairy farmers who depend on immigrant labor are also dismayed over Walker’s newly hardened position on those living in or entering the country illegally and hints that he may support cutting legal immigration.

“He’s out of synch with the business community in Wisconsin, which is pragmatic,” Torinus said. “If he were to run again on these harsh policies, I’m not sure he would get elected.”

Obenshain took the campaign chairman’s job amid speculation by some of the state’s political observers that he plans to run for governor in 2017. Obenshain did not confirm or deny that the campaign chairman’s job is a way of warming up for the 2017 race.

“I’m working very hard trying to make sure we retain control of the state senate this year, and we take Virginia back in the presidential election next year,” Obenshain said. “Those are my priorities.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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