The likely recall election of Gov. Scott Walker was the main focus both inside and outside the La Crosse County Republican Party headquarters Saturday morning.
As the GOP faithful gathered at 58 Copeland Ave. for a straw poll and rally, a line of protesters formed on the other side of the road, chanting and collecting signatures for the recall effort.
They drew only passing glances from the almost 100 people who listened to party leaders at the headquarters’ grand opening for the 2012 elections.
Taking a prominent role in the event was Dan Kapanke, the former GOP state senator recalled in August for supporting the Walker budget repair bill that stripped most public employees of collective bargaining rights.
He called on the group to turn back this latest effort targeting Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, saying, “We cannot reverse the changes that were made a year ago.”
By retaining Walker, “Hopefully, we can put an end to these annual recalls,” Kapanke added.
The national elections in November also offer “a last chance to stop this socialist agenda of big government,” Kapanke said.
Kleefisch made a brief but high-energy appearance, praising Kapanke as “one of the brave ones” for backing the Walker plan.
She touted elimination of the state deficit without raising taxes and creation of 20,000 jobs in the state since Walker took office, in contrast to 150,000 jobs she said were lost in the three preceding years.
“We can’t take the state backwards — our state motto is ‘forward,’” Kleefisch quipped. She moved through the room shaking hands before being whisked to a vehicle waiting just outside the door.
Walker addressed 10 “victory centers” Saturday by telephone to ask they help with the “three M’s” — message, manpower and money — in what he predicted will be the closest and perhaps most costly election in state history.
While he doesn’t know who will run against him, Walker said he knows his true opponent “will be the big-government unions from out of state.”
As the event broke up, Kapanke said he will work in coming months to elect other GOP candidates but for now has no personal plans to seek office, though he added, “I haven’t discounted it” for the future.
He still has no regrets about his votes, even if it cost him his Senate seat. “We had some serious issues that need addressing,” Kapanke said. “I always felt we had to do the right thing for our state and our future.”
In the straw poll, 63 percent favored former governor Tommy Thompson for the U.S. Senate to 33 percent for former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann. Thompson is from Elroy in the region and had been involved with Logistics Health Inc. in La Crosse until its sale in May 2011.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was the group’s preference for president with 39 percent of the vote, followed by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney with 30 percent, Newt Gingrich with 18 percent, Rick Perry with 8 percent, Jon Huntsman with 3 percent and Ron Paul with 1 percent.