Gov. Scott Walker’s vote against a concealed carry bill in 2002 resurfaced Friday as the likely presidential candidate addressed an annual convention of the National Rifle Association.
Democrats highlighted the vote — which clashes with his otherwise lengthy record of supporting Second Amendment rights — as yet another example of Walker shifting his position for political gain. The 2002 vote came just before Walker mounted a successful campaign for Milwaukee County executive.
But Walker spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski countered that the reason Walker voted against the bill was because it came up after a lengthy late-night session and didn’t follow the normal legislative process.
“Gov. Walker was protecting the voters through transparency,” Kukowski said. “This is why the NRA has and continues to believe Gov. Walker stands up for Second Amendment rights, continually giving him good ratings year after year.”
Walker didn’t address his 2002 vote in his speech Friday, but highlighted how he has an A+ rating from the NRA as governor and had an A rating as a state legislator.
“I’m proud of that even though some on the left may say it’s a scarlet letter,” Walker said in the speech. “I say it’s a badge of honor.”
The likely 2016 presidential contender has come under fire for shifting his position on various issues, including immigration, right-to-work, abortion, ethanol mandates and the Common Core education standards.
“Add concealed carry to the list of issues Walker has changed his position on just to benefit himself,” said Jason Pitt, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. “If we’ve learned anything from Scott Walker over the past few months it’s that his constant pandering on issues has defined him as one of the least trustworthy candidates among the 2016 GOP field.”
Kukowski said Walker’s record of supporting the Second Amendment included:
Co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment in the late 1990s that added the right to keep and bear arms;
Supporting a 2003 constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish;
Signing laws that encourage the recruitment and retention of hunters and trappers, allow residents to buy long guns in non-contiguous states, and exempt sport shooting ranges from certain state and local zoning rules, including noise restrictions.
She added that Walker owns a shotgun and a rifle, and started hunting duck, pheasant and deer with friends about a decade ago.
Signed law in 2011
In 1999, Walker cosponsored a concealed carry law as a member of the state Assembly. But in 2002, he voted against a similar bill that passed the Assembly 58-40. It died in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who was elected that same year, vetoed two subsequent iterations of the bill.
When Walker first ran for governor in 2006 he again supported concealed carry.
Walker signed the law in 2011 after it won bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate. It allows those who want to carry concealed handguns to obtain a permit. Wisconsin became the 49th state to allow concealed carry.
Liberal group One Wisconsin Now highlighted Walker’s stands on the issue Friday.
Executive director Scot Ross said in response to Walker’s explanation that “only a 20-plus-year career politician would try and explain away getting caught red-handed trying to have it both ways on ‘process.’”
Ross also noted that the first time Walker took up hunting was when he first ran for statewide office. “He’s so political, even his hobbies are calculations,” he said.
Walker’s support for concealed carry has been a constant theme in his speeches to Republican activists across the country, starting at the Iowa Freedom Summit in late January.
Craig Robinson, editor of the Iowa Republican and a former state GOP political director, said Walker remains a frontrunner in Iowa, but the amount of scrutiny he has faced since his breakout performance in January, including questions about his position on certain issues, has tempered some of the initial excitement.
“I don’t think he’s down, but I think the honeymoon period is over,” Robinson said.
Robinson said Walker’s position on any one issue won’t necessarily be a deal-breaker, but “when you waver on multiple issues it becomes a red flag.”
“This is the narrative that he’s confronting,” Robinson said. “If you have a politician who is inconsistent over a number of years, it makes you wonder what’s going on there.
“It makes you wonder are these positions of conviction or are these political positions that help in a political world?”
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Walker told NRA News Network he supports eliminating a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases. “We’ve been the leader when it comes to freedom over the last four years,” Walker told NRA News in highlighting the concealed carry law.
He did not address the 48-hour waiting period in Nashville. He opened his speech with the word “freedom,” touted his Second Amendment record, and then declared the country needs a president who understands that “preserving, protecting and defending (the Constitution) is not optional.”
The rest of the speech mostly included anecdotes and biographical information from a stump speech he has honed since Iowa. He also took jabs at former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is expected to announce her presidential candidacy on Sunday. He called her the kind of person who thinks “you grow the economy by growing Washington.”
Also on the program were nine other potential GOP presidential candidates, announced candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has been building a national profile in conservative circles as a stalwart Second Amendment supporter.