Some politicians get energized when challenged by protesters. Scott Walker appears calm.
While union protesters are a regular presence outside the Wisconsin governor’s 2016 presidential campaign stops, Sunday afternoon marked a rare occasion of his being directly challenged by someone inside of one of his events.
Here, in a no-stoplight town of 450 where Mr. Walker lived as a boy, he’d just concluded an abbreviated version of his stump speech when a 13-year-old girl from Waukesha, Wis., approached him. Mr. Walker put his arm around her shoulder and posed for a photograph. The girl, Leslie Flores, then asked, “Governor Walker, why are you trying to break my family apart?”
Mr. Walker didn’t flinch. Within seconds he mentioned he didn’t have time for a discussion and turned to walk toward a Fox News crew waiting to record a live interview.
Mr. Walker described his style as a regional affect during a stop earlier in the day in Cedar Falls.
“In the Midwest we just take care of problems. We don’t make a lot of fuss, we just go out and get the job done and we go back to work,” he said. “Sometimes I think people don’t understand that. That’s why we didn’t lash out [during the 2011 protests against his legislation to strip public-sector unions of collective-bargaining rights]. We just got the job done and moved forward.”
Meanwhile, the Flores family – Leslie was with her father, José, an undocumented immigrant who works as a painter, and 7-year-old brother Luis – told the dozen or so reporters traveling with the Walker campaign their plight. José Flores, 38 years old, came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico 19 years ago. He said he is eligible for President Barack Obama‘s deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizens. (A federal court has ruled the Mr. Obama doesn’t have the authority to implement the program.) Organizers from Voces de la Frontera, the Wisconsin immigrants’ rights organization that brought the Flores family here, recorded the exchanges on their smartphones.
“My family is at risk of being separated by being deported,” Leslie Flores told the reporters
The immigration issue is a delicate one for Mr. Walker, especially in Iowa where would-be 2016 Republican caucus-goers are steadfastly opposed to Mr. Obama’s executive actions on immigration and any path to citizenship for the undocumented. For a decade until earlier this year, Mr. Walker was in favor of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. In 2013, when the Senate was weighing an overhaul to the nation’s immigration laws, Mr. Walker said increasing border security was unnecessary.
Once he began building a profile as a presidential candidate, Mr. Walker offered a different view. Now, as part of his regular stump speech, he says he is opposed to a path to citizenship (though he has offered a slightly different view in some private conversations), decries “amnesty” and pledges to secure the border. At his direction, Wisconsin joined 25 other states in a lawsuit to block Mr. Obama’s DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) program, for which Mr. Flores said he qualifies.
After his Fox News interview and a tour of the Dietz family farm – Janice Dietz was his childhood babysitter – that included a photo-op with a line of a half-dozen cows, Mr. Walker returned to the Flores family. Leslie had tears welling in her left eye and streaming down her cheek. Both sides were prepared for the second confrontation, and Mr. Walker didn’t miss the opportunity to blame Mr. Obama for the family’s uncertainty.
“The president had years to deal with this throughout the legitimate legislative process. He even had his own party in charge for the first two years,” Mr. Walker told Mr. Flores in a calm, emotionless tone that embodied a father gently scolding his children. “I’m not blocking anything. The president has made this issue. I sympathize with it. But I want to make sure that going forward we follow the law in a way that is responsible.”
The answer wasn’t satisfactory to Mr. Flores, but it made a ready-made soundbite for Iowa’s Republican electorate. Mr. Flores asked if he would be deported should Mr. Walker be in charge of fixing the immigration system.
Young Luis asked Mr. Walker: “Do you want me to come home from school and my dad got deported?”
Mr. Walker said that’s not his plan. “That’s not what I’m talking about,” he said. “My point is that, in America, no one person is above the law. The president can’t make the law just because he says it.”
One of the camera-wielding activists traveling with the Flores family asked Mr. Walker if he would deport undocumented immigrants before new immigration laws could be enacted. Mr. Walker said he wouldn’t. With that, the governor ended the conversation and walked into the crowd of awaiting townsfolk.