Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Thursday defended his record on Milwaukee and said the city's leaders should focus on the area's problems instead of blaming others.
"I'm a friend of the taxpayers, I'm a friend of the people, I'm a friend of the job creators," Walker said during a wide-ranging interview with Journal Sentinel editors and reporters. He added that even though he is not aligned politically with some city leaders, "in the end the people in Milwaukee will fare better because of my tenure as governor, hands down."
Walker, a Republican from Wauwatosa, also took issue with one of Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett's signature projects, the construction of a streetcar.
"I'd focus on things that improve the quality of life in the city of Milwaukee," said Walker, who defeated Barrett twice for governor.
"I'd spend my time and resources on economic development projects that put people to work instead of a streetcar that will affect a handful of people on the upper east side of Milwaukee."
He added, "I'd spend more time focusing on helping develop jobs and improving the (economic) climate, streamline the processes, as opposed to picking battles at either the state or federal level . . . Finding ways to invest particularly in corridors where there is high unemployment."
Walker said he has yet to reject any project the city has pitched his way. He said his budget proposal to ban local governments from imposing residency requirements for public sector workers would not harm Milwaukee, where all city workers and teachers are now required to live.
"People should have the freedom to live and work where they choose, that you should decide employment based on merit, not based on an arbitrary guideline that reflects a boundary," he said.
Walker, who has an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association, said "it makes some sense" to have national legislation to strengthen background checks for those purchasing guns at gun shows.
"If they're going to address issues like that it has got to be addressed nationally," he said.
But he does not favor a federal ban on assault weapons. Among those supporting such a ban is Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, who gave spirited testimony Wednesday in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
Flynn and Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. are on opposite sides of the issue and have engaged in an acrimonious debate. In recent weeks, Clarke has also clashed publicly with Barrett as well as Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.
When asked about the friction between Flynn and Clarke, Walker offered this advice: "Don't personalize your differences. Your opponent today may be your ally tomorrow."
"There's a difference between being a strong advocate on a given position vs. being against someone," Walker said, adding that "in this region there are a number of examples where it has become far too personal."
"I think I can say that with some authority, whether you all agree or disagree with the things I've done over the last two years, there obviously have been a lot of personal attacks against me and my family. But I've tried to ensure, hopefully the best thing I've passed on to my children is even in times like that -- don't respond in kind. Stand up for your principles, don't back (down) from those, but don't ever make it a personal issue."
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