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January 5th, 2014
01:01 PM ET

Gov. Scott Walker on State of the Union, could he be the one for 2016?

On CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) spoke EXCLUSIVELY to Crowley about the Affordable Care Act, defining the GOP from outside Washington, and a possible 2016 White House run.

A transcript from the interview is available after the jump.

CROWLEY: During his first year in office, Republican governor, Scott Walker, faced down public unions during a budget battle. It made him a darling of conservatives and a target for Democrats. His second year, Walker became the first governor to survive a recall election. That triumph cemented him as a headline player in the Republican Party and an often mentioned possibility for a 2016 presidential run.

Adding to that chatter, his new book, "Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and A Nation's Challenge." Joining me now, Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, who’s in his fourth year in office and running for re-election for governor. So, you’ve been a busy guy over the past four years. We appreciate your joining us, governor.

WALKER: Good to be with you. Thanks for having me on.

CROWLEY: Let me start with that book, because, you know, the fact is, I think you know and I know and most people who cover politics know that a book is almost mandatory for a presidential run. You got to lay out where you are and set out some beliefs, et cetera, et cetera. Why did you write it?

WALKER: In our case, it's pretty unique. People want to know about my biography, how I became an eagle scout or what sports I did as a kid. They’re going to be disappointed because this is really a book about the reforms that we did in Wisconsin, what we did, how we did it, most importantly, why we did it. And then at the end, a little bit of a reaction is to how it can apply to other states and ultimately to our nation's capital.

So, it was a matter - as you mentioned, we went through some pretty big attention early in 2011. The recall was the first ever where a governor was successful and I think people wanted to know what, where and why. And, we’ve been successful getting that out. I hope actually more than just conservatives and Republicans a lot of undecided voters here in my state and across the country read it, because I think they’ll be surprised to see what they weren't seeing throughout the debate.

CROWLEY: As you know, 2014 is generally the time when pundits and people very involved in politics begin to speculate about the next presidential election. We put together a list of the most often mentioned names on the Republican side, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker. Should your name stay on that list?

WALKER: Well, I'm focused on 2014, not just because I'm up for election, which is a given, but when I look at what the we did in Wisconsin, as I mentioned in the book, many of the states across the Midwest where they changed not only governors a couple of years ago in 2010, but they change the legislative bodies as well, real reform has happened in a number of these battleground states because a whole new team came in.

And I think 2014's incredibly important nationally, not just the whole United States House of Representatives but to win the United States Senate back because if you do that then two years later, if there's a new president, he or she can ultimately have a team that can come in and push true reform.

And that's what we've done in the key states like Wisconsin, we can do for America. So, I'm really focused on 2014 not getting ahead of the game.

CROWLEY: Sure, but we wouldn't be wrong to keep your name on that list

WALKER: Well, you guys - you guys can predict all you want. In the end, we’re going to stay focused on getting things done. That's what governors do. We focus on getting things done, not just talking about it.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about a couple of things that came up in my earlier interview with Gene Sperling. There are two issues that are likely to kind of dominate at least the early months of Capitol Hill that is, first, the extension of long-term unemployment benefits. Basically, for people who’ve been unemployed for six months or more.

In the states, they can get up to a combined state and federal unemployment benefits, they could get up to 73 weeks, close to a year and a half. Where do you stand on that?

WALKER: Well, two things. One, let's be clear, the reason why the White House is so actively pushing this is they want to desperately talk about anything but Obamacare. The best thing we could do to help people who are unemployed or underemployed is fix Obamacare, replace it with a patient-centered plan that put people in charge, not the government in charge, and got rid of the uncertainty that so many small businesses here in my state and across the country talk about.

But two, the specific benefits to me, any discussion about this should be focused on what sort of reforms are we going to put in place. You know, he talked earlier, the previous segment, about people looking for work. Well, the federal government doesn't require a lot. We just made a change last year so that people had to look five times or more a week for work without our requirement change.

They could go as little as two times a week. I don't know about you, Candy, but if I was out of work, I’d be looking more than twice a week for a job. I’d be looking for every day except maybe today. I take Sunday off to go to church and pray that I could find a job on Monday, but I think there need to be reforms in that system.

I also think Wisconsin is one of the few states in America that just changed things so that adults without kids looking for work now have to be enrolled in one of our employment training programs

A couple of weeks ago, we saw there were more than 50,000 people in one of our websites here in the state, or 50,000 jobs, I should say that were open on one of our websites, one of the biggest challenges people have who are either unemployed or under employed is many of them don't have the skills in advanced manufacturing, in health care and I.T. where many of those job openings (ph) are.

Instead of just talking about extending benefits, we should talk about getting people the training they need to fill those jobs. That’s much better off than just putting a check out.

CROWLEY: So, you don't, per se, have a problem with extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, but you’d like it coupled with some other things?

WALKER: Yes. That's what we did with our food stamp program. We said, if you want it, we’ll help you out, but I - I've got two boys now in college. But for years, they used to play high school football as wide receivers and they would go in and out with the plays from the coach to the sidelines, from the sidelines to the quarterback. And I got to tell you, all those years watching football, I never saw one kid get in the game who didn't have their helmet on and their gear ready.

What I suggest is that whether it's unemployment compensation or food stamps or other benefits, we should require employment training so that people are ready with the skills. They’ve got their gear ready to get in the game. So, when the job become available, and it will, they’re ready to get the job.

CROWLEY: How about an increase in the minimum wage at the federal level?

WALKER: You know, again, I look at that. Years ago, I worked at McDonald’s when I was a kid. Actually, Paul Ryan worked down the road from me in Janesville. I worked in a small town called Delavan. Those were great jobs to start out with. My great fear is for young people like Paul and I were back then and my kids a few years ago when they worked those sorts of jobs, they’d be without work.

We have a high unemployment rate amongst young people. If we are to raise that artificially, we’d take that away. Instead, what we need to focus on is helping people find the skills they need to fill those much better paying jobs, those family-supporting career-type jobs that I just talked about. We have them here in advanced manufacturing, in welding, machining, information technology, certified nursing assistants, all sorts of great jobs out there.

One of the great challenge is we don't do enough and the federal government makes it hard for the states because they have all sorts of worker training programs with this bureaucratic mess it makes it very difficult to get people the training they need by getting through that maze and we need to change that so that people can get the training and get them to the jobs that pay more.

Artificially raising the minimum wage whether it’s at the state or the federal level is not going to do that. Creating an environment where employers create jobs will do just that.

CROWLEY: If I am an unemployed American and I hear from Republicans that, yes, we should go ahead and do that provided we do the following three things, if it’s a caveat approval of extending those benefits or if I am a minimum wage worker and I find - I see Republicans who say, you know what, it's artificial, it messes with the marketplace, it might mean some teens can't get into the job market, why would I become a Republican?

How do you message that in any way to reach out to those who are disinclined to sign up for the Republican Party?

WALKER: Because in the end, what people want is freedom and opportunity. You don't get that through the mighty hand of the government. I think as a kid, when I grew up in Delavan, nobody I knew in my class said someday, my goal is to grow up and become dependent on the government.

The same way for all the great people I’ve met who’ve immigrated from other countries, be at Mexico, or India, or Germany or anywhere else, all those folks I know who are successful small business owners don't say to me that they came here because they want to become dependent on America. No. The American dream is given a chance, given an opportunity, the great thing about this country, greater than just about any country in the world, is that you have an equal opportunity but the outcome's up to you.

The problem is too many Americans right now don't have that equal opportunity and we should be making a case about how we're going to make it easier to create a job, easier to get in the workforce, easier to get the skills that they need to fill those jobs, artificially raise things.

CROWLEY: That's not an uncommon argument for many Republicans that I have heard in the past saying this is about empowering people, not about, you know, raising benefits and making them dependent, but it hasn't worked. What makes this expand the Republican Party, which desperately needs to bring in something other than what's really been a shrinking base in your party? How do you resell that message?

WALKER: Yes. Yes. Candy, well, part of it though, part of the reason why it hasn't worked as well elsewhere, a good example is that reforms be put in place for food stamps this past year in Wisconsin is not often was money put in place to make things happen. I say you got to put your money where your mouth is.

Part of the reason why most states don't require childless adults to work or be employment training to get food stamps is because you have to put money behind that to fund the worker, employment training programs. We do just that. We put $17 million behind that in our last state budget because I want to make sure people have those skills. I think when people see that, when they see that what we care is about is not just people going out and looking for work but giving them the skills, giving them opportunity.

A young woman I mentioned last year named Elizabeth, on her own, before we made this requirement, went out, got the training, got the experience. I wanted to invite her to my budget address to talk about it, but I couldn't. Not because she didn't want to be there, but because she was working as a certified nursing assistant. And that night, liked her job so much, she was going to back to school to be an RN.

Those are the sorts of stories we want to tell people across my state and across America, because I think people realize that's where the real freedom and opportunities. It’s not getting a check each week, each month from the government. It’s by getting the opportunity and the skills needed to get out and control their own lives and their own destiny.

CROWLEY: Governor, quickly here, when Republicans on Capitol Hill agree to a budget agreement before they left for the holiday recess, Speaker John Boehner came out and really took on conservatives Tea Party-types for having an undue influence on some of his members that have blocked famously a number of things that we know that Speaker Boehner wanted to do, what do you think the role of the Tea Party is in 2014 in terms of Republican primaries or even moving into the generals? Are they on the rise in power or on the wane?

WALKER: Well, it's hard to say because there’s no one monolithic group that’s the tea party. What I’ve seen over the years is frustration build across my state and across the country, particularly, with the federal government, what people thought the government had gone too big, too expensive, too a part of our lives. Obamacare was kind of the last straw a few years ago.

People showed up at the Congressional town hall meetings and when people didn't feel like they were listened to, then they took out their frustration, particularly in the 2010 election.

CROWLEY: Right.

WALKER: I think that degree is healthy if it's focused in the right way, but one of the things I said after the budget compromise is for people who didn't like it who didn't think it was good enough, the answer is not to take it out on House Republicans or in primaries, the answer is to go to Kentucky - excuse me to go to Louisiana or go to Arkansas or go to North Carolina or Alaska, where there are senators facing real elections as Democrats and go and help in those elections and elect new Republicans to come because a year from now, things will be much different if republicans hold the United States Senate.

CROWLEY: Got to –

WALKER: Don't focus on the people in office, focus on those who you’d like to replace.

CROWLEY: Governor, let me ask you a final question. I know you're headed for Lambeau Field up in Green Bay. We took a look a couple of minutes ago. When the game gets started, we’re told it might be real temperature, minus 22 degrees there. It could break the record for coldest game ever. What - what will you be wearing to this game?

WALKER: Many, many layers. In fact, Bart Starr won the ice bowl against the Dallas Cowboys about a month and a half after I was born in 1967, December 31st of that year. And, nothing greater than to see us beat the San Francisco 49ers, maybe freeze them out, appropriately stated, and get on our way to the next round of the playoffs. But I’d love to be a part of history and love to see the Packers win. Go, Pack.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: I hear the 49ers actually are pretty good in the cold weather. But good luck to both teams. Thanks so much, governor.

WALKER: As long as it's not 49 - as long as it's not 49 degrees below, I'm OK with that.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: OK. All right. Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.


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