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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. — PHOTO: Gage Skidmore

Pro-Walker group expanding focus nationally

A conservative Wisconsin group that’s filed lawsuits in defense of several of Gov. Scott Walker’s most contentious proposals announced plans to expand its work nationally.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s new Center for Competitive Federalism will focus on filing lawsuits and issuing policy statements targeting what it sees as federal overreach, leaders of the effort said at a Capitol news conference.

Three right-wing Republican office holders in the state — Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Sen. Duey Stroebel and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga — participated in the announcement and praised the group’s work.

Likening the federal government to “Big Brother,” Stroebel said he hoped the initiative would bring about a national effort to reject federal government overreach “so we can all push back together.”

Rick Esenberg, WILL’s president and chief attorney, said the national push would be funded over three years with $800,000 from the Bradley Foundation, which until his retirement this year had been led by Michael Grebe, Walker’s former campaign chairman.

The foundation is providing an additional $300,000 to the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, which is partnering with WILL on the new center.

Noting the connection to Walker, the leader of a liberal advocacy group said WILL’s new venture was created to advance the governor’s agenda.

“All the lawsuits and propaganda they file isn’t going to change the fact that Gov. Walker has failed the people of Wisconsin over and over and over again,” said Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now.

WILL has been active in helping defend some of the highest-profile, conservative laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Walker in recent years.

The group fought against lawsuits filed by unions that tried unsuccessfully to stop Walker’s law that effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers.

It also sided with Walker in a lawsuit seeking an end to a secret John Doe investigation into his 2012 recall campaign and conservative groups that supported him. That probe ended after a conservative state Supreme Court declared nothing illegal occurred.

Esenberg, at the news conference, took a jab at the presumptive presidential nominees in both parties, saying if either of them were involved in trying to draft the Constitution today it would be a “hot mess.”

He and others at the news conference cited numerous examples of what they said was overreach of the federal government, including initiatives by President Barack Obama to enact clean power plant laws, expand Medicaid and guarantee transgender public school students access to bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

“We’re seeing the results of the federal government gone wild in the United States of America,” Stroebel complained.

Ross said the arguments made against powers of the federal government were “exactly the same as those made in the 1950s and 1960s by those trying to deny African Americans the same protections as white people under the law.”

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