- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker argued during his inaugural address kicking off his second term in office on Monday that his record in Wisconsin stands in contrast to that of the federal government, an increasingly common theme of his as he eyes a run for the White House next year.

“We’ve shown why the founders of this great nation looked to the states - and not the federal government - as the source of hope for this exceptional country,” the Republican Walker said after being sworn in. “We will not let them down.”

Walker’s potential presidential run has brought national scrutiny to his record as governor and plans for this year’s legislative session - attention that few would have expected four years ago when Walker first took office.

He said during his first term, he took power away from “big government special interests” - a reference to the law known as Act 10 that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers and that thrust Walker into the national spotlight due to massive protests. The measure spurred a recall election that Walker won in 2012, further raising his national profile as the first governor to survive such an effort.

Walker used his second-term inaugural speech Monday to note that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is lower than it was four years ago and that the state’s pension system is among the best in the country.

“In contrast to the politicians along the Potomac, we get things done here in the Badger State,” Walker said. “There is a clear contrast between Washington and Wisconsin.”

For his second term, Walker promised to reduce the size and scope of government, merge state agencies, combat waste, fraud and abuse, lower taxes and build a transportation infrastructure to help the economy.

Sen. Jennifer Shilling, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, said she expected Walker to be more cautious this year as he considers the presidential bid.

“Suddenly we have the eyes of the nation that will be upon this state,” she said. “I think he’s going to be very careful, very scripted, very disciplined about what he wants to do.”

Walker and the Legislature’s biggest challenge will be dealing with a projected $2.2 billion budget shortfall, but numerous other hot-button issues are looming including a debate over right-to-work legislation. Fiercely opposed by unions, such a law would bar private-sector unions from requiring workers to join or pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Walker has repeatedly said he sees right-to-work as a distraction and he hopes the Legislature doesn’t take it up. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Monday that Walker has never told him that, and he still hopes to debate the issue soon.

Walker will be working with a Republican-controlled Legislature, as he did in his first term. Republicans hold a 63-36 majority in the Assembly and an 18-14 majority in the Senate, with one seat vacant. A special election to fill that seat, which is in a heavily Republican district, is set for April 7.

Twenty-five new Assembly members, including 18 Republicans and seven Democrats, and seven new senators, including five Republicans and two Democrats, took the oath for the first time.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel and state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk were also sworn in on Monday. The only Democrat elected to statewide office, Secretary of State Doug La Follette, skipped the inauguration to attend a meeting of land commissioners in Phoenix.

La Follette, who was sworn-in privately last month, said he wasn’t trying to send a political message with his decision to skip the ceremony.

“It’s a historic event every four years, but there’s no substance you miss,” he said.

Former governors Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum, both Republicans, also attended the ceremony.

Thompson told reporters later that he hoped Walker would run for president, but the earlier he gets in, the better his chances. He said he told Walker to be bold and make a difference.

“He smiled and said he would,” Thompson said.

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Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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