WISCONSIN DELLS - Republican leaders converged Saturday in Wisconsin Dells for the 2011 Republican State Convention, celebrating the party's rise to power in last fall's election and stressing that there's more work to be done.
Wisconsin voters elected a Republican governor and gave the GOP majorities in the state Senate and Assembly last fall, but several Republican legislators will face recall challenges this summer.
Republican National Committee Vice President Mary Buestrin praised the audience for getting out the vote on past campaigns and said now is an opportune time - as the stakes are high - to take advantage of voters' discontent.
She said the message is the key, reminding voters that Republicans stand for less government, low taxes, strong defense and family values. Preach this and the Republicans will get votes, she said.
"We must return the power to the people instead of our government," she said.
Buestrin was among more than a dozen speakers who addressed the crowd Saturday morning.
Weighing on U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner's mind was the news that U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat, isn't seeking re-election. He said this year, Republicans are "winners. And it's safe to say that we are now in charge."
"And goodbye and I hope for good from public office to (former U.S. Sen.) Russ Feingold, (former U.S. Rep.) Steve Kagen, (former U.S. Rep.) Dave Obey, (former Gov.) Jim Doyle and now Herb Kohl," he said, to applause.
Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald touted accomplishments that included passing voter ID legislation, encouraging companies to relocate to Wisconsin and helping those companies already here to grow, working on tort reform and eliminating a $3.6 billion deficit. He said nearly 30,000 jobs have been created this year in Wisconsin.
The party's future plans include eliminating state funding for Planned Parenthood and passing concealed carry legislation, he said.
Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch lauded Gov. Scott Walker for balancing the state budget without tax increases. She said she's working with Walker to recruit business to settle in Wisconsin, to come to "greener pastures" compared with states like Illinois that are raising taxes to combat their deficits.
Walker ended the speeches, saying Republicans are "on a roll." But he said for the next two months, the party needs to concentrate on protecting any Republican' seat that is being challenged in a recall election - as well as taking away seats from any Democrats up for recall.
He commended lawmakers who braved protests around the Capitol earlier this year during the budget debates that involved eliminating collective bargaining rights for public employees.
"When it would have been easy to back off, instead those lawmakers stood up and did the right thing, The right thing not just for this party, but for this state and ultimately for this country," Walker said.
Wisconsin Dells Mayor Brian Landers said during his welcome address that Republicans should use their time in the limelight well.
"I also told them a lot of eyes of the world are upon the Republican Party of Wisconsin right now," he said in a telephone interview. "A lot of our representatives of the party are in the national and state spotlight right now, and I told them to be mindful that the best way to deal with that is with poise and respect," he said.