To a young Scott Walker, Ronald Reagan was a father figure.
Not because of any personal ties to the former President. Not even because he was a conservative.
It was Reagan’s optimism that inspired Mr. Walker.
“He showed me that it takes courage to act on your principles, and he did it as an optimist, no matter the detractors,” the 45th governor of Wisconsin exclusively told the News-Press.
“He stayed focused. There was no one more influential to me.”
And after leading Wisconsin for the last eight years, Mr. Walker is ready to provide Reagan-like optimism to a broader audience — and a much younger one at that.
This morning, the Young America’s Foundation announced that Mr. Walker will take over as the organization’s president, elected by the YAF’s board of directors.
Mr. Walker will officially take the reins on Feb. 1, 2021.
Mr. Walker’s wife, Tonette, serves on the YAF’s Reagan Ranch Board of Governors, making frequent trips to the Santa Barbara area alongside Mr. Walker to work with students at both the Reagans’ Rancho del Cielo and the YAF’s Reagan Ranch Center, the latter being the largest conservative campus on the West Coast.
“Absolutely thrilled,” Mr. Walker said. “This is an extension of our public service, working with young people.
“We love the Ranch. We love the Center. We love the Santa Barbara area. It’s beautiful. As midwesterners, we look forward to spending a fair amount of time there during January and February.”
Mr. Walker will take over for Ron Robinson, who has spent the past four decades helping build the YAF, and helping the organization build the modern Conservative Movement.
“Ron has done a phenomenal job. (The YAF) is a strong organization, and it’s going to be strong for generations to come,” said Mr. Walker, who will also oversee the management of more than 500 Young Americans for Freedom chapters, the YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise, and the National Journalism Center.
When Mr. Walker was approached about taking over as president, he was clear with the board that he didn’t want to simply be the organization’s caretaker; he wanted to help grow it.
“There was plenty of talent within the organization if they wanted to keep things the way they are,” Mr. Walker explained.
Mr. Walker’s primary goal is simple: reach more students, mostly focused on college campuses, where he feels that conservative groups can be stifled when it comes to free speech — a hot-button issue for the 51-year-old.
“I’ve felt for some time, on many (college) campuses, right-of-center speakers don’t have a voice,” Mr. Walker said. “They are effectively shut down by protesters.
“There is nothing wrong with protesters, unless it keeps the other side from being able to also express their viewpoints.”
When it comes to the modern battle between the left and right, Mr. Walker has focused on being able to relate to younger students with a unique bit of storytelling.
Mr. Walker uses the example of traditional taxi services vs. popular ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft.
He says that traditional taxi services are representative of the left, focused on rule-making and rule-following, allowing the institution to control fees, routes, time on the road and, ultimately, compensation — much like what conservatives state to be the left’s affinity for believing in the government system.
On the other hand, Uber and Lyft aren’t focused on regulation, only the safety of the passenger and the driver, but not paying attention to how much you drive or even the car you utilize — with Mr. Walker adding: “As long as you don’t violate the health or safety of your neighbor, we believe in the individual.”
Much of what Mr. Walker hopes to bring to the YAF is a new approach, not simply focused on building a conservative agenda, but also driving conversation.
He points to the power of social media as a reason for the divisiveness between left and right, as the platforms allow the end user to only follow those that have similar mindsets.
“In the past, media would give us the facts, we’d interpret them, but at the core of the facts were the facts,” Mr. Walker said. “Now, people tend to pick sources that fit their ideological beliefs, and that means that people aren’t listening to each other because they don’t even agree on what the facts are.
“Listening to each other has a positive impact.”
In drawing upon his time as Wisconsin’s governor, it won’t be the politics that Mr. Walker will draw upon as he works with students from across the nation, but leaning back on what he learned from Mr. Reagan.
“I want to help these students to learn how you take what you learn as a young person, embrace it and share it,” Mr. Walker said. “But also not just talking about it, but putting it in play.
“I have an everlasting belief in the American people. I tried to apply that with my time as governor, and I want to help the next generation realize that as well.”