President Obama to Focus on Economy in Laborfest Speech

Sep 1, 2014

President Obama appeared at Laborfest in Milwaukee in 2010
President Obama appeared at Laborfest in Milwaukee in 2010

President Barack Obama will visit Wisconsin Monday. He’s making another stop at Laborfest on Milwaukee’s lakefront, just as he did in 2010.

The president is expected to focus on the economy in his speech at the Summerfest grounds. Laborfest has served as a popular backdrop for Democratic presidents.

The festival has been held at the Summerfest grounds for about 20 years. The pro-worker, pro-union crowd has offered a warm reception to Democratic politicians.

President Clinton attended in 1996. It was just days after the Democratic National Convention nominated him to run for a second term. Clinton touted statistics showing an uptick in jobs and home ownership.

“In the last nine days plus, I’ve spoken to 250,000 people and seen another 200,000 more and I can tell you something folks. The rising tide of cynicism has been replaced by a rising tide of hope and belief in the future of America. We are going forward,” Clinton says.

Things were different in 2010, when President Obama traveled to Laborfest. The economy was still in the grips of the Great Recession. So the president delivered a pep talk to the crowd of 7,000. He told them that his stimulus package would jump-start the economy.

“Over the next six years, we are going to rebuild 150,000 miles of our roads. That’s enough to circle the world six times, that’s a lot of road. We’re going to lay and maintain 4,000 miles of our railways, enough to stretch coast to coast,” Obama says.

At the time, Wisconsin had accepted $800 million of those dollars, to extend high speed rail to Madison. A few months later, when Governor Walker took office, he sent the money back, insisting the rail plan was not prudent or wanted.

As for President Obama’s speech this year in Milwaukee, Sheila Cochran expects him to talk about worker pay. Cochran helped organize the event.

“I would hope that he’ll talk about some of the themes he’s already been talking about, raising wages, raising up the folks that don’t have the ability to make $10.10 an hour, which is outrageous in this day and time,” Cochran says.

Cochran notes that this will be the President’s first appearance at Laborfest since Gov. Walker signed Act 10 into law. It weakened public unions. She thinks the President picked Milwaukee for his Labor Day address because he recognizes many people here remain pro-union.

“We lost a lot of history here in the stroke of a pen in 2011, but I think there’s enough energy in this labor movement for those people who thought it was gone, to make sure that we recapture that. We’ve still got a lot of life in us and this gives us a big boost,” Cochran says.

It remains to be observed, whether President Obama’s visit includes political overtones. He comes, as Wisconsin is immersed in a close governor’s race.