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GOP’s Walker headlines conservative gathering in San Diego

FILE - In this July 14, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a campaign event at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Las Vegas. Walker is scheduled to address an annual showcase of conservative activists, Thursday, July 23, in San Diego. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will describe his presidential ambitions at a conservative gathering in San Diego.

The Republican was a young state legislator when he joined the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is holding its annual showcase for political causes.

Alec, as the group is known, promotes model legislation for state lawmakers on a wide range of business-friendly issues, including “right-to-work” measures to prohibit companies and unions from requiring employees to be union members.

Such positions guarantee a warm reception Thursday for Walker, whose policies weakened organized labor’s political heft, required public employees except for police and firefighters to pay more for pension and health care benefits and limited collective bargaining.

Democrats, labor and liberal groups have pressured companies to break ties with Alec over the group’s positions on the environment, criminal justice and other matters, and Alec has suffered high-profile defections.

Bill Meierling, a group spokesman, said the “vast majority” of corporate departures occurred after Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman while walking home in Florida in 2012. Less than two months after the killing, Alec ended its support of stand-your-ground self-defense laws, he said.

About 2,000 predominantly Republican state lawmakers belong to Alec, along with about 300 corporations, policy advocates and others, Meierling said. Some 1,300 of them registered for the group’s annual meeting at a downtown San Diego hotel, which kicked off Wednesday with workshops on governing higher education, criminal justice, electronic cigarettes and drug patents.

Walker and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will address the group Thursday on their GOP presidential campaigns. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, also a Republican presidential contender, canceled his Friday appearance, citing a need to be in the Senate to cast votes, according to Alec spokeswoman Molly Fuhs.

Hundreds of protesters marched outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt Wednesday, some carrying signs that read “Stop the Assault on Working People” and “Big $$$ Out of Politics.” The hotel posted signs at the entrance saying only registered guests could enter the building and that they may be required to show room keys or identification.

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