When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker met with a billionaire campaign donor a month before he launched his attack on the collective-bargaining rights of public-sector workers and public-school teachers, he engaged in a detailed discussion about undermining unions as part of a broader strategy of strengthening the position of his Republican Party.
After he initiated those attacks, Gov. Walker testified under oath to a congressional committee. He was asked during the April 2011 hearing to specifically address the question of whether he set out to weaken unions —which traditionally back Democrats and which are expected to play a major role in President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign — for political purposes. Walker replied: “It’s not about that for me.”
During the same hearing, Walker was asked whether he “ever had a conversation with respect to your actions in Wisconsin and using them to punish members of the opposition party and their (union) donor base?”
Walker replied, not once but twice, that the answer was “no.”
So, did the governor of Wisconsin lie, under oath, to Congress? The videotape of Walker talking with Diane Hendricks, the Beloit billionaire who would eventually give his campaign more than $500,000, surfaced late last week. Captured in January 2011 by a documentary filmmaker who was trailing Hendricks, the conversation provides rare insight into the governor’s long-term strategy for dividing Wisconsin. And the focus of the conversation and the strategy is by all evidence a political one.
In the video, Walker is shown meeting with Hendricks before an economic development session at the headquarters of a firm Hendricks owns, ABC Supply Inc., in Beloit. After Walker kisses Henricks, she asks: “Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions?”
“Oh, yeah!” says Walker.
Henricks then asks: “And become a right-to-work (state)?”
Walker replies: “Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public-employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”
After describing the strategy, Walker tells the woman who asked him about making Wisconsin a “completely red state”: “That opens the door once we do that.”
In a transcript of raw footage from the conversation, Hendricks asks Walker if he has a role model. Walker replies that he has high regard for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who early in his term used an executive order to strip collective-bargaining rights away from public employees and who, more recently, signed right-to-work legislation. Walker described the use of the executive order to undermine union rights as a “beautiful thing” and bemoaned the fact that he would have to enact legislation to achieve the same end in Wisconsin.
Within weeks, the woman who asked Walker about his strategy to make Wisconsin “a completely red state” wrote a $10,000 check to support his campaign. (She would eventually up the donation to $510,000, making Hendricks the single largest donor in the history of Wisconsin politics.) Within a month, Walker had launched the anti-union initiative that the two had discussed as a part of that “red-state” strategy, provoking mass protests that would draw the attention of Congress.
Testifying under oath to the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Walker said in his formal statement and in response to questions from committee members that his efforts to restrict the collective-bargaining rights of unions — including moves to prevent them from collecting dues, maintain ongoing representation of members and engage effectively in political campaigns — had nothing to do with politics.
Walker was asked specifically about a Fox News interview with Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, in which Fitzgerald said of the anti-union push: “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”
Congressman Chris Murphy, D-Conn., asked Walker about Fitzgerald’s statement. “I understand you can’t speak for (Fitzgerald) but you can opine as to whether you agree with your state Senate leader when he says this is ultimately about trying to defeat President Obama in Wisconsin. Do you agree?”
“I can tell you what it is for me,” Walker answered. “It’s not about that. It’s ultimately about balancing the budget now and in the future.”
Under questioning from other members of the committee (especially Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley), however, Walker admitted that many of the moves he initiated had no real impact on the state budget.
They did have the impact of weakening unions in the workplace and in the politics of the state, however.
It was in that context that Congressman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., pressed Walker on the matter of political intentions.
“Have you ever had a conversation with respect to your actions in Wisconsin and using them to punish members of the opposition party and their (union) donor base?
“No,” replied Walker.
“Never had such a conversation?” Connolly pressed.
“No,” said Walker.
The videotape from several months earlier, in which Walker speaks at length with his most generous campaign donor, suggests a very different answer to the questions from Murphy and Connolly. Indeed, the videotape shows Walker having just such a conversation.
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