Wisconsin Wave

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Madison — Gov. Scott Walker, believing he was talking to prominent financial backer David Koch, revealed to a Buffalo, N.Y., blogger Tuesday his strategies to deal with public-sector unions and to lure Democrats boycotting the Senate back to Wisconsin.

In the 20-minute talk, he also likened his tough stance to take away most bargaining rights from public workers to former President Ronald Reagan successfully combating the air traffic controllers union three decades ago.

"That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall in the fall of Communism because from that point forward the Soviets and the Communists knew that Ronald Reagan wasn't a pushover," Walker said according to the recording.

He said he told his cabinet, "This is our moment. This is our time to change the course of history."

Walker also discussed a plan to get his bill on union rights passed without Democrats who have boycotted the Senate. Separately, he said he talked to Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) for 45 minutes Saturday, and he saw him as someone who could get the Democrats to return, even though "he's not one of us."

Walker also said he'd considered but rejected an idea to plant troublemakers amid the thousands of union protesters who have filled the Capitol for more than a week.

He told the caller he feared a "ruckus" would "scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid this problem."

Walker discussed ways Koch — a principal backer of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity — could help Republicans legislators, presumably with TV and radio ads.

Walker never appears to become aware the call is a prank.

He is the latest politician to be embarrassed when what he thought was a private conversation went public. Just before the 2008 presidential election, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin took a call from a radio DJ posing as French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Walker recording was released as the Assembly was in the midst of a Democratic filibuster on the budget-repair bill that has gone 24 hours. Action on the bill in the Senate has been stalled since Thursday, when all 14 Democrats went to Illinois.

Twenty senators must be present to pass bills that spend money, and the Republicans have only 19 seats. They would need at least one Democratic senator to return to take a vote.

Walker's bill would balance this year's budget, repeal most union bargaining rights for most public employees and give Walker's administration broad powers to reshape state health programs for the poor. Unions have said they are willing to give as much as Walker is asking in concessions on health care and pensions, but have demanded that he not take away most bargaining rights.

The conversation with Walker was posted by the Buffalo Beast. Walker's administration confirmed the recording is legitimate.

"The governor takes many calls everyday," Walker's spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said in a statement. "Throughout this call the governor maintained his appreciation for and commitment to civil discourse. He continued to say that the budget repair bill is about the budget. The phone call shows that the governor says the same thing in private as he does in public and the lengths that others will go to disrupt the civil debate Wisconsin is having."

Upon learning of the call, Democrats blasted the governor.

"Scott Walker won't listen to Senate Democrats, or the hundreds of thousands of average Wisconsinites who are speaking up against his divisive power grab. But an oil billionaire from Kansas gets his full attention," Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate said. "It is a damning, embarrassing and possibly illegal admission that Scott Walker has put Wisconsin up for sale."

State Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) read excerpts of the recording and said, "My first reaction, it's revealing of his true agenda and his character."

He added that Walker "talks about crushing the unions like Ronald Reagan. If that's true, his intention isn't to solve the problem it's to make a name for himself."

Barca said he was trying to arrange for the full Democratic caucus to listen to the recording.

David Koch is co-owner of Koch Industries. He is a philanthropist and a chief backer of Americans for Prosperity, which helped stage tea party rallies in Wisconsin in 2009 and 2010 and on Wednesday announced it was spending $342,200 on advertising in Wisconsin to convince residents to back Walker's plan. The ad calls on Wisconsin residents to support the governor in his dealings with public employee unions and his handling of the state's fiscal crisis.

Koch Industries' political action committee was one of the biggest financial supporters of Walker's gubernatorial campaign last fall, giving $43,000 to his political fund.

David Koch also gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association last year, and Koch Industries contributed another $50,000. The RGA spent $65,000 on ads supporting Walker and an additional $3.4 million attacking Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker's Democratic opponent.

On Tuesday, the RGA launched a website promoting Walker's stance against unions called StandWithScott.com.

Werwie, the Walker spokesman, said Walker has never before talked to Koch. After the recordings were released, the governor scheduled a news conference for 2:30 p.m.

The Buffalo Beast's website has been inaccessible during much of the day, apparently because so many people have flooded the site.

On the tape, Walker discussed strategies for getting Senate Democrats to return to the state Capitol. At one point, he says he would agree to speak with Democratic legislative leaders if all 14 Democrats who have traveled to Illinois return to the Senate in Madison and sit in their seats, saying that he believes even if the Democrats leave again, the Senate would have a quorum and Republicans would be able to push through Walker's budget measure.

"Legally, we believe once they've gone into session, they don't physically have to be there. ... (The Senate Republicans would) have a quorum because they started out that way," Walker said.

In response, the man posing as Koch says Walker should bring a baseball bat to the meeting with Senate Democrats. Walker laughs at the joke and notes he has a baseball bat in his office.

"I've got a (Louisville) Slugger with my name on it," he says.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said he found Walker's plan to "trick" Democrats was the most disturbing part of the recording. Larson said the plan shows Democrats can't trust any overtures from Walker to talk. "He just gave away it was only for show and it would be to ram this through," he said.

Walker said on the tape he has no intention of conceding anything to the Democrats if they talk. "My sense is hell, I'll talk to them. If they want to yell at me for an hour, I'm used to that," Walker said.

Werwie said Walker was not trying to trick Senate Democrats with the proposal to have them come in for talks and then have the Republicans vote on the bill without them being present.

The person posing as Koch suggested the idea of placing troublemakers amid the crowd of protesters.

Walker responded: "We thought about that. The problem with — my only gut reaction to that would be, right now is that the lawmakers I've talked to have just completely had it with them. The public is not really fond of this...

"My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused is that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid all these problems."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he never considered planting agitators in the crowd. He also said he'd never talked to Walker about the plan to bring Democrats back to Wisconsin and then have the Senate vote on the bill.

In the recording, Walker also described his intention to hang tough and not yield to protesters and Democratic demands that he negotiate changes to his plan to eliminate most public worker bargaining rights.

"Just because there's a bunch of guys who can jump off work because of their union work rules" doesn't mean they represent a majority viewpoint, Walker says.

He tells the prankster posing as Koch that Republicans will need help shoring up Republican lawmakers who will likely come under attack in their districts.

"Hey this is Madison, it's full of '60s liberals — let 'em protest all they want," Walker says, explaining his posture of allowing open access to the Capitol by the protesters. "Sooner or later the media stops finding them interesting.

"The bottom line is we are going to get the world going because this is the right thing to do."

The impostor asked how he can help Walker, and Walker said he wanted calls to any wavering Republicans to continue. Walker also raised the possibility of later getting a "message" out to support their stance.

"The more they get that reassurance, the easier it is for them to vote yes," Walker said.

"The other thing is more long term and that is that after this the days and weeks and months ahead, particularly in these more swing areas, a lot of these guys — they don't necessarily need ads for them, but they are going to need a message out reinforcing why this is a good thing to do for the economy and a good thing to do for the state."

Walker notes that Republican governors in other states are employing similar strategies of removing power from unions, noting that he has spoken to Ohio Gov. John Kasich on the subject.

In Ohio, lawmakers are debating a bill that would abolish collective bargaining rights for state workers. Thousands of protesters have shown up at that state's Capitol.

"I talk to Kasich every day. John's going to stand firm in Ohio. I think we do the same thing with Rick Scott in Florida. I think (Rick) Snyder, if he got a little support, could do the same thing in Michigan. I think if you go down the list, a lot of us new governors got elected to something big."

The governor says in the call he spoke with Cullen, the senator from Janesville, for 45 minutes on Saturday and he hopes that the independent-minded Cullen can influence his colleagues to return.

"He's the only reasonable one there," Walker said.

The prankster said he would try calling Cullen, but Walker advised him not to. "He's pretty reasonable, but he's not one of us, so I would let him be," Walker said. "I think he is in a position where he can maybe motivate that caucus. He's not an ally. ... So he's good to reach out for me, but he's not a conservative. He's just a pragmatist."

He said Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) and a few other Democrats are "radicals." He did not mention the other Democrats by name.

Toward the end of the call, the prankster tells Walker: "Once you crush these bastards, I'll fly you out to Cali (California) and really show you a good time."

Walker replies on the recording: "All right, that would be outstanding."

Walker also said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's office was reviewing whether it would constitute a crime or an ethics violation if unions were helping to pay for the Senate Democrats to stay away. Walker offered no evidence that was happening in the call.

Bill Cosh, a spokesman for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, declined to comment on any advice Van Hollen's office is providing Walker.

A Washington D.C.-based campaign reform advocacy group Wednesday said Walker's conversation with a presumed contributor suggested potential legal or ethical lapses.

The Public Action Campaign Fund, which is funded by some labor and Democratic leaning organizations, points to Walker comments in the call seeking support for Republicans in swing districts.

David Donnelly, national campaign director for the campaign group, said Walker's comments show his union plan "isn't about the budget, it's about favors for special interests."

The editor of the Buffalo Beast is Ian Murphy, who claims on the Buffalo Beast's website to have made the call. Attempts to reach someone at the website have been unsuccessful.

Blog site The Huffington Post reached Buffalo Beast Publisher Paul Fallon, who described how he reached Walker.

"Basically what happened was, yesterday morning (Murphy, the Buffalo Beast editor) was watching television about this Wisconsin stuff and he saw a report where he saw Walker say he wasn't going to talk to anybody," Fallon said to the Huffington Post. "And he said, 'I bet he would talk to somebody if he had enough oomph behind him.' "

Murphy spoke with the governor's executive assistant and ended up speaking with Walker's chief of staff, Keith Gilkes, before reaching the governor.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) called Walker's comments with the blogger "disturbing."

"The real story is the total lack of compassion (from Walker) over what's going on in Wisconsin," Erpenbach said in a phone interview. He along with the other 13 Senate Democrats remain in Illinois, after fleeing the Capitol Thursday to delay action on Walker's budget-repair bill.

Walker's remarks characterizing the protesters as "a bunch of '60s liberals" shows how out of touch he is on the breadth and depth of concern across Wisconsin to the governor's union rights rollback proposal, Erpenbach said.

"For him to compare himself to President Reagan and the (fall of the) Berlin Wall is delusional," he said.

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