By now you've probably all heard or read about the infamous prank call Gov. Walker received from a gonzo journalist posing as billionaire businessman David Koch. Word of the PR fiasco pinged around the net at lightning speed, and the governor's office officially confirmed that it was, in fact, Walker in the call.
The spin, of course, was that "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…."
Only, if you listen closely, there are several important questions that arise from the conversation that could have serious legal and political implications for the governor.
First of all, though, I couldn't help think about the psychology behind this whole episode. There it was, over a week into the massive public outcry over Walker's budget repair bill the governor refusing to speak with the Senate Democrats who'd left the state in order to delay voting on the fast-tracked legislation, refusing to negotiate with unions, failing to even truly acknowledge the tens of thousands of regular Wisconsin citizens who'd been demonstrating day in and day out and yet the man can make 20 minutes for a chatty phone call with a man who isn't even a state resident.
What has come across in all Walker's years in public office, and especially in this phone call, is the creeping sense of megalomania. How could Walker have been so quick to believe that David Koch would call him up out of the blue (sitting through the nearly endless busy signals received on the line) like that? Because, I suspect, in Walker's head he would of course warrant a friendly contact from one half of a rightwing kingmaker duo.
That arrogance is part of what makes Walker such an excellent politician: He's ideologically pure. He sticks to his original goal or message and will not be swayed. He believes in what he's doing, to the point that the possibility that he might ever be wrong simply never occurs to him.
We've seen this before, and it's a dangerous trait in an elected official with any amount of power or influence. Even Donald Rumsfeld notes this fact in his new memoir, Known and Unknown, wherein he simultaneously displays stunning cognitive dissonance when he writes, "Certainty without power can be interesting, even amusing; certainty with power can be dangerous."
That's what we're dealing with here in Wisconsin certainty with power. And that certainty, that arrogance, is on full display in this crank call.
Just as interesting are the questions of legality and ethics raised by some of the things Walker says to the faux-Koch (full transcript here):
He admits that his administration had already thought of the idea of planting "troublemakers" in the crowd of protesters something they decided against only because any "ruckus" caused by it might "scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems." Heaven forbid he actually have to address problems.
Former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager also believes there may be serious ethics, labor law, and election law violations in regards to what Walker said.
"He is on tape talking with someone who he thinks is the funder of an independent political action committee to purchase advertising to benefit Republican legislators who are nervous about taking votes on legislation he sees as critical to his political success."
Also at issue is Walker's enthusiasm at faux-Koch's invitation to fly him out to California once everything is said and done to "really show you a good time." Walker's response? "All right, that would be outstanding." It is illegal for public officials to accept gifts of that nature.
Worth noting, too, is the fact that Walker gleefully compares his actions against unions in Wisconsin to what Ronald Reagan did when he fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers in 1981. That does not sound like a man with any intention of really working with his diverse constituency to reach good, long term solutions. It sounds like someone more concerned with making a political name for himself.
As for the Senate Democrats? Walker recently offered to actually sit down and speak with the minority leader something he should have done anyway and long ago but only if the rest of the senators came back with him. Why? "…legally, we believe, once they've gone into session, they don't physically have to be there. If they're actually in session for that day and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they'd have a quorum because they started out that way...But that would be the only, if you heard that I was going to talk to them, that would be the only reason why. We'd only do it if they came back to the capital with all 14 of them. And my sense is, hell, I'll talk to them. If they want to yell at me for an hour, you know, I'm used to that, I can deal with that. But I'm not negotiating."
Shorter Walker: I'd be happy to trick them into coming back so that we can still vote without them present and still refuse to actually negotiate anything.
This is the governor we elected, folks. Granted, he didn't run on union busting (despite his administration's claims to the contrary) or completely destroying Medicare, or allowing no-bid contracts for power plants (something else with ties to the Koch brothers), so a lot of the people who voted for Walker are definitely feeling more than a little duped. But his overall agenda hasn't exactly been a secret. He wasn't a blank slate coming into all of this. Wisconsin really ought to have known better.
Financial backing from some of the wealthiest and most influential conservative businessmen in the country goes a long way, though. And the Koch's know it: They've had lobbyists in Wisconsin for awhile, but in January alone they opened a brand new office just across the street from the capitol and registered seven brand new lobbyists.
I don't know about you, but I'm not terribly keen on the idea of my state being run by these Kansas-based billionaires with dreams of complete deregulation and an overwhelmingly lopsided distribution of wealth.
Walker's all for it, though, so long as it means his name in lights.
- Also buried in Walker's budget bill is the possibility of the government raiding retirement plans.
- As written, Walker's budget bill could lead to the state forfeiting $46.6 million in federal transit funds. Democrats are crafting an amendment that would protect collective bargaining rights specifically for transit workers so as to avoid that.
- Walker keeps saying that "almost all" of the protesters at the capitol are from outside the state, but even the MJS PolitiFact website calls that out as a lie.
- According to a USA Today/Gallup poll, 61% of Americans oppose any law in their own states similar to the one being proposed in Wisconsin that would take away union collective bargaining rights.
- MoveOn.org is calling for solidarity rallies in front of the state houses in all 50 states this Saturday at noon.