Walker: 'I'm not going to allow one prank phone call to be a distraction.'
Gov. Scott Walker held another press conference this afternoon, his fourth since last Thursday. For this one, he changed his shirt and tie (from the standard blue and red to a refreshing white and blue), but not his mind.
The mood of today's press conference was also different, as the questions asked of Walker seemed to get tougher and evince a greater degree of skepticism than in days past.
Walker reiterated his usual talking points about how his plan is essential to plug Wisconsin's gaping fiscal gap. He now claims that the bill will provide local governments with $1.5 billion in savings, if only some or all of the 14 missing Democratic senators return to Madison to allow this to happen. He matched this carrot with a stick, saying that if his bill does not pass, 1,500 state workers will have to be laid off by June 30, something he said the state "can't afford."
The governor now claims to have gotten 100,000 emails, up from 8,000 last Thursday and 19,000 on Friday. But this time he made no claim, as he has earlier, that the majority of those sending him emails supported him. He now said of these emails, "obviously some for, some against."
There was one old point to which Walker gave new emphasis: that under his bill, union members will no longer be compelled to pay dues, and thus can put these savings -- which he said in some cases run to $1,000 a year -- toward offsetting the cost of paying half their pensions and a much larger share of their health insurance.
Many of the questions centered on Walker's secretly recorded conversation with a journalist in Buffalo, posing as New York oil billionaire and Walker backer David Koch.
In this exchange, Walker displayed more than his usual amount of cockiness as well as remarkable tolerance for vulgar attacks on protesters, the liberal media and President Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod. He also told "Koch" that he was confident the protests would peter out, saying "let them protest all they want" because "sooner or later the media stops finding them interesting."
The media at today's press conference seemed as interested as ever.
"Did you talk to the real Koch?" was one shouted-out question that didn't get answered. But Walker did take a stab at answering whether he could still make the case that he was acting in good faith when he admitted during this call that he considered planting troublemakers among the protesters to discredit them.
"People have brought up all sorts of different options," said Walker, noting that in his conversation with "Koch," he rejected this particular option.
Another reporter noted that Walker had evoked President Ronald Reagan's handling of air traffic controllers as a positive precedent for what was happening in Wisconsin. "Does that not sound like union busting, or is it budget balancing?" the reporter asked.
"No," responded Walker. "It's about balancing the budget."
After several such questions, Walker seemed a bit put-out. "I take phone calls all the time," he said, as though the access he afforded "David Koch" was the same as he'd do for anybody. "I'm not going to allow one prank phone call to be a distraction."
Throughout the press conference, state Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) stood toward the back with his hand in the air, hoping he'd be called on. He wasn't. After Walker exited, less than 20 minutes after the press conference began, Hulsey strode through the thicket of cameras and reporters to take the podium.
The governor's staff responded by turning off the microphone and opening the conference room doors, so that Hulsey was drowned out by the din of the protest echoing through the Capitol. The irony of the moment was exquisite, given Walker's constant references to not wanting the protesters to "drown out" the much larger group of state residents he claims are on his side.
"Close the door," shouted some of the reporters. The reporters, unlike Walker, wanted to hear what he had to say. A correspondent from a national news network standing next to me called these steps to make it hard to hear Hulsey "childish."
I couldn't hear a word that Hulsey was saying until I worked my way through the knot of reporters. Then I could catch only snippets, including: "We've got to sit down and talk."
Maybe Hulsey should consider pretending to be David Koch.