Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Punked By Reporter Posing As David Koch; Political, Legal Fallout — TBD

A reporter for the Buffalo, NY online publication, recorded a 20-minute phone conversation with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker by posing as David Koch, one of the billionaire Koch brothers. Much of the funding for Governor Walker's campaign was provided by the Koch brothers. They have bankrolled the anti-union counter-demonstrations in Madison through a Tea Party front group, Americans for Prosperity. Governor Walker's office has confirmed this is Walker's voice in the conversation (below). The David Koch impersonator is set off in "/".

Aside from the entertainment value of reporter Ian Murphy's pitch-perfect voice as an arrogant billionaire robber baron, assuming the taped conversation is accurate, there is a sense that Governor Walker may be in serious legal trouble regarding some of the statements he made. Listen carefully. You will hear a governor exposed in what he thought was a private conversation with his billionaire money man, their mutual ties and the extent to which he is a creature of the "vested interest" rather than the public interest laid bare.

The Governor is a radical right wing "true believer." Walker refers to one "reasonable" Democrat among those 14 on the lam, but when "Koch" says "I'll have to give that man a call" Walker quickly discourages him. "Well, actually, in his case I wouldn’t call him, and I’ll tell you why. he’s pretty reasonable but he’s not one of us ... hmm" because the Democrat is a "pragmatist" who is "just trying to get something done ... But he’s not an ally, he went into the private sector, made real money and, uh, became a little more open-minded." "David Koch" replies, "HA." (In this exchange, it's reasonable to infer the Governor did not want his conversation with "David Koch" to be disclosed, hence "he's not one of us" or, not to be trusted.

Walker was eager to assert his toughness and right wing bona fides to "David Koch." He said he would "not compromise." No matter what. It's quite revealing too, that a governor in the midst of a major crisis should devote 20 minutes of his busy schedule to an out-of-state billionaire. Of course, the Koch brothers happen to be Walker's major financial contributors with a "vested interest" in Wisconsin. Walker dismissed the polls, notably one commissioned by the AFL-CIO which shows erosion of public support for him. He notes he is "getting the message out" and cites a range of mostly Fox, mostly right wing media outlets: Hannity, "Greta", Mark Levin. Rather than addressing the reality of the situation, Walker devolves into a Baghdad Bob version of events: The protesters are "outsiders" who are losing public support; actually, the opposite is true. The latest polls in Wisconsin show the public is opposed to eliminating collective bargaining by a 2:1 margin.

A fascinating glimpse at the coordinated strategy of the Republican governors to assault public employee unions (rather than fix their budget issues with negotiation and compromise) emerges in Walker's ideological conviction that "this is our moment" and Wisconsin is "Ground Zero" for breaking the unions. "David Koch" adds helpfully, "you're the first domino." Actually, credit where credit is due: Ed Schultz of MSNBC, whose onsite reporting of this crisis in his primetime "Ed Show" is the best and most incisive, was the first to come up with the "Ground Zero" line. He was referring to the unions taking a stand and pushing back; not to Walker's inference that the Republican right wing governors and the Koch brothers are going to run the table and kill the labor movement in America. I'm placing my money on Big Eddie's prediction. Here's Walker:
"I talk to Kasich everyday. John's got to stand firm in Ohio. I think we can do the same thing with Rick Scott in Florida. I think Snyder, if he got a little more support probably could do that in Michigan. If you start going down the list, a lot of us new governors go elected to do something big ("David Koch" interjects, "You're the first domino") ... "Yep. This is our moment."
Deluding himself, or simply trying to tell "David Koch" what the billionaire brothers want to hear, Walker said "originally the guys got freaked out by all the bodies here," dismissing the 70,000 protesters (the biggest Wisconsin demonstrations since the Vietnam War) with "I remind the lawmakers there's five and a half million people in this state." After, he said, the "message" has to get out to the swing districts why "this was a good thing for the state." In this conversation, Walker not only confirmed his intention to break the union, but revealed some of the tactics he would use to do it: Setting his AG loose on the union, fishing for any illegality; squeezing the 14 Democrats who fled the state with a rule "which we just loved" to stop direct payroll deposits by locking the checks in the legislators' desks; "crank up" the pressure with layoff notices ready and "at-risk" notices mailed out to 5,000 to 6,000 workers next week.

Walker declared he would "not budge" and was ready to use state public employees as pawns: "We’ll wait it out. if they want to sacrifice thousands of workers who will be laid off, sooner or later there will be pressure on these senators to come back." The unions had already made every single financial concession demanded by the Governor to balance the budget — on their backs. But Walker admitted it's not about the budget — it's about breaking the public employee unions. He reassured his patron "David Koch" that he would try "four five different angles" to achieve this goal.

These revelations are more than a passing embarassment to Scott Walker. They're politically damaging and possibly Ethics Code and law violations. At the very least they warrant a full and thorough investigation. There are three aspects of this conversation that are particularly troubling:

(1) In what may be a clear violation of the State Ethics Code, Governor Walker said he was considering an "interesting idea" floated by his chief of staff to, in effect, lure the 14 Wisconsin Democrats hiding out in Illinois, on false pretenses:
"Putting out an appeal to the Democrat Leader, that I would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the Assembly Democrat Leader, plus the other two Republican leaders. talk, not negotiate. and listen to what they have to say if they will in turn. I’ll only do it if all 14 of them come back and sit down in the state assembly. They can recess it to come back and talk to me but they’ll have to be back there. The reason for that is, 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, 19 senate republicans could then go into action and they’d have a quorum because they started out that way."
There's only one problem for such a scheme to succeed: It assumes the 14 Democrats would willingly sign on to having their leaders talk with the Governor in the knowledge that even if the Senate is in recess, the Republicans "could then go into action" and pass the bill, with or without them. That is patently ridiculous. So the assumption is that there would be deception involved: assurances from the Governor and Senate Republican leaders that no attempts to reach quorum would be made — hence, the recess — and that the "talk" with the Governor signalled a softening of his position that could lead to a compromise solution.

The segment ends rather bizarrely, in a hilarious kind of way:

Walker quickly reassures "David Koch" there's no wavering of his resolve: "If you heard I was going to talk to them (reassuring “David Koch” he’s not caving) that would be the only reason why we would; only do it if they came back to the capital with all 14 of them."

Walker (getting cocky): "My sense is,  hell, I’ll talk. 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

"David Koch": "Bring ... put a baseball bat. that’s what I’d do.

Walker: (laughs) I’ve got one in my office; you’ll be happy with that. I’ve got a slugger  with my name on it.

"Koch": (HAHAHA) "Beautiful."
(2) In another side-splitting but leading exchange with Walker, "David Koch" says: "We sent (right wing provocateur) Andrew Breitbart down there." (Walker: "Yeah, good stuff.") "Koch": "Yeah. He's our man, you know." Which prompted Walker to boast, "I’ve been going after Obama because he stuck, he’s backed off now, but he stuck his nose in here and I said, last time I checked this guy’s got a much bigger deficit than we did. Maybe he should worry about that and not stick his nose in Wisconsin's business.”  "Koch": (HAHAHA). Later, "David Koch" says, "Right, right we'll back you anyway we can. But, uh ... what we were thinking about the crowds was, uh ... plantin' some troublemakers. (Pregnant pause.)
Walker: You know the (sigh) the only problem, 'cause we thought about that ... My only gut reaction to that would be the, the lawmakers I've talked to just completely had it with them ... the guys we got left are largely from out-of-state ... My only fear would be if there was a ruckus caused ... is that that would scare the public into thinking that maybe the Governor's got to settle to avoid all these problems. Whereas I've said, hey, we can handle this, let 'em protest, this is Madison, full of 60s liberals, it's not going to affect us. Let 'em protest all they want; that's my gut reaction, if they're constant, they're quiet, nothing happens. Because sooner or later the media stops finding it interesting."
It's unclear what Governor Walker meant when he said "'cause we thought about that." Did he mean he was thinking of "plantin' some troublemakers," as "David Koch" suggested be done; or was he thinking of how to handle troublemakers? In either case, Walker never made clear to "David Koch" that such activity was unacceptable, possibly illegal, and as Governor he would not countenance or tolerate troublemakers from out-of-state who were planted amid the Wisconsin union crowds to disrupt peaceful protests. Instead, he seemed to very awkwardky and indirectly discourage "David Koch" by saying his "fear" was that if there was "a ruckus caused" it would "scare the public into thinking that maybe the Governor's got to settle to avoid all these problems."

In other words: A "ruckus" caused by troublemakers is only to be discouraged because it may be counterproductive. Not because it might be illegal or unethical or downright wrong. Interesting.

(3) The conversation ends with a bang rather than a whimper. Scott Walker has his Reagan moment of misplaced hubris, in which he tried to inherit Reagan's mantle by comparing his stance to the Gipper's firing of Air Traffic Controllers in 1981— a sentiment shared with his cabinet, as he held a picture of Reagan. Said Walker: “It was kind of the last hurrah before we dropped the bomb.” Walker continued preening to his benefactor: 'I said, for those who thought I was being melodramatic, you now know, it was purely putting it in the right context.” (Melodramatic is a little generous.) "David Koch": "HAHAHA. Well, I’ll tell you what Scott. Once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time."

Walker: "All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support and helping us move the cause forward, and we appreciate it, we’re doing the just and right thing for the ... and it’s all about gettin’ our freedom back." And here is where "David Koch" gets in a little parting reminder about the Koch brothers' "vested interest" in Wisconsin:
"David Koch": "Absolutely. And you know, we have a little bit of “vested interest” as well. HAHA."

Walker: "Well that’s just it. The bottom line is we're going to get ... We're moving here ‘cause it’s the right thing to do."
The impersonation of "David Koch" by Ian Murphy is side-splitting hilarious. The faux "David Koch" drops a lot of "beautifuls" and "goddamned rights!" Referring to Walker's claim the union was putting up guys from out of state, "David Koch" said: "Well, they’re probably puttin’ hobos in suits. That's what we do sometimes." Walker: "Yeah." Reacting to possible layoffs, "David Koch" says: "Beautiful, beautiful. gotta crush that union!" Walker replies with a boast: "If they think I'm caving they've been asleep for the last eight years ... Because we don't budge." Referring to several media types, "David Koch" has a little fun: "Goddamned right! We sent Andrew Breitbart down there ... (Walker: "Yeah, good stuff!") He's our man, you know." When Walker said the media reception (Fox, Hannity, Greta, Levin) was "phenomenal," "David Koch" scoffed, "Not the liberal bastards on MSNBC!" But, as for Morning Joe: "Oh Joe’s a good guy; he’s one of us." Poor Mika Brzezinski, she gets no respect:

"But you gotta love that Mika Brzezinski. She’s a piece of ass!"

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