Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) is responding to the controversy over a newly-released video, in which he told a wealthy donor that he would take a “divide and conquer” strategy to take down organized labor and potentially make Wisconsin a right-to-work state — a video clip that could have a major impact on the ongoing recall election against him.
At a campaign stop on Friday, Walker explained to reporters that he made the comments in the contest of meeting with the local economic development group, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
“It was a meeting with folks from Rock County 5.0 talking about how to help Beloit, Janesville, Rock County as a whole deal with some of the devastating manufacturing loss they’ve had in the past,” he said, also adding: “It’s interesting to me that our opponents want to rehash, replay the debate. I think the vast majority, myself included, want to move on, move forward.”
Walker was then asked about the term “divide and conquer,” and if this referred to his having exempted police and firefighter unions from his legislation that eliminated most collective bargaining for public employees.
“It was a year and a half ago, so I don’t remember the particulars of that discussion,” he responded. “I think it was very clear about standing up and saying somebody needs to stand up on behalf of the hard-working taxpayers.”
He also reiterated that he has no plans to pursue a right-to-work law.
“Most politicians say things and don’t follow up on them,” Walker said. “What I’ve said, the commitment I’ve made and what I’ve said repeatedly in the last 13, 14 months, is that private-sector unions are my partners in economic development. I’ve said repeatedly now, since that time, that I don’t have an interest in pursuing right-to-work. I’ve made other commitments to them about working with unions. I’ve kept every one of those. It’s why a lot of private sector unions stepped up and tried to help us pass mining legislation.”
In the wake of the video clip controversy, one local police union that endorsed Walker in 2010 has now announced its new endorsement for Walker’s Democratic opponent in the recall, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
The video clip shows Walker speaking with Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks — who has since donated $510,000 to Walker’s campaign — at a meeting of the local economic development group Rock County 5.0, in January 2011. Hendricks asked: “Any chance we’ll get to be a completely red state, and work on these unions, and become a right-to-work — what can we do to help you?”
“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,” Walker said. “So for us the base we’ve got for that is the fact that we’ve got — budgetarily we can’t afford not to. If we have collective bargaining agreements in place, there’s no way not only the state but local governments can balance things out. So you think city of Beloit, city of Janesville, any of the school districts, that opens the door once we do that. That’s your bigger problem right there.”
A month after that video was shot, of course, Walker introduced his legislation to curtail public employee unions, as part of a budget adjustment bill — setting off a wave of massive protests at the state Capitol and all across Wisconsin, followed by last year’s state legislative recalls, and finally the ongoing recall of Walker himself, his lieutenant governor, and four state senators.