MADISON, WI — Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) held a tense press conference Wednesday afternoon, following the revelation that he had a 20-minute phone conversation with a prank caller pretending to be Republican financier David Koch, a call in which Walker and “Koch” discussed possible ways to disrupt the protests against his budget bill, and to bring the Democrats back to the Capitol.
The presser took place in the governor’s press room, with the thick, wooden double doors closed in order to block out the ever-present sounds of the protesters inside the Capitol.
Walker started off by taking shots at the 14 state Senate Democrats who have left the state, in order to block the three-fifths majority needed for a budget quorum. “I’m here today working. I appreciated the fact that the state Assembly is here today debating the budget repair bill, and I appreciate that Senate Republicans are in the Capitol preparing to debate a number of measures…And I hope that by the end of the day we might receive some updates from the state Senate Democrats who are not here in the Capitol, not doing their job, that we might get an update as to when they might come back and start doing their jobs.”
Walker also touted the savings he says would come to local governments from his budget repair bill’s various cost-saving measures. He also touted the savings for workers themselves — from not joining a union. “It also give them an option of whether they want to participate in a union, and no longer mandates that their union dues will be deducted from their paycheck,” said Walker, explaining that this would save employees $1,000 a year, or $2,000 for a married couple who are both government employees: “That’s real money that helps the bottom line, and we’re giving those employes the right to choose whether to have that money taken out of their paycheck, and to choose whether to be part of the union.”
Then came the Q&A — which was very brief, with only four questions, but which featured a notably loud ending.
The first questioner asked Walker whether he could be trusted to negotiate in good faith, given he had discussed with “Koch” methods of tricking the Democrats into coming back to the Capitol building, and after he alluded to having considered bringing “troublemakers” into the crowds.
“For us I think it’s real simple. First I want to say I take phone calls all the time,” Walker said, before being interrupted by a reporter in the crowd who yelled, “Not mine!.” Walker continued: “I’ve talked to individual taxpayers across the state. As I said last night I’ve listened to people both pro and con in terms of the e-mails I’ve received. But bottom line, the things I’ve said privately are the same things I’ve said all along.”
Regarding the idea of planting agitators in the crowds, Walker said: “We’ve had all sorts of options brought to us by staff and lawmakers and people across the state, but as you heard we dismissed them.”
Regarding the idea of bringing the Democrats into the Capitol to talk, only to have the Republicans use their presence in the building to declare the Senate in session for the budget — as Walker said in the call, “I’m not negotiating”. Walker said in the presser: “I’m willing to talk, but ultimately I think it has to lead to a vote. I don’t think that’s a trick.”
When the Q&A was over, Democratic state Rep. Brett Hulsey — who had gotten in the room before the press conference began, took the governor’s podium to give his own remarks and to take questions from reporters.
At this point, some young staffers from the governor’s office opened the double-doors wide open — so that the sounds of the thousands of protesters came pouring in, drowning out Hulsey. The reporters then asked for the doors to be closed, but the young men stayed at the doors, keeping them fully open.