Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has long denied that he has a secret strategy to destroy public-sector unions as part of a long-term plan to make Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state where unions are dramatically weakened.
But, with the recall election that could replace Walker barely three weeks away, a remarkable videotape of the governor describing just such as a strategy has surfaced. In it, Walker is seen promising a billionaire campaign donor that the attack on collective-bargaining rights for public-sector unions—which sparked demonstrations and the movement that has forced the recall election—was only “the first step” in a grand plan.
The billionaire would eventually give Walker more than $500,000—the largest donation in Wisconsin history—to help him advance his agenda. That donation made her the largest single donor to the governor’s effort to beat the June 5 recall vote.
The videotape, shot on January 18, 2011, just days after Walker was sworn in as Wisconsin’s Republican governor and several weeks before he proposed to use a “budget repair” bill to gut union rights, was released Thursday by the documentary filmmaker who filmed it.
The video is part of a documentary, As Goes Janesville, which will be shown this fall at film festivals and at PBS stations. (Full disclosure: filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein filmed me several times as part of the making of the documentary. I did not, however, know about the Walker footage until he shared it this week with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.)
In the video, Walker is shown meeting with Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks before an economic development session at a the headquarters of a firm Hendricks owns, ABC Supply Inc., in Beloit.
After Walker kisses Henricks, she asks: “Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions?”
“Oh, yeah!” says Walker.
Henricks then asks: “And become a right-to-work [state]?”
Walker replies: “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.… That opens the door once we do that.”
In a transcript of raw footage from the conversation, Hendricks asks Walker if he has a role model. Walker replies that he has high regard for Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who early in his term used an executive order to strip collective bargaining rights away from public employees and who, more recently, signed right-to-work legislation. Walker described the use of the executive order to undermine union rights as a "beautiful thing" and bemoaned the fact that he would have to enact legislation to achieve the same end in Wisconsin.
Like Walker, Daniels said during his election campaigns and early in his tenure that he would not support right-to-work legislation. But he changed course and championed the anti-union initiative after first disempowering — some would say "dividing and conquering" — the public-employee unions.
Though he has become known nationally as a militant foe of unions, Walker has always denied that he attacked public-sector unions to achieve a political end. He has also denied that he would seek to enact the sort of “right to work” legislation that has been used in southern states to prevent unionization in the private sector.
His recall opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, has said he believes that Walker has a long-term anti-union strategy and that it is part of a broader plan to divide the state for political purposes. In the video, there’s no mistaking the fact that Walker is engaging in a conversation about making Wisconsin a “completely red [Republican] state” by attacking unions.
And he is doing so with Hendricks, a notoriously anti-union employer, who would donate $10,000 to Walker’s campaign just days after the January 18, 2011, conversation. A year later, as the recall loomed, she would up the ante with that $500,000 donation—making her the top donor to the embattled governor.
Though Hendricks did not respond to calls from the Journal Sentinel and other news outlets for comment, it is fair to say that she must have liked what she heard from Walker. And she must have been pleased his “first step” in the “divide and conquer” strategy of attacking Wisconsin unions.