Recalling Scott Walker: Not Revenge, but a Real Victory

The Liberal Ironist hasn’t given much time to the drive by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to all but de-unionize teachers in Wisconsin.  This was mostly because I’m fascinated by the several evolving revolutionary efforts underway in the Middle East; but it was also partly because I expected the Democrats in the Senate, who fled the state to prevent the quorum that would allow the measure to come to a vote through the budget process, could out-wait the Republicans.


Governor Scott Walker is a serious, passionate activist who believes a simple and uncompromising philosophy of government will make his state great...But at the risk of melodrama, that's an apt description of the worst men in history.

We’ll never know whether that was the case now, since Governor Walker and Wisconsin’s Republican legislative majority just steamrolled this unnecessary and punitive measure through, separating the measure from the budget and quickly voting on it as a bill.  Having finally de-coupled their union-busting initiative from the budget legislation, Wisconsin’s Republicans symbolically shrugged off their pretenses of budgetary concerns to pass an unnecessary and radical measure on the basis of their simple majority.  Now, Wisconsin’s teachers union can only engage in collective bargaining to secure cost-of-living adjustments for their salaries and benefits.  This means they reserve the right to negotiate not to take automatic pay cuts through inflation–which, since that is the maximal position they can bargain for, they will.

We can safely say this measure isn’t really about Wisconsin’s budget deficit, as Governor Walker maintained, because as Ezra Klein compellingly put it in a recent blog entry for the Washington Post, Governor Walker passed revenue-negative business tax cuts while Wisconsin was already under fiscal duress, essentially forcing sacrifices from state employees in a striking show of faith in trickle-down economics.

Alright, I’ve given enough background; it’s time for what will definitely be the highlight of this post.  Ian Murphy, a Liberal blogger for The Beast, took the extraordinary step of posing as billionaire energy company magnate and Tea Party financier David Koch, calling Governor Walker’s office and being rewarded for this bit of espionage with an utterly-surreal 20-minute phone conversation.  Apparently seeing that the die was cast, Walker’s office dutifully confirmed that the recording is genuine.  I initially didn’t make much of it, other than to note that Walker sounds like a real pollyanna of a Conservative; if you listen to it you notice that Walker rarely bites at Murphy’s very funny attempts to lead him into outrageous admissions.  But a friend advised I take a closer look at the latter half of the phone conversation, and sure-enough, Walker truly does go off the reservation here.

Liberal blogger Ian Murphy from The Beast managed to convince Governor Walker for 20 minutes that he was an out-of-state billionaire who looks like this. Photo by Jimi Celeste/WWD/Cond, Nast/Corbis

Part 1 of Murphy’s…uh, exclusive interview with Scott Walker.

Part 2 of one of the most-brazen acts of journalistic espionage I can think of.  Most of the segments that condemn Walker are in the 2nd half; I’ve listed those I consider most-noteworthy below:

3:17-4:24: Walker asks fake-David Koch for soft money contributions to run ads both *during* the proceedings on the anti-union bill and for state legislators who supported him during their next election campaign.

4:21-5:21: Fake-David Koch suggests Walker hire people to slip into the crowd of demonstrating teachers to cause trouble. Walker says they considered that, but relented because he worried that if the troublemakers incited the protests to rowdiness, the public might pressure him to settle with the teachers. He didn’t express a sentiment that…you know, violence is bad.

7:48-8:45: Walker says he thought that President Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers “was the first crack in the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism.”

9:11-9:33 (the funniest, in my opinion): Fake-David Koch invites Walker out to California after he breaks the teachers’ union. Walker says “that would be great.”

"'re saying that...wasn't David Koch who called me? Ah..."

On the basis of his admissions in this phone conversation Wisconsin Democrats are now filing ethics charges against Governor Walker.  That sounds like a very easy case to make–but even while cheering our fake-David Koch on, I immediately want to add that Walker comes off as a decent man in this conversation.  I believe the ethics charges being filed against him on the substance of this call are quite legitimate, and the reader will soon see how little the Liberal Ironist thinks Walker should continue to hold statewide office.  That said, those of you who listen to this 20-minute phone conversation–and if this issue interests you, you should to listen to it carefully–will find that Murphy lays the C. Montgomery Burns act on thick, and invites Walker at many occasions to express cynicism about politics and Conservatism generally.  Walker never bites, and he speaks on his own motion like a man who really thinks market forces will save this country, going so far as to compliment a moderate Democrat state senator thus: “He worked in the private sector, he made real money…”  He really does seem to be motivated by a set of ideological principles, and I don’t think he realizes he has been caught in an act of official corruption.

Last night I spoke with a friend who asked if an attack on a Democratic constituency like the teachers’ union would alienate Republicans’ supporters among the police and firefighter unions; I expressed doubt that they would recognize a sense of common cause.  I only then discovered that the Wisconsin Professional Police Association released a fact sheet expressing opposition to Scott Walker’s bill attacking the teacher’s union.  Police are at least a Republican constituency relative to teachers, and many had remarked that this was the reason that they (and Wisconsin’s firefighters) had been excluded from Governor Walker’s attack on public employee unions.  I’d been inclined to think they would sit out this fight, both in consideration of Wisconsin’s recent strong Republican trend and a sentiment that neither party had any inclination to attack their union.  But I underestimated the WPPA in assuming that, and their fact sheet on Governor Walker’s proposal ends with a low-key but unmistakable call-to-arms:

“While the WPPA appreciates that law enforcement is exempted from the bill’s provisions, the WPPA opposes the bill on the basis of its union-busting measures. WPPA members are encouraged to contact their legislators to voice their concerns. Members can find their legislators their contact information by going to the following website:”

So broken is any sense of fair play between Republicans and Democrats in the State of Wisconsin, and so strong is the sense of grievance among Wisconsin’s public employees that a recall of the governor has been proposed.  Democratic former Congressman David Obey suggested this on Monday, before Republicans in the State Senate pulled their end-run.  He added that “the governor still has some time to defuse this” by proposing a measure that didn’t seek to break the teachers’ union–but any political space for cooperation between Wisconsin’s Republicans and Democrats has now closed for the time being.  Sarah Jones, a Liberal blogger in Wisconsin, notes that Governor Walker can’t be recalled until he has served a full year in office, but that there are probably more than enough signatures available to recall the 8 Republican State Senators currently eligible for it.  A special election scheduled for the purpose of a recall is likely to favor recall, as a coherent constituency favoring recall is likely to turn out to support it.  Furthermore, Republicans won’t necessarily turn out to defend Walker on this count; a recent New York Times poll has put to bed the assumption that there is popular support for breaking public employee unions; in reality a solid majority opposes this.  The poll finds that Republicans are about evenly-divided on this, but that independents and Democrats are widely-opposed to it.

The attacks on public employee unions occurring in several states right now vary in their intensity, as do the fiscal and political environments in which they occur.  In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, attacks public employees’ salaries and benefits in a state with a Democratic legislature that recently had a rough-45% budget deficit; in Wisconsin Scott Walker has a recently-elected Republican legislative majority and faces a budget shortfall largely because of hastily-passed business tax cuts.  Late last week in Ohio, a bill that similarly strips the teachers’ union of many aspects of its collective bargaining power cleared the State Senate on its way to Republican Governor John Kasich’s desk; he has vowed to sign it.

Those whom are concerned about the future of public employee unions (and they really are the proper heirs to unionized labor generally) need a demonstration of their presence and power.  Specifically, the message that these drives to disenfranchise state employees of collective bargaining rights are intolerable should be sent loud and clear.  The Liberal Ironist thinks that issuing a recall of the 8 eligible Republican state senators as soon as possible is a good idea.

And right after his administration turns 1 year old, the people of Wisconsin should use their State’s surplus of democracy to say: “Yes, Mr. Walker, you only did what you thought was right.  Duly noted.  Now get out of there.”

"You're, um, you're thinking of using that recall thing you have, aren't you? Anything...I can do to change your mind? No?"


7 thoughts on “Recalling Scott Walker: Not Revenge, but a Real Victory

  1. Kukri

    Also, there’s nothing preventing the law from being amended or repealed at a later date.
    While I believe in the need for union pay/benefits to be curtailed (particularly in states like NJ, whose debt makes Wisconsin look like a Swiss bank*), the tactics and rhetoric of Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans simply went too far. My concern is that it will make NJ’s budget battles even harder, because both sides in the Garden State could dig in more in fear of a Wisconsin scenario.

    *Though a fight with the unions is far from the only budget-cutting tactic that should be looked at. In NJ as in Wisconsin, the battle is focused on the teachers, when the battle should be looking *also* at the pay/benefits of school admins, and police and firefighters. But it’s not just the unions: we need reform of the school funding formula, as well as consolidation of services among towns. Consolidating services seems relatively unpopular in NJ, where “home rule” is worshipped, but must be done- bashing unions won’t balance the budget.

    1. liberalironist Post author

      The premise that public employee health care and retirement benefits are unsustainable in some states is certainly plausible; we of course have a long-term fiscal shortfall at the Federal level in Social Security and a very serious problem meeting some mandatory benefits in Medicare and Medicaid. While public employees in some states might have to accept reduced benefits in the future so that state pension system and health benefits can be made sustainable, there are several things I want to say to this general point:

      1.) We’re talking about these pension and benefit reductions–and in the case of Wisconsin and Ohio at least, de facto pay cuts against inflation–in the context of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, and the Libertarian “Tea Party” movement has emerged. This means that the premise that states should balance their budgets through cuts to public employee salaries and benefits is being raised by a crop of Republican governors and State legislatures at a moment of father extreme fiscal shortfall in many parts of the country. A group of ideological Conservatives have managed to raise this “balancing the budget” premise because of the recession, not because of their public analysis of long-term budget liabilities.

      2.) Again, I’m not saying that long-term growth in benefits for public employees isn’t a problem that must be addressed through reductions (and New Jersey is one of the easier cases for this), but I do say that the States’ budget shortfalls in the context of the Great Recession is in some cases likely unrelated to the sustainability of benefits for public employees. I’ll refer to Derek Thompson’s blog entry for the Atlantic that demonstrates there isn’t much difference between many very-urbanized Northeastern States with large public employee unions–he mentions Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island–and several relatively-rural Southern freedom-to-work States with small governments–in his example Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia–in terms of their small-to-moderate budget deficits. He found a much clearer (though not absolute) trend for States that either supplied or invested heavily in speculation on suburban real estate to post massive budget deficits–New Jersey, Illinois and California being prime examples.

      3.) I discussed Scott Walker’s phone conversation with fake-David Koch, and he pointed out that Walker didn’t mention the budget at all (except during a discussion of political framing of the issue). I mentioned Walker’s self-comparison to President Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers (which he strangely believes was the first brick in the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism) because I think it demonstrates that Walker, at least, wants to break the public employee unions in Wisconsin for philosophical reasons that have nothing to do with Wisconsin’s budget–and which may turn out to have nothing to do with economics, either.

      I agree about the failure of New Jersey’s Schools Construction Corporation. While the purpose of building new schools in the State’s poorer school districts is commendable in principle, the Star-Ledger and columnist Paul Mulshine have made a compelling case that the money is often wasted both in terms of where schools are being built and the abnormally high cost per school built. The result is that New Jersey is now the highest-taxed State in the country–surprising considering its large consist of affluent suburbs of New York City and Philadelphia–and if I properly-understand the situation the Schools Construction Corporation ran through its money without building most of the schools it was mandated to build. It should be radically-reformed by the Legislature and Governor, if not scrapped completely.

      Consolidation of services should be studied to see where and when it will save money. We shouldn’t assume that giving up home rule for consolidated services will bring greater efficiency or is always worth the savings at the price of reduced intimacy or democracy, but in some contexts a lot of money could certainly be saved. I have no idea whether or how much more-efficient police protection could be if consolidated. Establishing county school districts was proposed on Long Island by regional planners in 1970; while it was certainly rational from a fiscal perspecive it went nowhere then because locals wanted direct control over their school district’s budget and school board. (That doesn’t just reflect institutional prerogatives but a deep-seated cultural desire, as you know.) Local control of schools has its benefits, but it has also led to rising property taxes. Now it seems Governor Cuomo is entertaining one of those idiotic property tax caps on the implicit assumption that people should have direct access to a local school board that controls drastically-restrained resources. Countywide school districts could provide a valuable way of spreading school construction costs in New Jersey, as well as allow more-efficient sharing of certain services and transportation costs between schools that might see variation in their demand. It could make public school choice for parents in underperforming schools both easier and less-controversial. Finally, suburban volunteer fire departments, amazingly, are often far more-expensive per capita than large, full-time paid fire departments in major cities. This is because of the need for duplicative infrastructure, equiptment and personnel for local departments. For serious fires several local departments turn out to help each other anyway; that this should be handled at the town or county level in a state like New York, or at the county level in New Jersey, seems straightforward to me.

      South of the Mason-Dixon line there is often no local government below the county level; I’ve seen this regional rather than local government mode produce the same quality of services at lower tax rates. It also reduces local inequalities in service-provision between communities. I’m not eager to exchange the demon I know for a devil I don’t know, but I agree this warrants comparative study. The Northeast, after all, is losing population weight to the South and Mountain West at nearly the same volume as the Midwest even while its economy is generally sound.

      1. Kukri

        Thank you for the longer response.
        I actually saw the NYT article you cite that compares the states. The main purpose of my short initial response was to provide a less sexy, more moderate description of the budget deficits, one that doesn’t simply blame all the teachers, but doesn’t excuse unions, and overall spreads the responsibility on more groups while offering several solutions.

  2. J-Doug

    Let’s remember that he didn’t just de-unionize teachers, but ALL public employees who aren’t police officers. This includes all clerical workers, first responders such as EMTs and Firefighters, and social workers.

    There’s no state in this country that is suffering because of the contracts of teachers and firefighters. They’re suffering because of outmoded tax policies, misguided spending priorities, and the fundamental reality of the business cycle of a market economy.

    1. liberalironist Post author

      You’re right, I did overlook other public employees when I wrote this entry. I will try to be more-conscientious when writing about mass-disenfranchisement in the future.

      A blogger for The Atlantic made an interesting observation: A lot of Northeastern states with large governments and many unionized public employees (such as Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) *and* relatively rural freedom-to-work Southern states (Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia) each have had just moderate budget shortfalls during the Great Recession. What the states that have had the worst budget shortfalls tend to have in common is a lot of suburban counties where housing prices were inflated by speculation and unsustainable mortgaging, and/or where state governments were heavily-invested in the stock market to raise money to meet long-term commitments. New Jersey particularly falls into the latter category–which I believe resulted in the State’s recent posting of a nearly-45% budget deficit.

  3. Pingback: The Democratic Revanche in Wisconsin Falls Short This Month…But Still Appears On-Track | The Liberal Ironist

  4. Pingback: The Democratic Revanche in Wisconsin Falls Short This Month…But Still Appears On-Track | The Liberal Ironist

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