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Wisconsin's Governor: Recall Drive Is About Unions Seeking 'Power'

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker,   March 7, 2011.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, March 7, 2011.

Many of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's citizens may be signing petitions for his recall in reaction to the battle he led earlier in the year to weaken his state's public-employee unions.

But Walker doesn't appear to be backing off one inch from his stance that he did what was right for his state.

Indeed, in a conversation with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, Walker essentially blamed outside agitators in organized labor for the recall effort.

He accused his political foes of really being after "power" while presumably camouflaging their true intent with platitudes about workers' rights, among other things.

Unions are in particular coming after him, Walker said, because the new budget law he and the the Republican-controlled state legislature in Madison enacted, gave workers a choice about whether or not to belong to a union.

An excerpt:

MICHEL: It's no secret that there's national attention being paid to Wisconsin, in part because of these efforts and because of this issue. And I'm interested in what role you think is appropriate for interest groups outside of Wisconsin, both those that support you and those that oppose you.

GOV. WALKER: Well, I mean, the appropriateness is interesting, because obviously, I can say it, but there's no way to enforce it... It's going to happen no matter what. We saw, in the Senate race, most Republican senators were outspent at least two-to-one, in some cases three-to-one, by all the parties that came in from both throughout the state and across the country.

I believe if they get – I believe, actually, if they get the signatures, it'll largely – because these national, big-government unions put the money behind that. I would imagine they'll spend the tens of millions – and if it was over $40 million for the Senate recalls, that they may be – well be $70 (million) or $80 million there.

MICHEL: Well, there are conservative groups supporting you.

GOV. WALKER: And I think more people look at that and say, that's absurd. You know, I spent 13 million (dollars) running for governor; you're going to see multiple times that amount. You're going to see groups coming in from outside of our state who want to influence this race – I think (it's) more about power, because let's remember, the real reason the unions nationally are involved in this isn't because of pitch in their health care contributions or workers' rights or anything else; the real reason is because we also, as part of our reforms, gave every worker in our state the right to choose whether or not he or she wants to be a part of the union and no longer have their dues forcibly removed from their payroll. That's what it's about.

MICHEL: OK, but so – there are groups supporting you, too, Governor – in fairness, there are outside groups that are also interested in this for their own reasons.

GOV. WALKER: Sure, like every election.


GOV. WALKER: It has, like – but they wouldn't be here if the national unions were forcing a recall. I mean, I think most of your listeners across America probably are scratching their heads on the recall to begin with, because most states have recalls in, say, misconduct in office, some sort of thing like that that triggers it, not just, I disagree or agree with a piece of legislation.

But this is really about power. The "recall Scott Walker" website was actually started November 2010. So anyone who thinks this wasn't – you know, that somehow, this is organic movement that just popped up – the reality is, the person who started that recall site started it last year, two months before I took office.

If Walker was cynical about the motives behind the recall election, Michel reminded him that many of his political opponents remained cynical about the way he pushed through the legislation that curtailed most collective-bargaining rights for public-worker unions.

Why not ask the unions to negotiate givebacks? she asked. And what about the fact that some unions, like police and fire, weren't included in the legislation that reduced bargaining rights for state and local government employees? Was it a divide-and-conquer strategy as some in organized labor suspected?

Walker said with 1,700 municipalities in Wisconsin, there were just too many local bargaining units to make those kind of negotiations work. Meanwhile, public safety workers were exempted because if they had walked off the job as other workers did earlier in the year, lives could have been endangered.

Michel also asked Walker to respond to the oft-repeated charge by his opponents that his campaign for governor was something of a bait and switch. They accuse him of taking actions on becoming governor he never campaigned on when he ran for governor.

GOV. WALKER: "Well, clearly, as folks in southeastern Wisconsin know, where I was the county executive, even my hardened opponents, when I was in county government, all have said publicly nobody should be surprised, because I talked about this for eight years as a county executive.

"And even in the campaign – I mean, I literally ran an ad where I talked about asking public employees to pay 5 and 12 percent for pension and health insurance premiums, and said I'd apply it to myself. Actually, I pay a higher amount than other public employees do on the pension match."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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