A quick recap in case you’ve been busy reading other news: Governor Walker is he of the Wisconsin budget fiasco wherein he instituted tax cuts that unbalanced the budget which he then proceeded to use as an excuse to break the collective bargaining rights of state employees which, given that the unions were perfectly willing to negotiate with him on all other aspects, it’s clear that his real aim isn’t really about balancing the budget. Plus which, no one seems quite able to explain how union-busting actually resolves a budget crisis, so Paul Krugman’s analysis is most likely spot on. Anyway, the upshot of all this has been quite spectacular to watch: huge protests, people from around the world ordering pizza and donating coffee to the protesters, support from Egyptian protesters, state Democratic senators fleeing the state in order to prevent the necessary quorum for passing the union-busting bill, sneaky maneuvers such as a partisan vote to require pay checks to be picked up in person and so on.
So when word spread that one of the brothers Koch had called up Governor Walker, his office confirmed the phone call, and then it was revealed to be a prank, well that was just too amusing. However, analysis of the phone call becomes much more interesting. See Koch Brothers “Prank” No Laughing Matter by Mary Bottari (same article featured in TruthOut: Koch Brothers “Prank” No Laughing Matter and at AlterNet: Hilarious Koch Prank May Reveal Serious Ethics Violations By Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker):
[…] the Governor also explains how he is going to layoff thousands of Wisconsin workers as a tactic to get the Democrats to cooperate: “So, we’re trying about four or five different angles. Each day we crank up a little bit more pressure. The other thing is I’ve got layoff notices ready, we put out the at-risk notices, we’ll announce Thursday, they’ll go out early next week and we’ll probably get five to six thousand state workers will get at-risk notices for layoffs. We might ratchet that up a little bit too.”
The move has been called “despicable” and “ruthless “ and “sickening.” But most importantly, if he is choosing to lay off workers as a political tactic when he wasn’t’ otherwise planning to do so then it is not just morally repugnant but legally questionable. State and federal contract and labor law has protections against this type of abusive behavior and inappropriate quid pro quo.
This morning the Capital Times quotes the state’s former Attorney General: “There clearly are potential ethics violations, and there are potential election-law violations and there are a lot of what look to me like labor-law violations,” said Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat who served as Wisconsin’s Attorney General after serving for many years as a U.S. Attorney. The head of the state teacher’s association, Mary Bell, reminds us: “he literally planned to use five to six thousand hardworking Wisconsin taxpayers as political pawns in his political game. He actually thought through a strategy to lay people off – deny them the ability to feed their families – and use it as leverage for his political goals.”
Breaking unions, punitively laying people off… this governor’s a real charmer… just the sort of job-creating guy you want on board, isn’t he?
Ezra Klein weighs in: What a prank call proves about Wisconsin
But if the transcript of the conversation is unexceptional, the fact of it is lethal. The state’s Democratic senators can’t get Walker on the phone, but someone can call the governor’s front desk, identify themselves as David Koch, and then speak with both the governor and his chief of staff? That’s where you see the access and power that major corporations and wealthy contributors will have in a Walker administration, and why so many in Wisconsin are reluctant to see the only major interest group representing workers taken out of the game.
The critique many conservatives have made of public-sector unions is that they both negotiate with and fund politicians. It’s a conflict of interest. Well, so too do corporations, and wealthy individuals. That’s why Murphy — posing as Koch — was able to get through to Walker so quickly. And it shows what Walker is really interested in here: He is not opposed, in principle, to powerful interest groups having the ear of the politicians they depend on, and who depend on them. He just wants those interest groups to be the conservative interest groups that fund him, and that he depends on.
Bingo. This is like when I point out that conservative people love welfare… so long as it is for them and their companies and not for poor people.
RudePundit has a scathing summary here: Note to Republican Governors: Pissing Off the Unions Is Never a Good Idea.
And finally, I’ll note that all this activity (which isn’t even restricted to Wisconsin; there are protests and similar issues in a number of states) isn’t catching the attention of the mainstream media (why, again, are these people important? Inasmuch as they’re so completely irrelevant???) Will The Sunday Shows Ignore Labor For The Second Week In A Row?
Despite the obvious newsworthiness of these protests, the Sunday morning news shows last week (Fox News Sunday, NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, and ABC’s This Week) featured no labor leaders or members. Instead, they turned to the likes of conservative commentator George Will, CNBC’s Rick Santelli, Liz Cheney, and even a Thomas Jefferson impersonator, while Walker himself made an appearance on Fox.
Par for the course. We need a new media. We need lots of new things, actually, but this would be a start.
Transcript of phone call (after some commentary).
ETA: And don’t piss off your local law enforcement, either: Police Chief Demands Explanation for Walker’s “Troubling” Statements During Prank Call With “Koch”.
ETA: Or the mayor: Wisconsin: Madison Mayor Cieslewicz is ‘furious’ at Scott Walker.