MADISON, WI — Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) just finished a press conference early this evening, in which he continued to warn about the specter of layoffs of government workers if his budget does not pass, and called upon the absent state Senate Democrats to return to the state. Predictably, he continued to face questions over the biggest story of the last two days: His phone call with blogger Ian Murphy, who was posing as Republican financier David Koch.
Walker took five questions in total. The first two questions were both about the “Koch” call, followed by three questions about the budget bill itself and his efforts to end collective bargaining for public sector workers.
In his initial speech, Walker said he had spoken to a small businessman in Wisconsin, who was concerned about the strife going on in the state, and who asked why Walker did not simply take the deal of the increased contributions by public employees to their health care and pensions.
“You look at what’s happened at the local level over the past two weeks with this measure…actions speak louder than words,” Walker said. “Over the past few weeks we’ve seen in cities and counties and schools in a rush to pass contracts that don’t have a 5 percent and 12 percent contributions. In fact, what I’ve seen, they have no additional contributions for pensions and health care costs for government employees. In fact, in some cases they’ve rammed through contracts that have an increase in the salaries.”
Walker also spoke of the concern that he said he had for state workers. He said he wanted to avoid layoffs that would hurt people’s families, and in response to workers’ concerns would strengthen civil service protections on issues of grievances, terminations and discipline etc.
“We’ve also got to give those workers the right to choose,” Walker said — restating his point from yesterday’s press conference that he would give workers the ability to save about $1,000 per year by not paying dues to a union.
But a great deal of interest still focused on Walker’s statements on the recorded prank phone call released yesterday morning.When Walker took questions, the first question was about how Walker spoke on the call with “Koch” about “standing firm.” How long, the reporter asked, was Walker prepared to wait?
“Well again, I’m an optimist,” Walker said, going on to say that the way to solve this was that, “I would hope at some point there’s enough pressure,” for the 14 Democratic state Senators to come back to the state and stop blocking the three-fifths budget quorum.
A second questioner asked whether Walker was wrong to agree with the “David Koch” impersonator who referred to David Axelrod a “son of a bitch,” spoke of planting protesters to cause problems, and who told Walker to “crush the bastards.”
Walker again referred to the question of planting agitators in the crowds of protestors: “In my case we ruled it out.”
He added: “When he talked about inciting things and ‘crushing the bastards,’ we get ideas from people all across the state. And we want to have a civil discussion about this and a debate about this, and the fact that we discussed this, and we said it wasn’t a good idea.”
(Note: As the full transcript of the “Koch” call shows, Walker said that he was worried such a tactic could backfire and increase the pressure for compromise: “My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems.”)
In response to questions about restructuring the state’s debt and ending collective bargaining rights, Walker held firm, warning again about avoiding layoffs and the need to trim the rights of public sector unions. Walker said he wouldn’t accept financial concessions only “because it’s all interconnected…if you don’t make these changes, as the local unions have shown in the two weeks since I’ve introduced this, they have no interest.”
Walker concluded by reiterating his refrain of the last week: “The best way to resolve this, the best way to avoid those layoffs, is for people to encourage those 14 state senators — and they don’t have to vote for it, they don’t have to agree with it — but they should do what those Assembly Democrats have done, and that’s come back to the Capitol and debate this.”