What The "Koch" Tapes Tell Us About Gov. Walker

February 24, 2011 9:41 am ET — Alan Pyke

When Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) decided to take 20 minutes out of his Tuesday — the ninth day of mass protests against him — to talk to a man he thought was his benefactor, he proved one thing: while unwilling to meet with his political opponents, he's got plenty of time to talk strategy with David Koch. But now that the audio of that conversation is public, it confirms something far more important.

Walker insists in the press that this is about the budget and that he is not out to break the public workers unions (a claim that deserved to be called preposterous as soon as he rejected the union offers to impose the health care and pension contribution levels that would actually help the budget). Throughout the conversation Walker describes his strategy to confuse and intimidate the workers and Democrats who oppose him by cutting off the legislators' paychecks and sending out mailers warning workers of layoffs.

WALKER: So we are trying about 4 or 5 different angles. During 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 and they'll go out early next week and we will probably get 5 to 6 thousand statewide workers will get at-risk notices for layoffs. We might ratchet that up a little bit too.

Portions of the tape show Walker rejecting the very concept of negotiating with state workers or their Democratic representatives in the state senate. At one point, Walker takes pains to reassure "Koch" that if he hears Walker's been talking to the Democrats, it's just to advance a ruse that would seal their victory.

WALKER: That'd be the only— If you heard I was going to talk to them that'd be the only reason why, is we would only do it if they came back to the capital with all 14 of them. 'Cause my sense is hell, I'll talk to them for an hour, I'm used to that I can deal with that, but I'm not negotiating.

At several points, Walker jumps at the idea that if he succeeds in breaking public unions in Wisconsin it will spark a national wave.

WALKER: I talk to Kasich every day— John's gotta stand firm in Ohio. I think we could do the same thing with Rick Scott in Florida. I think, uh, Snyder— if he got a little more support— probably could do that in Michigan. You start going down the list there's a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big.

"KOCH": You're the first domino.

WALKER: Yep. This is our moment.


Ultimately, these highlights show Walker to be a hidebound right-wing union-buster who would stubbornly drag out a staring match with state Democrats — even if it means missing a chance to restructure the state's debt and save $165 million — rather than take his compensation savings from now-willing state workers and leave their unions intact.

But don't worry, he's got a good reason: it makes him feel like Ronald Reagan.