The following is an excerpt from Unintimidated by Scott Walker with Marc Thiessen. Can you find all the lies? There’s a bunch!
“The Power of Humility, the Burden of Pride”
On Tuesday, February 22, I decided to go over the heads of the press and take my case directly to the citizens of our state. We scheduled a televised fireside address from the capitol. It was a chance to counter the passions of the protesters and personally explain why collective bargaining reform was necessary.
I began by making clear my respect for public workers. “In 1985, when I was a high school junior in the small town of Delavan, I was inspired to pursue public service after I attended the American Legion’s Badger Boys State program,” I said. “Tonight, I thank the three hundred thousand-plus state and local government employees who showed up for work today and did their jobs well. We appreciate it. If you take only one message away tonight, it’s that we all respect the work that you do.”
I then went on to explain why our reforms were necessary:
Now, some have questioned why we have to reform collective bargaining to balance the budget. The answer is simple: the system is broken. It costs taxpayers serious money—particularly at the local level. As a former county official, I know that firsthand.
For years, I tried to use modest changes in pension and health insurance contributions as a means of balancing our budget without massive layoffs of furloughs. On nearly every occasion, the local unions (empowered by collective bargaining agreements) told me to go ahead and lay off workers. That’s not acceptable to me.
Here’s another example: In Wisconsin, many local school districts are required to buy their health insurance through the WEA Trust (which is the state teacher union’s company). When our bill passes, these school districts can opt to switch into the state plan and save $68 million per year. Those savings could be used to pay for more teachers and put more money into the classroom to help our kids.
I also urged the Democratic senators to come home: “Do the job you were elected to do. You don’t have to like the outcome, or even vote yes, but as a part of the world’s greatest democracy, you should be here, in Madison, at the capitol.”
It was a good evening, and I felt we made progress. The speech was broadcast live across the state and made front-page news the next morning. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a big photo of me delivering the address with a banner headline that read “WALKER STATES HIS CASE.”
But unbeknownst to me, I had done something stupid that wiped out any positive effect.
The morning of the fireside speech, after a week or more of insistent pleas, my staff had arranged for me to take a call from David Koch, the billionaire industrialist who with his brother Charles had founded the conservative grassroots organization Americans for Prosperity. For some reason, I had hesitated taking the call. We were so busy trying to pass the bill, I did not want any distractions from that effort. But my staff finally convinced me by pointing out that Mr. Koch’s company owns Georgia Pacific in Green Bay, which, with more than two thousand workers, was one of Wisconsin’s largest employers. I was told that he was concerned about the impact of the protests on the business climate in the state. Against my better instincts, I took the call.
I had never spoken with Mr. Koch before so I didn’t know what to expect. The call started out seeming fairly normal, but eventually it got odd. At some point it got uncomfortable (like when he made a lewd comment about Morning Joe cohost Mika Brzezinski), and I looked for a way to get off the call. After I hung up, I thought nothing more about it.
The next morning, my staff came in and told me that the caller had not been David Koch at all, but a prankster named Ian Murphy. The call had been taped and posted online and now the national media was all over it.
Murphy was immediately celebrated by union activists for supposedly “exposing” my ties to the Koch brothers and proving that I was doing their bidding. If anything, his call proved the opposite. It showed that I had never spoken to David Koch before in my life. I couldn’t even recognize the guy’s voice. If I had really been doing Koch’s bidding, I would have recognized immediately that it was not Koch on the other end of the line. Instead, I spoke to the fake Koch at length.
Moreover, we were getting killed in the “air war” with the unions vastly outspending us for paid advertising. The situation was so bad that my chief political adviser, R.J. Johnson, called the Wisconsin airwaves a “no fly zone” for us, such was the union saturation. If we had been in league with the Koch brothers, that would not have been the case. The call made Murphy something of a celebrity, and Democrats later enlisted him to campaign against me and build support for my recall. He was later photographed hobnobbing with some of the Democratic senators who had fled the state, and Democratic officials appeared with him at union rallies. They should have chosen their company more carefully. It emerged that in 2008, Murphy had written a disgusting essay for an alternative paper in Buffalo titled “[EXPLETIVE] the troops,” in which he declared: “So 4,000 rubes are dead. Cry me the Tigris. Another 30,000 have been seriously wounded. Boo-[EXPLETIVE]-hoo. They got what they asked for—and cool robotic limbs, too….As a society, we need to discard our blind deference to military service. There’s nothing admirable about volunteering to murder people.” Pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the guy.
Still, I was not as mad at him as I was myself. Listening to my voice on the recording of the call, my heart sank. I came across as pompous and full of myself. I bragged about my television appearances: “We’ve had all the national shows,” I told the fake Koch. “We were on Hannity last night, I dd Good Morning America and the Today Show and all that sort of stuff, was on Morning Joe this morning. We’ve done Greta [Van Susteren]. We’re going to keep getting our message out; Mark Levin last night. And I gotta tell you, the response around the country has been phenomenal.” But the worst moment came when the prankster asked about whether we’d considered putting agitators in the crowd. “What we were thinking about the crowd was, uh, planting some troublemakers,” he said. I did not want to insult Mr. Koch by saying that we would never do something so stupid. So instead, I stammered:
You know, well, the only problem with that—because we thought about that. The problem with—my only gut reaction to that would be, right now the lawmakers I’ve talked to have just completely had it with them. The public is not really fond of this. The teacher’s union did some polling and focus groups I think and found out that the public turned on them the minute they closed school down on them for a couple of days. The guys we’ve go left are largely from out of state and I keep dismissing it in all my press comments, saying ehh, they’re mostly from out of state. My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused is that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid all these problems. You know, whereas I’ve said, hey, we can handle this, people can protest, this is Madison, you know, full of the sixties liberals. Let ’em protest. It’s not going to affect us. And as long as we go back to our homes and the majority of the people are telling us we’re doing the right thing, let ’em protest all they want. So that’s my gut reaction. I think it’s actually good if they’re constant, they’re noisy, but they’re quiet, nothing happens. Sooner or later the media stops finding them interesting.
It was a really dumb thing to say. The fact is we never—never–considered putting “troublemakers” in the crowd to discredit the protesters. The unions were doing a good enough job of that on their own with the agitators they were bringing in from outside the state. But I had made it seem like we had. Now the press was all over the “we thought about that” line. Who had suggested it? How seriously did I consider it?
My staff wanted to know what I was going to do in response. My answer was simple: Schedule a press conference and take it on directly.
So I stepped out into the Governor’s Conference Room, where I held daily press conferences, and faced a room full of state and national reporters. I took a deep breath and stepped up to the podium. When the inevitable question came, I acknowledged that it was me on the call, and that it was stupid, but that what I had said wasn’t inconsistent with anything I said at the podium every day. Then I opened it to questions, and took my beating.
I got through it, but that press conference was one of my toughest days. I felt like an idiot. Sure, I was upset that my staff had let the call get through to my office, making me look so silly. But ultimately, I was responsible for what I said and how I came across.
Only later did I realize that God had a plan for me with that episode.
In my office is a devotional book on leadership by John Maxwell that I read for is daily message. The day we learned the call had been a prank, we had been so busy that I never had a chance to pick it up. After my press conference, when I had a moment to catch my breath, I opened up the book.
The title for that day was: “The power of humility, the burden of pride.”
I looked up and said, “I hear you, Lord.”
Up to that point the national media had been all over our story. Conservative circles were writing and saying some pretty nice things about my political future. We were getting all sorts of abuse from the protesters and the mainstream media, so the accolades we were getting nationally were certainly encouraging. But it got to the point where I was reading many of the columns each night and getting pretty caught up in it all. Slowly, it was becoming too much about me.
My parents taught me that the only time you get into trouble in life is when you lose your perspective and stop doing things for the right reasons. That’s why that devotion for February 23 was so important. God was sending me a clear message to not do things for personal glory or fame. It was a turning point that helped me in future challenges, helped me say focused on the people I was elected to serve, reminded me of God’s abundant grace and the paramount need to stay humble.