Controversy is brewing after Gov. Scott Walker was heard articulating a "divide and conquer" strategy against unions to a top campaign donor in a video that was shot last year.
The clip made headlines on Friday. About 28 seconds of the video -- taken from a soon-to-be released documentary -- has Walker answering questions. The video shows Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks asking Walker in January 2011 whether he could make Wisconsin a "completely red state, and work on these unions, and become a right-to-work" state. Hendricks was referring to right-to-work laws which prevent private sector unions from making employees pay union dues if they choose not to join the union.
"Any chance we'll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions?" asks Hendricks, in the video.
"Oh, yeah," the governor said.
"And become a right-to-work (state)? What can we do to help you?" Hendricks said
"Well, we're going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill," the governor answered. "The first step is, we're going to do it with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you divide and conquer."
Walker's budget bill subsequently cut nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions, and sparked weeks of protests at the state Capitol and a series of recall elections targeting state lawmakers, including Walker himself.
During his campaign appearances on Friday, the governor said there's nothing new to see in the clip, which is part of a documentary about Janesville's economic climate, called "As Goes Janesville." However, Walker's critics say it tells a much bigger story.
The governor spent Friday morning at LDV Inc., in Burlington discussing manufacturing jobs, but he also answered questions from reporters about the video. The governor defended the comments when asked what voters should think about his leadership style that he would use that phrase in a private conversation.
"In this case, it wasn't private, it was part of going into the Rock County 5.0. So, this wasn't anything covert," said Walker. "This was a public discussion as I walked into a building where people were there for that meeting. But I think the key is I'm willing to stand up for the taxpayers."
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is challenging Walker in next month's recall election, said he heard something completely different.
"He said 'the first step.' He didn't say this is all I'm going to do," said Barrett. "Her question was directed at when can we have a right to work state? There was no confusion in that conversation whatsoever."
Walker said he has no interest in pursuing a right-to-work law.
"I think (the private employee unions) should look not just at what's said but what's done," said Walker. "Most politicians say things and don't follow up on them. What I've said, the commitment I made and what I've said repeatedly in the last 14 months is that private sector unions are my partners in economic development."
Barrett also said he wasn't aware of the video until Thursday, despite using the phrase "divide and conquer" in speeches describing the governor.
"I was flabbergasted at his language, because for weeks if not months, I'd been saying he follows a divide-and-conquer strategy in this state," said Barrett. "We finally found something that we agree on."
Brad Lichtenstein, the filmmaker who shot the documentary, has worked on Democratic campaigns and has given money to Barrett, but said this wasn't a politically motivated move and the documentary is about much more than those comments.
"It's actually frustrating to have a whole 90-minute film and a 10-minute trailer completely characterized by seconds," said Lichtenstein.
He also said the timing of the release should not be suspicious, as he had been working on the film for 3 years, and planned to premiere it later this month.