Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker today defended comments he made to an alt-news reporter posing as billionaire conservative activist David Koch on a prank phone call, arguing that he never said anything inappropriate and wasn't trying to trick Democrats.
"The bottom line is that the things I've said are things I've said publicly all along," Walker said at a press conference this afternoon. "I'm not going to allow one prank phone call to be a disruption from the reality."
In the 20-minute phone conversation, first posted online at BuffaloBeast.com, Walker revealed his strategy for breaking Democratic and union opposition to his budget.
Even as he called on outside groups -- specifically Washington lawmakers -- to keep out of the Wisconsin debate, Walker argued that it wasn't inappropriate for him to take a phone call from a third party not involved in the debate.
"It's not [a] campaign. What we're talking about right now, we're free to discuss with people all across the state who are interested in this issue," he said.
"I don't hide in my office, I don't hide in another state. I'm here doing my job pointing out the facts," he added, referring to Democrats who went to Illinois to prevent the vote from taking place.
The governor's critics say the immediate access granted to the Koch pretender and the length of their conversation illustrates a damning tie between outside influences and what they see as an orchestrated effort to bust unions.
This is "unadulterated complete nonsense" and "absolute union busting," said Democratic State Rep. Brett Hulsey from the podium immediately following Walker's press conference.
Meanwhile, a conservative group founded by the real David Koch, Americans for Prosperity, announced it would buy more than $300,000 in television advertising to support the governor in his standoff with state government workers.
While Walker's comments during the taped phone call closely tracked what he has said publicly -- expressing refusal to compromise or negotiate with Democrats -- they shed new light on the tactics he has considered to discredit his opponents and move the budget process forward.
The Republican governor's budget would, among other things, strip state employees of their collective bargaining rights and trim their benefits. Democrats have protested the plan and some lawmakers have fled the state to block the legislature from moving forward.
In the phone conversation, Walker said he was investigating whether the unions were paying food and lodging expenses of the 14 Democratic senators believed to be hiding out in Illinois. "If the unions have been paying to put these guys up out of state we think at the minimum there's an ethics code violation if not a felony," he said.
The governor also indicated on the call that his overtures to Democrats to "sit down and talk" have an ulterior motive.
Once the Democrats register their presence in the chamber during the session, Walker said, Republicans may be able to proceed to move the bill forward, whether or not the Democrats were present for the final vote.
"Legally, we believe once they've gone into session, they don't physically have to be there," Walker said. "My sense is hell, I'll talk to them. If they want to yell at me for an hour, I'm used to that. But I'm not negotiating."
Walker today said that comment didn't imply he was trying to trick Democrats.