There was a telling exchange during Gov. Scott Walker's appearance Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The governor had gone to Washington to take a star turn before former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was scheduled to fly into Wisconsin and defend the Walker Way: stripping Wisconsin public employees of basic rights in the workplace, rendering public employee and teacher unions dysfunctional, undermining democracy at the school district and municipal level, and restructuring state government to limit access to health care and sell off public properties in no-bid deals with campaign donors.
The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is chaired by a rigid conservative ideologue, Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. And Issa, like the other Republicans on the panel, has something in common with Walker: He is a major recipient of campaign contributions and political support from groups associated with the billionaire Koch brothers. So the governor's appearance was supposed to be a typical D.C. insider gathering, where Walker's political allies would toss the governor softball questions and let him ruminate on the joys, er, the "necessity" of cutting funding for public services and education.
But it did not turn out that way. Walker was paired on the panel with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has maintained good relations with public employee and teacher unions while renegotiating contracts and addressing budget shortfalls. Shumlin's presence exposed Walker as an outlier who has caused unnecessary divisions and inflicted unnecessary pain on Wisconsin workers, farmers, communities and schools.
Walker tried his best to peddle the fantasy that his general attack on state, county and municipal employees and teachers, and his specific attempt to silence them in the workplace by stripping them of most collective bargaining rights, was needed to balance the state budget.
But then Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, asked the million-dollar question, or, to be more precise, the $137 million budget repair bill question.
"Your proposal would require unions to hold annual votes to continue representing their own members. Can you please explain to me and members of this committee how much money this provision saves for your state budget?" asked Kucinich.
Walker tried to avoid the question.
Kucinich pressed him. "Did you answer the questions?" the congressman asked. "How much money does it save, Governor?"
A reluctant Walker finally responded: "It doesn't save any."
That is the takeaway line from Walker's trip to Washington.
Busting unions is a political ploy, not a fiscal necessity. Walker has divided Wisconsin, thrown our Legislature and our communities into disarray, and caused what many legal observers believe to be the most serious constitutional crisis in the modern history of the state. And for what?
Not to save money.
Not to get Wisconsin's finances in order.
But to play politics with people's lives.
When the time comes to hold this governor to account, much will be said on all sides. But the most powerful condemnation of Walker's false claim that he needed to bust unions in order to balance the budget has come from the governor's own lips.
"How much money does it save, Governor?"
"It doesn't save any."
The Cap Times, Apr 17 2011