With 12 days left before the recall election in Wisconsin, we check in with John Nichols, Washington Correspondent of The Nation and author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street , for the latest news and extraordinary analysis:
Walker vs. Barrett (and John Doe)
- Scott Walker and Tom Barrett have debates before, but it was different then. In 2010, Walker was a mild conservative talking about creating 250,000 new jobs and Barrett was a mainstream Democrat trying to survive the oncoming Republican wave.
- They disagreed, but the debates of the 2010 race produced little in the way of fireworks.
- It's different now.
- Walker is the most controversial governor in the nation, a right-wing firebrand whose attack on collective-bargaining rights has provoked mass demonstrations, lawsuits and a recall election that has transformed the politics of Wisconsin.
- And Barrett is the challenger who carries the hopes of those who would defend labor rights, public education and public services in a historically-progressive state.
- But the issue that will likely be the most contentious of the first debate of the Wisconsin recall campaign between Walker and Barrett in a John Doe inquiry into felony wrongdoing by Scott Walker's aides and political donors.
- The probe, which is led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, has already produced felony convictions and now top aides to Walker when he served as Milwaukee County Executive face trials that will raise the question asked recently by a Milwaukee anchorman: "What did the governor know and when?"
- Tonight's debate between Walker and Barrett -- which will be aired statewide on Wisconsin Public Television -- will be wide-ranging. But Barrett, in television ads and public appearances, has posed two questions that are now unavoidable:
- "Governor Walker, will you release all emails, sent and received, between you and the people in your office, who have been charged and pled guilty to criminal wrongdoing? Will you tell us, who is funding your legal defense, which has already paid more than $100,000 to criminal lawyers?"
Three more "John Doe" questions
- If the John Doe probe comes up in the Friday night debate, the questions that Barrett has posed are important. But they aren't the only ones that need to be answered with regard to the probe. Here are two more:
1. What does Scott Walker know about the funding of the increasingly expensive legal defense for his former aides?
2. Has the governor engaged in conversations with those aides or others regarding payment for the defense of those aides?
3. When did the governor last speak to indicted aides?
- The last question is an important one, as one of those aides, Kelly Rindfleisch, who faces trail on four charges of felony wrongdoing stemming from her service as a Walker appointee in the Milwaukee County Executive's office, worked until just days before her indictment in January, 2012, as a campaign fund-raiser for Walker.
And two lying-to-Congress questions
- Scott Walker testified in April, 2011, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He was asked, specifically, if he had engaged in discussions about enacting laws designed to punish or weaken political foes. He repeatedly said he had not.
- Yet, now, a video has surfaced that shows Walker talking (in January, 2011) with his most-generous campaign donor about enacting anti-labor laws as part of a strategy to make Wisconsin "a completely red state."
- Members of Congress want Walker to answer questions about whether his testimony was truthful. The debate offers a rare opening to challenge Walker on the issue with two simple question:
- "Did you lie when you testified under oath to Congress?"
- "And, if you say that you did not lie, what were you talking about in that videotaped conversation about making Wisconsin "a completely red state" by getting to 'work on these unions'?"
- FOOTNOTE: New reports confirm that Governor Walker started planning to implement collective-bargaining changes long in November, 2010, months before he claimed a "budget emergency" forced him to do so. This is another contradiction with his congressional testimony.
[Editor's Note: The Ed Show has featured extensive coverage of the worker revolt under Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Walker faces a recall election on June 5 against Democrat Tom Barrett, Mayor of Milwaukee. John Nichols, Washington Correspondent of The Nation, has reported on the situation in Wisconsin since Walker's union-busting campaign began shortly after he took office in January 2011. That reporting was compiled for his excellent book Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street. John has been a frequent guest on the Ed Show, and periodically he'll be sending us more notes on the Wisconsin recall campaign as we get closer to the June 5 vote.]