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As He Runs for President, Scott Walker Runs From His Record

By       Message John Nichols       (Page 2 of 3 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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By most measures, it was an embarrassing episode.

But the governor makes the episode all the more embarrassing by writing in 2013 that he never considered what in 2011 he certainly seemed to say that he had considered.

In the book he hopes will make him a competitor for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Walker claims that "we never -- never -- considered putting 'troublemakers' in the crowd to discredit the protesters."

That is what Walker must write if he wants to make a play on the national political stage. It is difficult to imagine that someone who toyed with the ideas employing deliberate provocations as a political tool -- in order to create a false impression of citizens who are exercising First Amendment rights to assembly and petition for the redress of grievances -- would be taken seriously as a potential commander in chief.

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The problem, of course, is that what Walker is now saying conflicts with what he was saying in private and public two and a half years ago.

The issue first arose in February of 2011, several days after mass demonstrations began at the state Capitol. The demonstrations were nonviolent and well organized. Top law enforcement officers for the region -- Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Madison Police Chief Noble Wray -- praised the protesters for keeping things civil, despite the intensity of the issues that had been raised by Walker's proposal to eliminate essential workplace protections and collective-bargaining rights for public employees and public school teachers.

The Madison Police Department even went so far as to issue a formal statement that concluded: "Crowd behavior has been exemplary, and thousands of Wisconsin citizens are to be commended for the peaceful ways in which they have expressed First Amendment rights."

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Yet, when Walker thought he was talking to billionaire conservative campaign donor David Koch, the caller (actually blogger Ian Murphy) said: "What we were thinking about the crowds was, uh, was planting some troublemakers."

Walker replied: "We thought about that."

The trouble with the strategy, the governor explained, was that it might not play well politically. "My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems," he explained during the course of the call.

Former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager was aghast.

"I think there's a serious issue there," she said back in 2011. "That's a public safety issue. And I think that is really troublesome: a governor with an obligation to maintain public safety says he's going to plant people to make trouble. That screams out to me. For a governor even to consider a strategy that could unnecessarily threaten the safety of peaceful demonstrators -- which the governor acknowledged he did -- is something that simply amazes me."

Walker repeatedly acknowledged after the "Koch call" was made public that he considered employing agents provocateurs to stir up trouble and discredit the demonstrators. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a newspaper that backed Walker for governor in 2010 and refused to support his recall in 2012, pointed out after reviewing the book that "in a news conference held the day the prank call was released, Walker said the idea had been debated, adding, 'We dismissed that and said that wasn't a good idea.'"

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The Journal Sentinel noted with regard to the governor's current claim: "His book does not explain why he spoke about it that way with reporters if such a plan had never been entertained."

As it happens, the governor was even more explicit in discussing his political calculations when he went on Fox News on February 23, 2011, to discuss the prank call.

When Fox anchor Greta Van Susteren pressed Walker on the question of whether he and his aides had considered employing agent provocateurs to play "dirty tricks in the crowd," he openly discussed the matter -- going so far as to explain: "I even had lawmakers and others suggesting riling things up."

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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