In light of a videotape that surfaced earlier this month, Democrats with the House oversight committee say they want embattled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to "clarify" testimony he delivered before Congress last April that the lawmakers now describe as contradictory.
In a hearing on April 14, 2011, Walker was questioned about the motives behind his move to strip the state's public-sector workers of most of their collective bargaining rights. Insisting the measure was merely budget-driven, Walker denied ever having a conversation about whether the law could be used to "punish" Democrats and their "donor base" of labor unions.
Asked if he was trying to politically undermine unions, Walker said, "It’s not about that. It’s ultimately about balancing the budget now and in the future."
Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) now say that a recently released video, showing a conversation between Walker and Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks, "raises serious questions about the veracity" of those statements by Walker. In the video, shot in January 2011, Hendricks asks Walker if there's "any chance we'll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions."
"Oh, yeah," Walker responds, going on to say that the rollback of collective bargaining rights is part of a "divide-and-conquer" strategy.
The Democrats have asked oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to request a clarification from Walker on his testimony that the collective-bargaining law wasn't politically motivated. "In this case," the Democrats note dryly, "it is possible that Governor Walker had forgotten his conversation with his largest campaign donor when he testified before our Committee." The letter, sent Monday, references an article last week by The Nation's John Nichols, who asked whether Walker "lie[d] under oath to Congress" last year.
A Walker spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Issa, of course, is under no obligation to demand an explanation from Walker, and he likely wouldn’t use his power as chairman to embarrass a Republican who's leading the fight against public-sector unions. A committee spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Democrats' letter.
Nonetheless, Walker's year-old testimony serves as a bit of ammunition for Democrats in Washington just as Walker is fending off a recall effort that will be decided by voters in June. Democrats and labor groups have proffered the video featuring Hendricks, a major Walker donor, as evidence that the true aim of his collective-bargaining measure was to weaken the left in Wisconsin.
Seen as a flashpoint in the ongoing battles between Republicans and unions, the Wisconsin recall has brought in a massive amount of outside money, with more than $10 million having flowed to Walker and his Democratic challengers from states other than Wisconsin. More than two-thirds of Walker's money came from elsewhere, according to an analysis of campaign donations.
Walker is facing Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the June 5 recall election. Although the recall effort was spurred by anger over Walker's stripping of collective bargaining rights, voters now seem more concerned with the overall direction of Wisconsin's economy. According to polling done by Marquette Law School last week, Walker leads Barrett by about 6 percentage points.