OTR Interviews

Wisconsin's governor ready for recall challenge: 'We're actually protecting the hard-working people of our state'

Embattled governor responds to opponents and rivals who want him booted from office


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 19, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: First, Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker, joins us. Good evening, sir.

WIS. GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Good to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's nice to be...

WALKER: Thanks for coming to Wisconsin. We appreciate it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Love being here. You know that. All right, your recall, how's it going?

WALKER: It's going well. I mean, the more we get the message out, the more we get the truth out, the more we compare ourselves to Illinois and they see the failed policies down there don't work, the better off we are. But we've got a long ways to go.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, so far, you don't have any opponents, official opponents. Why?

WALKER: The recall -- the certification will happen by the end of the month. Once they do, people will be able to take out signatures. At least two or three candidates have already said they're in. There's probably maybe one or two more. And it'll be interesting to see.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who is considered the most serious candidate among most people? Is it Kathleen Falk out of Dane County?

WALKER: Kathleen Falk, the former Dane County executive, by far has the support of the big government unions out there fully behind her. Mayor Tom Barrett, who ran against me a couple years ago, won in 2010, Mayor of Milwaukee -- he's a credible candidate, as well. And I think the two of them will be fighting it out in the primary, if the mayor gets in.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I described this as a fierce -- I mean, this is the -- what is it, the third time there's been a recall in history, I guess, for governor.

WALKER: In the nation.

VAN SUSTEREN: In the nation. All right, so it's a big deal, besides the fact that it's a big deal to you, obviously, and of the state of Wisconsin. Why has it gotten so fierce here?

WALKER: Well, I think what we saw last year about this time was when money and bodies came in from out of the state, certainly a lot of passion here. And you know this. This state has had big debates about political issues for years, if not decades.

But when the money came in from out of state, when the people were bused in and flown in from out of state, when you saw the big government union bosses pushing things -- and you continue to see that. They're the ones that drove the money being spent last year -- $44 million was spent on the senate recall elections to take out six Republican senators last year.

Someone said it's as much as $70 million to $80 million that'll be spent against me, and a good chunk of that's going to come from out-of- state big government unions.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have any regret how you handled the collective bargaining issue?

WALKER: Oh, I look back on it, think I would have spent more time, if I could do it over again, kind of laying the groundwork, making the case.

I mean, a good example -- I think if people last year in February, before we introduced our reforms, knew that the vast majority of school districts in our state literally paid tens of millions of dollars more than they needed to in the past because the old collective bargaining system forced them to buy their health insurance from just one company that just happened to be affiliated with the teachers union, they'd demand change.

Well, we created that change. Now we have to tell that story, along with others, after the fact. But I think when people see the facts, they see the results, they may not have liked every bit of the process, but it's a lot better than what other states, including states like Illinois.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, give me the state of the -- the state of the state. How're you doing? What's your unemployment level?

WALKER: It's 6.9, the lowest it's been since 2008. We had 15,700 new jobs in January.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you had people leave the workforce, too, in this state.

WALKER: We have, although, again, you compare us to the national average, we're doing much better. Compare us to Illinois, which raised taxes, laid off thousands of employees, shut down facilities, cut Medicaid, and they have an unemployment rate that's about 10 percent.

So really, if people want to know what would you get out of a recall if it's successful, I say just look to the south in Springfield because those are the same policies that failed in the past in Wisconsin, they'd fail again here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Some people think this recall election is hijacked on the national level, meaning that there's going to be coming -- money coming in from the unions for whoever your opponent is, and that for you, there'll be money -- and of course, they always hold up the Koch brothers as the ones that, you know, that they say are funding you.

Is that a fair description of this, that this has been hijacked to some degree by the -- on the national level?

WALKER: Well, you look at the way that it started. I mean, the out- of-state money even before there was a recall campaign clearly came from the big government unions, the special interests from Washington.

You're going to see the vast majority of money coming in, I believe, from out of the state in the end. And yes, there are people helping all across the country. But our last report showed that more than 76 percent of our contributions came from people who gave us $50 or less.

I mean, people going to Scottwalker.org, telling us they want us to help things out and those $10, $15, $20 contributions really make a difference. The national unions, for them, this is all about the money. It's not just about the budget or collective bargaining.

We gave nearly -- well, we gave every public employee in this state the freedom to choose whether or not they want to be in a union or not, and I think that's really why this is a Waterloo for them.

They're going to invest everything possible to try and take me out to send a message not only to other Republican governors but I think to a number of discerning Democrat governors and mayors who look at this and say, You know what? Maybe we can rein in our cost here and be able to balance our budget in a way that's responsible if we do some of the same things that they've done in Wisconsin.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's so interesting, though, how, I mean, it's gotten so divided in the state. And I realize it has a long and sort of tortured political history in the state, but that you -- I mean, you are the villain to the unions. You are the absolute villain. And I mean, even during the time -- obviously the coverage of the collective bargaining, if -- you know, when I would interview you, it didn't matter what I asked you...

WALKER: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... I would get the nastiest e-mails. Now I was the villain with you. Of if I -- if I interviewed someone on the union side, the Republicans were saying I was a villain, too.

WALKER: Well, again, I think what you saw was about a week after this started, when those 14 senators left the state, that opened the window for people to be brought in from other states. They came from Illinois. They came from Nevada. They came from New Jersey and Washington, D.C., and New York.

When that started to happen, when you see the buses of people come in, the charter planes coming in -- and the money they spent. I mean, they dumped $4 million to $5 million even before any campaigns last year, attacking me and attacking the process.

You know, that's been hard to recover from because I think a lot of people bought into that. Over time, as people see, as the Milwaukee paper said here not long ago, the sky's not falling, when they see that our schools, including the public schools my kids go to, many of them across the state are the same or better than they were before, when they see that local governments were the same or better, when they saw their property taxes go down from the school tax levees for the first time in about a half a decade last year, I think people see that results trump all the attacks, all the -- the uncivility that was going on. And my hope is between now and the election, that'll happen.

But this is -- as you know, 52 percent is a big win in the state of Wisconsin. And so for us just to get 50 plus 1 is ultimately what we're aiming for.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, they certainly have a large number of people who signed that petition. I mean...

WALKER: They had a million. Although, again, you look at, just like in the senate recalls, significant number of those people are people who've never voted before. In our state, to sign a recall, you don't actually have to be a registered voter, you just have to be eligible to vote, which means you're 18, not a felon and you've lived in the state for at least 28 days.

So a lot of people on there haven't voted in the past and may very well not vote this year. But again, it does show a pretty good base of support upon which to begin with.

I just think when you get the truth out, when you compare and say, Do we want to go back to the days of the double-digit tax increases, the billion-dollar budget deficits and the record job loss, or do we want to build off the positive foundation we built for the state and really move Wisconsin towards greater freedom and prosperity, I think people want to go that route.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, if you'll just stay with us for a second because we're going to go now to the other side of the recall fight.

Firefighter and union leader Mahlon Mitchell calls Wisconsin's political climate an emergency, and just today Mitchell announcing he will run as a Democrat for lieutenant governor in the recall election. We spoke with Mahlon Mitchell earlier tonight.


VAN SUSTEREN: It's a great day because today, for you, you made an announcement.

MAHLON MITCHELL, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR WISCONSIN LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: I did. I announced at 10:30 this morning that I was going to seek candidacy for lieutenant governor in the recall elections.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Why not run for governor?

MITCHELL: Well, that's a good question. I think now -- I've always said from the beginning that I'm going to do whatever it takes to move our state forward. And now is not my time to do that. I want to help any governor that comes out of the Democratic primary, and I want to move our message forward and I want to move our state forward.

So whatever I can do to move that and make the message better, that's what I'm going do. So that's why I'm running for lieutenant governor.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's wrong with the current lieutenant governor, the Republican lieutenant governor?

MITCHELL: She's a rubber stamp. She's a rubber stamp for all of Governor Walker's policies, and we jut can't have that. We -- I was told this morning that one of -- Lieutenant Governor Kleefisch didn't know what Walker was going to do. I said, That's fine. Not knowing is one thing, but not reacting after knowing is another. And we need someone that's there not just as a rubber stamp but actually is going to fight for the middle class, the citizens of our state.

VAN SUSTEREN: So if you differed with the governor -- let's say that you -- that you win -- you become the lieutenant governor. Let's assume that Governor Scott Walker loses to a Democratic governor. Are you going to you stand up to the Democratic governor if you disagree?

MITCHELL: I will do that. I think there's a need to do that. I don't think this is a Democratic or Republican problem. This is a problem that we are seeing politicians not taking care of decent American values, and we got to get back to that. We got to get back to taking care of all citizens, not just a select few.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, you are in -- you're the president of the firefighters, is that correct?


VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, when Governor Walker first talked about changing collective bargaining, the Republican state party says that you came out and you cheered him on, you said that he was doing a good thing. And now there's a little turnaround. So What happened?

MITCHELL: Well, I think the Republican Party is wrong, and that's not just for that reason. But I came out with a press release, not a personal letter to Scott Walker but a press release saying -- recognizing that Governor Walker for treating public safety as important and making governor -- public safety important in an election.

Now in my fault and my chagrin, I did that before I actually learned the full ramifications of the bill. So I sent that press release out shortly after his press conference Friday afternoon. After really reading the bill and looking at the bill in its entirety, over the weekend talking to different local leaders and union leaders, I realized that we could not sit idly by and let this happen.

So we were out on the first day of the protests. And people that want to judge me on one press release, also judge us on what we did for the next seven, eight months, and that was to fight back the draconian measures that the governor put in place.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, as I understand it, the measures the governor put into effect doesn't affect the firefighters or the police, is that correct, it's other state employees.

MITCHELL: We're exempt from the changes.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. All right. Exactly what is it that -- what's been the impact of what he has enacted vis-a-vis those other state employees?

MITCHELL: Well, it's taken away money in your paychecks. And state employees...

VAN SUSTEREN: How much? Do you have any idea.

MITCHELL: It's taken away between 8 and 10 percent money from people's paychecks a year. So if you're taking away $4,000 to $5,000 of income from people in a time where there's no doubt that the middle class needs more money in their pocket, it's hurting the state.

And he says that these reforms are working, but we go back to not just the concessions but also trying to attack union rights and workers' rights. This is not something that he bargained on. This is not something he campaigned on.

So we feel that in our state that we've been tricked. We've been fooled. We've been duped. We've been misled, and that's just wrong. And that's why you see the people fighting back.

VAN SUSTEREN: How should he handle the shortfalls, or how would you handle the shortfalls in the budget?

MITCHELL: Well, I think you got to bring people to the table and I think we got to negotiate.

VAN SUSTEREN: Negotiate what, though?


VAN SUSTEREN: Where are you going to get the money?

MITCHELL: Well, for instance, Through collective bargaining. In the city where I live, in the city of Madison, we were able to negotiate through the collective bargaining process, police and firefighters coming to the table, giving concessions that saved the city over $4 million over two years. Now, that's through the city sitting down with the employees and doing what's best for the community, as well as the employees.

So we were able to save money, to give concessions on health insurance and give concessions on the pension, and that's the way things work through collective bargaining.

I think there's a misnomer about collective bargaining. It's not unions going to the table, pound their fists on the table, saying, We want these demands or we're going to strike. That's not quite how it works.

It works by everybody sitting at the table, actually saying, This is what we can do, what can you provide, and we come to a consensus on what's best for the community. Unions don't want to bankrupt our community. Unions don't want to bankrupt the state. That hurts all of us.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, are you -- are you saying that you think that the members of the union should contribute to helping the shortfall in the budget?

MITCHELL: I think there's no doubt about that. I don't think that any union employee or any state employee doubted that. They said we had a $3.6 billion deficit. That's fine. They say we can't keep kicking the can down the road. We understand that. But we want to be able to sit at a table and negotiate over those changes.

What we saw in January of last year was corporate payback. So we had a -- we are open for business and we saw -- what did we see in January? Corporations getting tax cuts, massive tax cuts to corporations. If you come into the state of Wisconsin from Illinois, from Iowa, from Minnesota, you can work two years and not have to pay any income tax on any income you make as a corporation.

VAN SUSTEREN: As a corporation.

MITCHELL: As a corporation.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's the current corporate -- what's the current corporate tax in the state?

MITCHELL: Oh, that's a good question. I'd have to look that up.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think it's 7.9 percent.

MITCHELL: OK. But we have -- this is what we did over the next 10 years. We gave $2.3 billion in tax cuts to corporations.

VAN SUSTEREN: Was that to bring them here to generate jobs? I assume that's what's the governor's going to say.

MITCHELL: And that's fine. To bring them here to generate jobs, there's no doubt in my mind that we need businesses to create jobs. We need business to create jobs, but you can't in one breath say we're going to give all these corporations tax cuts, and then the next breath say we need -- our state is broke and we need money. We need shared sacrifice, and then balance the budget on the backs of the hard-working middle class citizens of our state.

They say we need shared sacrifice -- right now, it seems like we sacrifice and they share the wealth. So we need a balance. I'm not saying that we don't need to give these tax breaks to corporations, but the days of giving tax breaks to corporations and not putting any onus on them to create jobs is over. We had six months of straight job losses in our state -- six months. The only state in the nation to have that.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you have a 6.9 percent unemployment rate, which the rest of in the country is envious of, or at least (INAUDIBLE). That's not a bad unemployment rate in the state, not that -- not that that's good. Don't -- I don't think any unemployment is good, but your state is actually doing a little bit better in unemployment than most other states.


VAN SUSTEREN: And it's certainly less than the national average of 8.3.

MITCHELL: I don't think there's any -- I don't think there's any one Republican or Democrat that can argue that. We need to create jobs in our state. But it's just too philosophical differences of how to get that done. And I think that's what you're seeing a difference, and that's why you're seeing people act out.


VAN SUSTEREN: Governor Scott Walker is still with us. Governor, your response to that? And let me just say that it occurred to me tucking to him is that -- is that he wanted to work something out on all these tough issues. He's a good man, a good firefighter, but he didn't like your method. He thought that you were -- sort of rolled over on -- rolled them over without -- without talking to them, bringing them to the table.

WALKER: Yes, a good guy, I think very reflective of what you hear out of Madison and centers like that, where they believe that somehow, they stand up for the middle class, when they're really just standing up for the big government unions.

And I would look and say you know who's paid for the expansion of government in the past? It's been the middle class taxpayers overwhelmingly in our state. And finally, we're putting them back in charge of our government at both the state and the local level.

I mean, we're sitting in the city of Milwaukee tonight. Mayor Tom Barrett was able to save about $25 million because of our reforms, balanced the budget and not have to rely on gouging the property tax payers. In places like Dane County and Madison in the past, they've had to gorge the taxpayers because our reforms weren't in place.

We're actually protecting the hard-working people of our state.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did they -- did the union -- the state union employees pay 8 to 10 percent for their paychecks? Is that what it was to...

WALKER: Well, they -- what they do is they pay about 5.8 percent for their pension, which is half of their pension contribution.

VAN SUSTEREN: Under your new -- under the new plan?

WALKER: Under our new plan.


WALKER: And then they pay 12.6 percent of premium. So for a lot of employees at the low end of the spectrum in terms of the type of health insurance, like my family gets, that's a couple hundred dollars a month.

My brother works outside of government as a hotel banquet manager, works part-time as a bartender, his wife sells appliances for a department store, two beautiful kids. They embody the middle class in my state.

He looked at all this last year and said, I pay $800 for the little bit I can pay -- for what I pay on my health insurance premium and the little bit I can set aside on my 401(k). He's, like, I'd love to have the deal you're putting on the table.

I think that's the difference, is a lot of people in government unfortunately don't get that people outside of government, the people who pay the tax bills, the hard-working people of our state, pay a whole lot more even currently, let alone what they paid in the past. This is about evening it up so that taxpayers of the state are the ones who ultimately someone on their side.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I think this is going to be a very fascinating recall. Obviously, you can't take sort of the intellectual interest in it that I do from afar, I mean, because it matters to you...


VAN SUSTEREN: ... and it matters to this firefighter and to everybody else who runs in it. But it certainly is going to -- you know, it's going to send a big message one way or the other to this country of how Wisconsin, a swing state, is likely or maybe will vote come November.

WALKER: Well, and it's political both about what happens in November in the presidential and even a key U.S. Senate race. I think it's even more important. I think long term, it sets the table for whether it's me and other governors or even people like my friend Paul Ryan and the courageous things he's trying to do in Washington.

When we prevail, it will send a powerful, powerful message that when people complain about politicians who don't have the courage to stand up, the guts to take on the tough issues, our election will show, when we win, that you know what? Voters do want people to take on the tough issues. They do want people to stand up for the taxpayers. They won't -- people to turn away the special interests, and I think that's what we'll show.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, nice to see you.

WALKER: Good to see you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, go Badgers this week, right?

WALKER: Absolutely. Two big games.

VAN SUSTEREN: Two big games. Thank you, Governor.

WALKER: Good to be here.