OTR Interviews

Wis. recall: Referendum on Gov. Walker... and maybe Pres. Obama

All eyes are on the Badger State and what the recall election could mean for the presidential race


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 4, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Well, it's about to start. In less than 10 hours, the polls open. This is the historic recall election. And the big question and the close question, will Governor Scott Walker win or will he get booted from office in favor of Democratic mayor Tom Barrett?

We are live in Milwaukee at the center of it all. It is an election bonanza here. Tomorrow marks Wisconsin's seventh election in only 14 months. And the excitement on the eve of the polls opening is at fever pitch. At 7:00 AM, Wisconsin voters begin casting their ballots. And it all started in February of last year.

That's when Governor Walker proposed a law stripping public unions, but not police or firefighters, of their collective bargaining rights. And who can forge the scene, thousands of protesters flooding and storming the state capitol.

And now we are hours away from this historic recall vote. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker joins us. And I should add that we have invited his opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, multiple times, but he has declined our invitation.

So Governor Walker, nice to see you, sir.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER, R-WIS.: Good to have you back in your home state.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's always fun to be back. I even wore my cheesehead color jacket for tonight.

WALKER: I was just in the shadows of Lambeau Field over in Schwaben not too long ago.

VAN SUSTEREN: I know you -- indeed. It's a big deal here in the state.

WALKER: It is indeed.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, tomorrow there's a big deal. Are you nervous?

WALKER: No. I mean, for us, you know, we did what people elected me to do. I kept my promises. And you know, we're certainly not overconfident. To use another Packers analogy, I'm not going to spike the ball on the 10-yard line. We're going to take it all the way through the end zone.

But I'm not nervous. I mean, we did the right thing. We did it for the right reasons. Now it's up to the voters.

But I think for all the people over the years who've complained about local government, state government, particularly federal government, that people get in office and they don't keep their promises and they don't make tough decisions, now is their time to stand up and affirm it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the polls said that you're close. I mean, I see different polls, but you're within the margin of error.


VAN SUSTEREN: So you're saying that if the voters decide that they don't want you, that you're fine on it and you'll move on? I mean, is that what you're saying, or are you saying...

WALKER: Well, we've done -- we've campaigned hard. We're working hard. I think we're going to win. I can feel the sense out there I think not just from Republicans and conservatives but this weekend, the last few days, we've had a massive wave (ph) that -- dairy breakfasts around the state at farms I mentioned, at factories I visited today, people who come up and tell me they voted for my opponent two years ago.

People in many cases come up and tell me they were raised Democrats, but they're voting for me because for the first time in their life, they've actually had someone in statewide office who is willing to take on the tough problems, to have that courage.

So those are the kind of people I need to come out to the polls. If they come out, along with our base, we'll win.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you see this as sort of a national referendum? Because I think many people do -- national referendum on unions and a national referendum on governors who decide to, for lack of better words, go after the unions?

WALKER: Well, I think it's much bigger than just public sector unions. I think what it really is the core of, Who's in charge? Is it the big government, special interests out there? Is it the people who've control both state and local governments here in Wisconsin and across the country, or is it the hardworking taxpayers?

We stood up and took on those special interests. They've been fighting me for the last year-and-a-half. They've been pouring money, tens of millions of dollars and bodies in this state for almost a year-and-a- half. And in contrast, we stood up with the hardworking taxpayers of the state.

There are great signs around this state that say, "We stand with Governor Walker." I think the reason they do is because every day, I stand with the hardworking taxpayers of this great state.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you got a lot of money from out of state.


VAN SUSTEREN: Any problem with that? Do you have any sort of thought on getting all that money from out of state?

WALKER: No. You know, more than 70 percent of our donations came from people who gave me 50 bucks or less.

So whether it's the working family in Beloit, Wisconsin, or the working family just south of the border in South Beloit, I think the reason -- whether it's someone down in Cuba City on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin or someone in Dubuque, Iowa, just across the Mississippi River, there are people around the state and around the Midwest in particular who understand that when someone stands up against these powerful special interests, stands up for the taxpayers, that people need to stand up with them.

So 25, 30, 50 bucks at a time, those are the people I gladly take support from.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, how much did you raise, about?

WALKER: We've raised about $31 million.

VAN SUSTEREN: And about $31 million -- what percentage came from out of state?

WALKER: I don't know what the exact percentage is. I know in terms of a dollar amount, 70 percent-plus came from people both in state and out who gave us 50 bucks or less.

VAN SUSTEREN: I read -- I read one figure, I don't know if it's true, that two thirds of it came from out of state.

WALKER: Could be close to that. But again, I said we've had people all across the country, but overwhelmingly at that small dollar amount. That's why more than 70 percent came from people who gave us the $50, the $25, the $35 contributions.

And again, we'll gladly take their help because for more than a year- and-a-half, since last February -- you showed the tape at the beginning there -- we've been under assault with the millions of dollars in attack ads, with the attacks adds in the supreme court race, the state senate recalls, the recall petition itself, and now in the race itself.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you won by about 5 points against Mayor Barrett in 2010?

WALKER: About that.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you win by 7 points or you win by something less than 5 points, what does that mean, anything at all?

WALKER: No. I mean, in the end, it allows us to move forward. I think most people in the state just want to move on and move forward. And so whether we won by 10 or one tenth of a percent, I think, in the end, people want to us move the state on.

They're sick and tired of the recalls. They're sick and tired -- it's, what, $16 million, $17 million that's been spent of taxpayers' money just to run this recall. I think people are sick of it. They're sick of the attack ads. They're sick of all the -- particularly in this week, I mean, some real doozies in terms of the nonsense that's been out there attacking us throughout this.

People are tired of it. They'll be ready to wake up on Wednesday morning and not be assaulted on television. And they'll be ready to move on.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, one of the things that you -- you talk about the attack ads, there's this John Doe investigation, in which -- are you the target?

WALKER: No. Said it repeatedly in the past out there. This was initiated more than two years ago by my office, my chief of staff at the time, because we were frustrated about some volunteers with a veterans organization. We couldn't get the records for that. We asked the district attorney to get involved. They were frustrated because they were unable to get those records. That's where this whole process came along that we've been cooperating all along the way. We continue to do so today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you been told specifically that you're not the target?

WALKER: People representing me have been in the past, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: And have they talked to the district attorney to make sure that you're not the target?

WALKER: Well, that's who they were talking to.

VAN SUSTEREN: But I mean -- so I mean, there's -- I mean, you can be -- you can be -- you could have a specific letter from the prosecutor saying so-and-so is not the target or you can have just casual conversation.

WALKER: No, just conversations along the way.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Are you worried about it at all, the investigation?

WALKER: No. I mean, for us, I think the -- any of the evidence that's come up thus far -- and remember, because, as you know as a lawyer, you can't talk about the specifics of things like that -- but all the things that have been made public clearly show, overwhelmingly show that when my office, when I was county exec, was made aware of people who were violating our strict public -- our policy, I should say, against using public resources for political purposes, we took action.

And in fact, literally the very day we found out about it, the person who was involved with that was no longer working with the county after that. So I think it's pretty clear what our actions have been.

VAN SUSTEREN: You've had Governor Nikki Haley here.


VAN SUSTEREN: Governor Chris Christie has been here, as well, for you. Governor Jindal has been here, Governor McDonnell of Virginia. Your...

WALKER: Former Governor Pawlenty, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Former -- President Clinton showed up for your opponent, but not President Obama. Any thoughts on that?

WALKER: Well, I think it's because they've seen the kind of trend I just talked about, where you have people who've told us they're Democrats, told us they voted for our opponent, in many cases, told us they voted for President Obama in the past, but who are voting for us.

And I think the White House and some of the political allies of the president are scared that somehow, if they get in the mix of this and their candidate doesn't win, that might be a sign that would have an impact on the fall elections.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you get elected again tomorrow, if you get reelected -- I'm not exactly sure of the correct term.

WALKER: Elected again?

VAN SUSTEREN: Elected again.


VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not so sure what the term is. I'm curious, what's the first thing you're going to do professionally, as a governor? What's - - what's your -- what -- have you thought ahead about what you're going to do?

WALKER: Well, right away on Wednesday morning, I'm going to get my cabinet together again because we got a lot of work to do. We got to do more to help small businesses create jobs. There's a lot of enthusiasm about the turnaround in the economy.

Just the other day, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had a great headline that talked about the hiring outlook in the state being bullish. There's some great signs of going from 10 percent of our employers two years ago thought we were in the right direction to 94 percent today. We went up from the rankings of best to worst states in the bottom 10 to the top 20.

But I think most employers, most small businesses, are waiting for this recall before they really take off and hire more folks. So we want to do everything in our power to take advantage of that enthusiasm, to help small businesses and help family farmers put more people to work. That's really our biggest goal.

And part of that means connecting workers with the skills they need to fill the job openings, particularly in manufacturing, that are open today.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, with all the enthusiasm, as you talk about it, what happened? Why are you getting recalled?

WALKER: Oh, I think it...

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, what is it?

WALKER: It's taking on the powerful special interests. We dared to go where nobody else has dared before, and that is to say to the big government union bosses, who control things -- and I saw it as a local official for eight years -- controlled things in our school districts, controlled things in our county boards, our city councils, our village boards, and certainly in our state government -- we said, You're not in charge anymore. The hardworking taxpayer's in charge. And they felt threatened by that, and that's why they've been attacking me literally since late last February.

VAN SUSTEREN: How are things -- how are things --- I look at the newspaper, so I see that one thing is that the tuition at the university system is going up 5 percent. It's the sixth straight year where the tuition's going up. That's not going to make people happy. The tuition's going up. And we've all been -- always been very proud of the school here and the low cost of school. I see that foreclosures are going up, are spiking in the southeastern part of the state.

I mean, there are some rather bleak numbers.

WALKER: Well, you look at the challenges. You look at -- that's one of the great contrasts. I mean, it was interesting -- one of the supporters of the mayor came in today and said Milwaukee was one of -- he said this -- Milwaukee's one of the most segregated cities in the country. It's the fourth poorest in the country.

And then he said, you should vote for the mayor. Does that seem like an inherent contradiction? The contrast between what we've done for the state, the positive things we've done, billion dollars worth of savings, property taxes down for the first time in 12 years on a median (INAUDIBLE) home. We took a $3.6 billion budget deficit, turned it into $154 million surplus.

And jobs -- jobs -- we lost over 100,000 jobs in the three years before I took office, and unemployment was over 9 percent. Since I've been elected and sworn in as governor, more than -- or more than 30,000 new jobs. And the unemployment that was high before is now 6.7 percent, the lowest it's been since 2008.

You compare that to the mayor. Unemployment's up 26 percent, taxes and fees are up 43 percent. Sadly, it's become one of the poorest big cities in America.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you aren't reelected, what does that tell you?

WALKER: Well, I think it's a blow for any official at the local level, the state level and certainly at the federal level who's trying to take on tough challenges, be it Democrat or Republican alike.

I think tomorrow -- Paul Ryan, my good friend, had it right when he said courage is on the ballot. If we want to have leaders in our state and in our country who are willing to take on tough challenges, who are willing to think more about that next generation than just the next election, we need to affirm them when they make those tough decisions. That's why I asked for people's vote.

That's why I asked for people to vote for Rebecca Kleefisch, our lieutenant governor, and the four other brave senators who are on the ballots because it's really about more than just Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. It's about whether or not we're going to, in this state at least, affirm people who make tough decisions.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's sort of interesting. You ran with Rebecca Kleefisch as lieutenant governor. She's also being recalled, but she's -- but it's on a separate ballot. So in theory, one of you could win and one could lose and so it'd be sort of a mixed -- it'd be a mixed party.

WALKER: Well, I think it would be horrible to win and not have Rebecca Kleefisch continue on to be as lieutenant governor because she stood with me all throughout this. She's been an ambassador particularly to small businesses to bring new jobs in the state of Wisconsin.

I think for anybody who cares deeply about affirming the courage we talked about, it's not only imperative they vote for me tomorrow, be they Democrat or Republican alike, it's imperative they vote for Rebecca Kleefisch, and for Van Waanggaard and for Terry Moulton and Jerry Petrowsky and Scott Fitzgerald. All six of us really are about putting courage on the line.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, come November -- President Obama in 2008 won this state by I think 14 points. Care to go out on a limb and think where it's going to be come this November and how it's sort of -- how your election tomorrow is in any way a bearing -- have any bearing on it?

WALKER: Well, I think it has some impact. I think you can look back to 2000 and 2004, Wisconsin was the closest blue state in America, about 2.5 million votes cast, less than a couple thousand was the difference between Bush and Gore and then Bush and Kerry. So I think it can be very competitive in this state.

And I think part of it depends on Governor Romney. Governor Romney has an opportunity after tomorrow's election to come in between now and November 6th and make the case that he's willing to make those same sorts of tough decisions.

Lord knows -- I mean, that's why I love Paul Ryan. He's been out there making the tough decisions. I appreciate the fact that Governor Romney embraced the components of what Paul Ryan is trying to in Washington. He makes that a centerpiece of saying, You know what? We're going to look out for the next generation. I think he could do very well amongst voters, not only Republicans but a lot of discerning Democrats and independents in this state.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened between 2008, though, when you had a Democratic -- when the state went Democratic for President Obama, 14 points, which is huge, and then two years later, they elect you by 5 points, a Republican governor. What happened in the meantime? And where is the Tea Party in this, in this state?

WALKER: Oh, I think the clear thing is substance. It's great. It wasn't based on personality. It's why I won. It's why Ron Johnson won. It's why we took the assembly and the senate. It was people saw on the fact (ph) what happened when Democrats were in charge. They saw under Jim Doyle that taxes went up...

VAN SUSTEREN: He had been governor.

WALKER: Well, but you saw everything. During that timeframe in the term before, the legislature, both houses were Democrat. The governor was Democrat. You saw taxes on businesses goes up 20 percent. You saw taxes on individuals go up 15 percent. You saw major increases in property taxes during that timeframe. And more importantly, you saw more 100,000 jobs lost. You saw unemployment at a peak of over 9 percent.

I think people wanted a change. They wanted us to tackle the fiscal and economic crisis in the state. And in particular, we inherited a $3.6 billion deficit. They saw it. We came in and fixed it.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about the Tea Party in the state?

WALKER: Oh, I think even beyond just the Tea Party, they...

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a Tea Party influence here?

WALKER: Absolutely. And I think it's one where it's -- it's really not an organized effort as much as it is just people who for years -- you know, it's been that pot percolating. People who are of all different backgrounds, all different beliefs, all different parts of the state, who said, You know what? I'm sick and tired of the government sticking it to the hardworking taxpayers of the state.

One of the things I get amused by is when my opponent talks about the middle class. Nobody in this state has been more damaged by the expansion, the massive expansion of government under liberals in the past than the middle class in this state. We finally stood up and defended middle class taxpayers and said, Once and for all, you're the ones that are in charge. You're the ones we're going to look out for. You're our special interest. It's the hardworking taxpayers of Wisconsin.

VAN SUSTEREN: But if you are not elected tomorrow or reelected tomorrow, that's saying, Governor, we've had enough of your policies. We've had enough of the union-busting. We're standing up for, you know, unions, workers' rights. I mean, that sends a very different message.

WALKER: Well, and that's why so much is at stake. That's why people can't take anything for granted, even though many of the polls, many in the last month or two, have showed us ahead, people can't take it for granted. Remember, for those interest groups coming out of Washington, the ones that came in last February and March, for them, everything's at stake.

VAN SUSTEREN: How's your ground game? How's your ground game, by the way?

WALKER: Oh, tremendous. We -- our state party chairman told me that the coordinated effort exceeded four million contacts with voters today. That is unprecedented. That is many, many more than we had in the entire election in 2010.

And you see when Tonette, my wife, and I go to our victory centers where people are making calls, we ask for a show of hands, and more often than not, half or more of the people there tell us they've never been involved in a campaign before.

People are coming out of the woodwork. They're that passionate about it. Oftentimes, they bring their kids and their grandkids along and they point them out to me and say, This is why I'm here. I want to make sure they have a better life. That's exactly why Tonette and made the sacrifices we made over the last year-and-a-half. It's for our kids, Matt and Alex, and every other kid and grandkid in the state.

VAN SUSTEREN: I read an editorial today saying, you know, with all the talk about the vp candidates, that if you win tomorrow that, you know, your -- your star is just going to take off further and that you would be someone that would be looked at as a vice presidential candidate. Any interest in that?

WALKER: If someone were to ask me, I'd say the best person you could pick from Wisconsin is my good friend, Paul Ryan.


WALKER: Well, he's great. He's dynamic. He's courageous. And I've got a job to do. I didn't go through a year-and-a-half of this, I didn't go through this campaign, I didn't go through all the attacks -- not only political attacks, but heck, they poured -- thousands of people were bused in front of my home. My kids were targeted on Facebook by protesters. I didn't go through all this to walk away.

I'm committed to helping the people of this state move forward. I'm committed to getting our goal of helping the people, not the government, but the people in the state create 250,000 new jobs. I'm excited about America and I'm excited about the potential to make changes in our nation's government, as well, but I need to be focused on helping Wisconsin move forward.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we'll be watching. The polls open in just a short time. It's going to be fascinating to watch, see what happens. As always, it's fun to be here in the great state of Wisconsin.

WALKER: Good to have you back, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Governor.