Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: 'We Are Not Going to Back Down'

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This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," February 21, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Union protesters in Wisconsin are refusing to back down after days of protesting against GOP Governor Scott Walker. It is Walker's proposed budget cuts that have the unions now up in arms.

Now those cuts would limit the collective bargaining rights and most public sector unions and force them to put more money towards their retirement savings and health care coverage. Now over the weekend, the Reverend Jesse Jackson swooped in to Madison, to capitalize on the drama. His major contribution was leading the protesters in a rendition of, "We Shall Overcome."

Now inside the state capital building, the good news for Republicans is that Governor Walker is also refusing to back down. In fact, he seems downright undaunted by the mayhem in Madison. Now watching him, many observers are beginning to see this as a showdown and this showdown is a watershed moment. As Governor Walker confronts this issue, you may recall that two GOP icons famously dealt with public sector union strikes. In doing so, they sent the resounding message that they and the public could not be bullied by union bosses. When over 12,000 of the nation's air traffic controllers went on strike in 1981, this is what President Ronald Reagan told them.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I respect the right of workers in the private sector to strike. Indeed, as president of my own union, I led the first strike ever called by that union. But we cannot compare labor management relations in the private sector with government. Government cannot close down the assembly line. It has to provide without interruption, the protective services which are government's reason for being. It is for this reason, that I must tell those who fail to report for duty this morning, they are in violation of the law, and if they do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated.


HANNITY: Now, President Reagan kept his word, firing every air traffic controller who did not return to work two days later. And in doing so, he followed in the footsteps of his hero, Calvin Coolidge who was governor of Massachusetts who responded to a police strike by firing and replacing nearly all of the state's police force.

So, will Governor Walker continue to stand strong like his predecessors? Joining me now is the man who can answer that question, the person who is at the center of this controversy, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Governor, welcome to "Hannity."

GOV. SCOTT WALKER, R-WIS.: Sean, good to be with you. Thanks for having me on.

HANNITY: Alright, why don't I give you a chance, in your words to frame the debate as you see it, Governor.

WALKER: Well, it is real simple, we are trying to balance the budget. As you mentioned in the introduction, we are broke. The fact of the matter is like nearly every other state across the country, we face a major budget deficit going into the next by aim, in our case is $3.6 billion. It's because, for years, political leaders, in many cases both political parties have pushed it off to the future. Well, that time of reckoning has come. It's time for us to balance the budget, and one of the best ways we can do it is tackling these public employee wage and benefits issues. And for us, we are asking for something that is bold politically, no doubt about it.

Anytime you challenge the status quo, it's going to be bold as we've seen in this past week. But really, compared to where everybody else outside of government has, it is a very modest, reasonable request. We are asking for pension and health care contributions that are still significantly less than the national average and much less than what most of Wisconsin's hardworking taxpayers are paying today.

HANNITY: All right. So, you have a $137 million budget deficit this year and $3.6 billion in the next two year budget. So, we have a pretty big deficit here. So, the question is, and the issue is, and some on the unions were saying, wait a minute, we'll concede the point on paying more into our pensions and our health care benefits, but why take away our collective bargaining rights?

WALKER: Right.

HANNITY: Not on salary, but on benefits. What is your answer to that?

WALKER: Well, it's real simple. And it's one of those irony of ironies a week ago, those same union leaders were telling us, oh my goodness, we can't do this -- nobody will be able to survive. If they have to pay 5.8 percent for a pension and 12.6 percent for health care premiums. Now a week later, they changed their tune.

The reality is they don't really care about the workers' money, all they want are the public employee union dues that right now the state law mandates that have to go into their coffers. That's what they really want to get their hands on. But what we are asking for is going to make a little bit more for pension contribution, a little bit more for health contribution. But then also in response to our workers who are good, descent, respected workers by us, we want to give them the ability to say, you have an option whether or not you want to be in the union. We're not going to mandatorily take your dues away.

So, you can use those five or $600 if you are a state employee that you otherwise pay for union dues or up to $1,000 for teachers' union dues, and you can use those if you chose to pay for your health care and your pension contributions. The other part though, the important reason is why it's got to go further, why we have to fundamentally change collective bargaining, is it goes beyond just pension and health care contributions.

Now, I give you one good example. Over the years, most of the school districts in our state have had to get, because of collective bargaining contracts, they are required to get their health care insurance plans from WH Trust (ph), that the state teachers union health care plan, because it is under collective bargaining. If we pass our bill, ultimately, they could go into the state employee health care plan and save $68 million. That's money on top of those pitching in health care savings.

HANNITY: Let me ask you this, a lot of teachers had been involved, Governor, in a sick-out in your state as you know. And even some students have been out there. And I'm told that the request of teachers to go out and protest even against their will. My question is, and then we hear reports that doctors, we reported this on Fox News this weekend, that doctors are just, you know, signing off on these sick statements when we know that there are teachers out there in the crowd and speaking. Are you planning on taking a position that if they continue to call out sick, that you might threaten to fire them?

WALKER: Well, a couple of different things. One, I haven't seen the video tape, I've heard about it but obviously, if there are doctors and teachers doing that sort of thing, abusing the system, that is outrageous and there's a whole objective system set in the state to review medical professionals who might be falsifying information. And we'll leave that up to that objective panel but obviously, they would take that very seriously.

When it comes to teachers unlike air traffic controllers at the federal level or state employees in the state of Wisconsin government system, school districts are operated by individual school superintendents and school boards. Many of those superintendents have notified their teachers that they'll face disciplinary action if they are failing to show up, because of being in protests, as opposed to them taking legitimate time off, I support them, I back them on that. The good news is, I think the teachers' union wised up this week after getting a lot of grief from parents, and essentially told their teachers to go back to work. But if state employees aren't there, obviously, we would terminate people and replace them.

HANNITY: What about the Democratic senators Governor, that are holed up in a Best Western in Illinois, can they be compelled to come back?

WALKER: Well, that's the irony of all ironies, even the teachers' union wised up to the fact the public is no longer on their side and they forced their employees that were protesting here to come back to work. We've got 14 Senate Democrats who are holding out and realizing that ultimately, if they want to participate in democracy, they have to the arena, the arena is in Madison, Wisconsin here in the capital, it's not in a hotel in Rockford, it's not down in big hotels down in Chicago. It is ultimately back in Madison. I applaud Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald who is bringing the state Senate to the floor tomorrow. They are going to start bringing up important pieces of legislation. My hope is the constituents in those 14th state Senate districts stand up and tell those senators to do what they actively, what they are being paid to do, and what they must do starting this week.

HANNITY: Governor, let me ask you about President Obama's involvement here. Because the president has come out in support of the unions, obviously which means, you know, look, he didn't put forward a budget that he was going to balance. He was cheerleading for those obviously in the end would be pushing for bankruptcy and insolvency. What did you make of the president's involvement and also the DNC and also the president's group organizing for America?

WALKER: Well, simply put, the president of the United States should start focusing on balancing the federal budget, because it is a horrible mess. It is what's driving these massive problems. It's about time, people at the federal level started to fess up to the fact that the federal government's broke, and I think the last thing he should be doing is sticking his nose in any state's problem let alone Wisconsin's, when they failed miserably at the federal level.

But in the larger context, you know, the people who were here from Wisconsin, over the past week and over the weekend, the tens of thousands of protesters have every right to have their voices be heard. But I've said repeatedly, I'm not going to let their voices over shadow, over power the voices of the legitimate millions of hardworking taxpayers in my state who hired me to get the budget balanced and to get Wisconsin working again.

HANNITY: Let me ask you this --

WALKER: To show in Wisconsin is open for business. And increasingly, you literally have tens of thousands of protesters coming in from Chicago and Nevada and New Jersey and other places.

HANNITY: Let me ask you one last question because we're running out of time, Governor. You have said emphatically, that you are not backing down. Do you stand by that today? And also, I want you to comment on, you know, the president was lecturing the country after the Tucson massacre about civility in the country and about the tone in the country. I have seen signs that I can't even mention on this program. You being compared to Adolf Hitler, being called a Nazi and a fascist, the Mussolini, et cetera, et cetera. Your reaction to that. And do you promise tonight that you will not back down under any circumstances? And are you concerned any Republicans might go with the Democrats?

WALKER: No. I think our Senate Republicans, our assembly Republicans have only grown stronger. They are not going to be intimidated by union leaders from Washington or any other state. They're going to listen to the people of Wisconsin. They elect us overwhelmingly, to balance the budget not only now but to make sure we make a commitment to the future instead of dire consequences for our children in the future. So, we are not going to back down. We are doing the right thing for the right reasons and in the end, you know, democracy means participating. We are going to stand up for the people.

HANNITY: All right. Governor, I appreciate you being with us. And we'll be following this story as it continues to unfold, thank you.

WALKER: Thanks, Sean.

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