Walker says he could have sold his changes better

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Associated Press
Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gov. Scott Walker, known for his toughness in defending his positions, said Friday that he's made mistakes in how he's gone about achieving his agenda.

The Republican governor, now facing a recall effort, said in an interview he regretted not having done a better job of selling his changes to state government, including ending nearly all collective bargaining for most public employees.

The moves sparked a month of historic protests at the Capitol and made Wisconsin the epicenter of a nationwide fight over union rights.

"If I could do this all over again, I'd spend more time in January and February making a case," Walker said in an interview at the Governor's Mansion.

"I just kind of came in and said, 'Okay, here's the problem, here's the solution, I'll just go fix it.' And I didn't spend a lot of time building up a communications effort to explain ... the reasons why."

Walker said he "didn't want to have it be a focal point, looking like I was going after public employees," but that's what happened. He said it would have been better to make a public case for reining in collective bargaining - like pointing out the cost savings that can come when school districts have more flexibility on health insurance plans.

"Would it have persuaded everybody? No," Walker said. "But the most common complaint I get, which I think is legitimate, is people say ... 'I'm really disappointed you didn't do a better job of explaining it.'"

Walker said he had assumed that "after 10 days of debate," people would come to see the benefits of what he was proposing, which included curbing the ability of most public employees to engage in collective bargaining and making it harder for public employee unions to continue operating.

"I never anticipated that you'd have 14 senators leave and be gone for nearly a month," Walker said. "I never anticipated there'd be $4-5 million spent on attack ads or anything else like that."

Walker said that, in proposing his changes, "I didn't view this as a political or campaign-type thing. I just thought, here's how we have to fix the budget."

Asked about the Feb. 22 call with a blogger pretending to be billionaire and Walker supporter David Koch, Walker called his statements during that call "stupid."

He said the call, during the height of the protests over the collective bargaining changes, "diverted attention from a debate that needed to be focused on the facts and instead got off into this hysteria and everything." In the call, Walker boasted about his national media appearances, referred to his plan regarding collective bargaining as dropping a bomb, and admitted he had thought about but rejected the idea of planting troublemakers in the protest crowds.

Walker said his comments "were not inconsistent with anything else I said" in other contexts. But "just the fact that I was duped ... that I would go off and talk about stuff like that, yeah it was stupid."

State better off

In a separate interview with The Associated Press, Walker said he believes Wisconsin residents are better off now than they were a year ago, and he will focus on talking about his plans for the future if he has to face an unprecedented recall election in 2012.

"Elections are always about the future. It's not about defending things in the past," Walker said. "Certainly, we would talk about how we built the foundation for success. We balanced our budget, we did it without raising taxes, we helped increase the number of private sector jobs. More importantly, we're going to lay out our plan and positive outlook for the future of this state."

Recall backers including organized labor and the Democratic Party started their effort in mid-November and have until Jan. 17 to submit 540,208 to force an election in 2012. Given expected delays in the signature verification effort and lawsuits, any election isn't expected to happen until late spring or summer.

Walker said he doesn't care when it happens, he stands by his record and his belief that the state is better off under his leadership.

"A year ago we were on the edge of an economic and a fiscal crisis," he said. "We're better. We're not as good as we can be. Part of what I look forward to in 2012 is how do we take our plan and our positive outlook for the future and find a way to work together to achieve it to get people back to work."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Last updated: 7:02 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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