By Brad Friedman on 5/11/2012, 8:00pm PT  

Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker has insisted, publicly and consistently, since the incredibly contentious introduction and eventual passage of his "Budget Repair" legislation early last year, that the need to remove collective-bargaining rights from public sector union workers was necessary only for balancing his state's alleged budgetary woes. It had absolutely nothing to do with breaking the unions, he said time and again, only with balancing the budget.

He maintained as much, even long after the public unions in question had agreed, as they did almost immediately, to concessions in pensions and benefits that would have closed the budget gap Walker pretended to be concerned about.

Opponents, in turn, had long charged that Walker's divisive legislation --- in the birthplace of public sector unions, nonetheless --- was about breaking the back of the unions on behalf of his corporate benefactors.

On Thursday night, video-taped evidence was made public supporting his opponents' contentions that the "Budget Repair" bill was about little more than breaking the unions. In the video, the Governor is seen, just before introducing the legislation in January of last year, speaking with local billionaire Diane Hendricks --- who eventually gave more money to Walker than any politician has ever received from one person in the state.

He is seen discussing his plan to "divide and conquer" public employee unions as part of his budget bill, in response to her direct questions about whether Wisconsin would ever be "completely red" and become a so-called "Right to Work" state. He went on to discuss his admiration for Indiana's Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels who, he said, was able to do away with unions "through executive order."

Walker laments that he is forced to do it legislatively in the Badger State, "So I need lawmakers to vote on it. But the key is by tying it to the budget," he says.

The conversation is seen in a new film by documentary filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein whose film, As Goes Janesville, is set to be released later this year on HBO. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker's opponent in next month's recall election, has already used part of the bombshell video in the following campaign ad...

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's report on the full video clip, Barrett had long been using the phrase "divide and conquer" in campaign speeches to explain Walker's attack on unions, though Barrett said he knew nothing about the video clip until it was released on Thursday night.

In the video [watch a longer trailer for Lichtenstein's film here], Hendricks greets Walker at an event in January of 2011, just prior to his introduction of the controversial anti-union legislation. She goes on to ask whether he might be able to help make Wisconsin into "a completely red state and work on these unions."

Walker breaks in to reply: "Oh, yeah."

"...And become a right-to-work?," Hendricks continues. "What can we do to help you?"

The conversation continues [emphasis added]:

WALKER: Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer. So for us, the base we get for that is the fact that we’ve got - budgetarily we can’t afford not to. If we have collective bargaining agreements in place, there’s no way not only the state but local governments can balance things out…That opens the door once we do that. That’s your bigger problem right there.
HENDRICKS: Which state would you mirror? Is there any state that's already . . .

WALKER: Well, (Indiana Gov.) Mitch Daniels, did - now, see the beautiful thing is, he did it in Indiana, he had it by executive order that created the unions years ago, and so when he came in about a week after he eliminated through executive order. In Wisconsin, it's by the statute. So I need lawmakers to vote on it. But the key is by tying it to the budget, there's no way to unravel that. Because unless they're going to come up with $800 million for example - it's not exactly that amount, but it's close - there's no way they cannot pass that unless they're going to pass a tax increase...

Following the release of Lichenstein's video, Walker's office has insisted that he has no plans to introduce "Right to Work" (sometimes referred to as "Right to Work for Less", by union supporters) legislation. In 1993, however, as a freshman member of the state Assembly, Walker co-sponsored such legislation.

Today, when asked about the new revelations at a campaign stop, amidst a massive backlash in the form of a popular uprising last year and a recall election next month, Walker said, "I don’t have an interest in pursuing right-to-work."

He insisted he doesn't "remember the particulars of that discussion" with Hendricks --- who has since donated more than $500,000 to Walker, the largest single amount ever given to a politician in state history --- and that he preferred to discuss other issues entirely.

"It’s interesting to me that our opponents want to rehash, replay the debate," Walker said today. "I think the vast majority, myself included, want to move on, move forward."

We suspect he does. His chance to "move on" will come --- one way or another --- after June 5th, when the state will vote on whether to remove him from office in response to that legislation last year. Also up for recall will be his Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state Senators, all of whom strongly supported Walker's anti-union legislation.

At the same time, Walker is also the apparent target of a criminal "John Doe investigation" concerning campaign improprieties during his tenure as Milwaukee County Executive before becoming Governor. Last March, The BRAD BLOG's Ernest Canning detailed the prosecutors' tightening noose in that probe, as revealed by legal documents and court filings related to the case. The investigation has already resulted in charges against a number of Walker's top lieutenants and has led to his creation of a Criminal Defense Fund where he has reportedly diverted tens of thousands of dollars from his recall campaign in order to fend of what many see as pending criminal charges against the Governor himself.

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