Facing the prospect of a recall election in June, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker came to Washington on Thursday to talk up the merits of the anti-union legislation that has landed him in hot water — and to raise funds to save his job.
Walker said he's certain his opponents will gather the 540,000 signatures they need in time for the Jan. 17 deadline, setting up a recall election in June.
"I've got to tell you, I don't plan on losing, but I'm not afraid of losing," Walker, who is a Republican, said during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
Walker described the budget cuts and changes to collective bargaining law that he pushed through shortly after taking office a year ago as necessary medicine for the long-term fiscal health of his state.
"Collective bargaining in the public sector is not a right — it's an expensive entitlement," Walker said at the AEI event.
But changes in the way most public employees are allowed to organize triggered massive protests in Madison, and have since led to recall campaigns against a number of state senators, as well as Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, says voters there are ready to reject Walker's decision to treat the state "as a petri dish for these right-wing ideas." The governor will also be hurt, Zielinski suggested, by an ongoing corruption investigation that led to the indictment on Thursday of Tim Russell, a former top Walker aide.
"Walker likes to say that this is about public employees, but this is a widespread movement," says Zielinski.
For his part, Walker said his budget and policy changes have already started to pay dividends. The average property tax bill in the state to fund school districts has come down for the first time in six years, he said.
Other executives facing large deficits have also sought cuts to public employee benefits, Walker noted, including Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, both Democrats.
"Who would have thought that Occupy Chicago would mention my name and Rahm Emanuel in the same breath?" he said.
Walker intends to press the case that his legislation is creating tangible benefits for the state, as well as improving its economic outlook. The reason voters in Ohio overturned a comparable law in November, he said, was that Ohio's law never actually took effect, so people were unduly swayed by scare tactics from national unions that spent millions attacking it.
Now, Walker said, the unions have trained their sights set on him.
"The big union bosses here in Washington will pour unlimited sums of money into our state," he said. "I took away the gravy train, the free money they had before."