MADISON, Wis. — Seeking a way to counter a growing protest movement, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cited his e-mail, confidently declaring that most people writing his office had urged him to eliminate nearly all union rights for state workers.
But an Associated Press analysis of the e-mails s
hows that, for close to a week, messages in Walker’s inbox were running roughly 2-to-1 against his plans. The tide did not turn in his favor until shortly after desperate Democrats fled the state to stop a vote they knew they would lose.
The AP analyzed more than 26,000 e-mails sent to Walker from the time he formally announced his plans until he first mentioned the e-mails in public — a span of seven days.
During that time, the overall tally ran 55 percent in support, 44 percent against. In the weeks since, Walker has continued to receive tens of thousands of e-mails on the issue.
The AP obtained the e-mails through a legal settlement with Walker’s office, the result of a lawsuit filed by the news cooperative and the Isthmus, a weekly newspaper in Madison. The news organizations sued after the governor’s office did not respond to requests for the e-mails filed under the state’s open records law.
Walker’s comments about the e-mails came on the evening of Feb. 17, as roughly 25,000 protesters packed into the Capitol’s ornate rotunda and filled its lawn outside. They could be heard screaming outside the conference room where he met with reporters in a news conference broadcast live by several cable news networks.
“The more than 8,000 e-mails we got today, the majority are telling us to stay firm, to stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers,” Walker said of the e-mails. “While the protesters have every right to be heard, I’m going to make sure the taxpayers of the state are heard and their voices are not drowned out by those circling the Capitol.”
But for several preceding days, the e-mails of support Walker received had been vastly outnumbered by those opposed to his plan.
On Feb. 11, the day Walker formally outlined his “budget-repair bill” and his proposal to dramatically curb union rights, the e-mails sent to his office ran more than 5-to-1 against his plan. Much of that opposition came from public workers directly affected by the proposal, many of whom responded to an e-mail sent by Walker that offered a rationale for his proposal.
The gap closed over the next five days, as protesters arrived in large numbers at the Capitol and the Republican-controlled Legislature set a course to pass the bill in less than a week.
By the end of Feb. 16 — the eve of a planned vote in the state Senate and a day in which Madison schools were forced to close due to high number of teacher and staff absences, presumably to protest at the Capitol — Walker had received more than 12,000 e-mails in all, and they ran roughly 2-to-1 against the bill.
Things changed dramatically the next day as the tide of e-mails shifted in Walker’s favor. By the time his press conference began, the gap had closed significantly as e-mails of support arrived by the hundreds every hour.
At 5 p.m., 15 minutes after he took the podium, the governor’s office had received nearly 5,900 e-mails of support that day to roughly 1,400 against. Still, at that point, the overall tally was split roughly down the middle.
As Walker spoke at the news conference, a massive spike of e-mails in favor of his proposal poured into the governor’s inbox. At the end of the day, he had received more than 9,400 e-mails cheering him on — three times the number of messages of opposition. The final overall tally through the end of the day: 54 percent in support, 43 percent against.
The AP’s analysis was based on an individual review of each e-mail, which was categorized as either pro, con, ambiguous or unrelated. Some authors noted clearly they were from out of state, while others said they were teachers and other Wisconsin public employees who would be directly affected by Walker’s plans.
“Thanks for the 10% pay cut,” wrote a Department of Corrections employee. “I can’t believe that I voted for you. Get bent.”