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Email to Wis. gov. initially favored union rights

By Todd Richmond

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 22 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Feb. 17, 2011, file photo Wisconsin Rep. Jon Richards and other Assembly Democrats walk into the chamber wearing orange t-shirts at Wisconsin Capitol Madison, the same day Gov. Scott Walker said the majority of emails he had received were telling him to “stay firm, to stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers." But what the new Republican governor didn’t say is that for close to a week, his inbox had been home to overwhelming opposition that ran roughly 2-to-1 against his plans. It was only in the moments just before he discussed the emails for the first time, and hours after a group of desperate Democrats fled the state to stop a vote they knew they would lose, that the tide had turned in his favor.

Wisconsin State Journal, Michael P. King, File, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — Seeking a way to counter a growing protest movement, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker cited his email, 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 emails shows 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 emails sent to Walker from the time he formally announced his plans until he first mentioned the emails in public.

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 emails on the issue.

The AP obtained the emails 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 emails filed under the state's open records law.

Walker's comments about the emails 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 emails we got today, the majority are telling us to stay firm, to stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers," Walker said of the emails. "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 emails 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 emails 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 email 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 vote in the state Senate and a day in which Madison's 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 emails in all, and they ran roughly 2-to-1 against the bill.

Things changed dramatically the next day as the tide of emails shifted in Walker's favor. By the time his press conference began, the gap had closed significantly as emails 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 emails of support that day to roughly 1,400 against. Still, at that point, the overall tally was split roughly down the middle.

In an interview Tuesday, Walker said he was only talking about emails his office had received the day of the news conference.

Walker said he called several of the people who sent emails, both in support and against, but the thousands of messages that came in didn't influence his actions.

"We've never based support for the bill on how many emails we got," Walker said.

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