Sharp Questions for Walker at Harley Tour Pitstop

Arnie Alpert on September 06, 2015
Scott Walker faced questions on nuclear weapons, the influence of the military industrial complex, and for-profit incarceration of immigrants outside a country store in a rural New Hampshire town. His answers left a bit to be desired.

When Scott Walker and his Harley-riding entourage roared into the parking lot at the Crossroads Country Store in Salisbury, GUI activists were waiting for him.   Judy started in with a question about plans to spend a trillion dollars on a new generation of nuclear weapons, which she pointed out would do nothing to keep countries like Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. 

“Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it was a trade-off,” she explained to the Wisconsin governor.  “The nuclear powers at that time said, ‘We will give you nuclear power, not weapons, and if you will endeavor not to acquire your own nuclear weapons, we will wind down, we will move towards abolition.’  And so we’ve got to be, we’ve got to be leading with that example if we expect nations like Iran to not want one.  That’s my concern.”

“I hear what you’re saying,” Walker responded.  “It’s just the biggest concern I have with Iran isn’t nuclear, is what’ll happen when we lift the sanctions and the money they use, they’re the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world.”

Judy followed up by explaining why the Iran deal makes sense and stated that the current sanctions regime will collapse without ongoing support from US allies who believe the deal is a good one.   “I don’t mind a deal with Iran, I just would like it on our terms, not on the Iranians’ terms,” Walker said.

“The alternative is no deal, and then we will be in danger of war,” Judy pointed out.

As Walker turned and walked toward the store, Olivia joined him and told him about Sandia Labs -- operated under the management of Lockheed Martin -- getting fined for illegally using federal contract funds to lobby for more nuclear weapons contracts.  She then expressed her concerns that giant corporations were buying influence over foreign and military policy.  “How do we return power to the people?” she asked.

Walker seemed to agree in part with her concern.  “All groups should have to disclose … money they get from the government if they’re lobbying,” he said.  Then he said the main way to reduce the influence of big corporations is to “take power and money out of Washington” and return it to the states.  Walker entered the Corner Store for a few minutes.

After he came out, I caught his attention as aides were trying to get him back on his Harley for the next leg of the trip and used the immigrant detention quota as an example of the larger problem of governing under the influence.   The jailing of tens of thousands of immigrants daily is not based on public safety, I said, but rather based on a budget provision that feeds people into for-profit prisons. “Companies like the Geo and Corrections Corporation of America are actually lobbying and making campaign contributions to influence immigration policy,” I said.

“The first thing we’ve got to do is take power and money out of Washington in a whole bunch of categories, Medicaid, transportation, education.”

“This is about immigration,” I interrupted.

“You asked about corporations in general.  I’ll give you a broader answer,” he said, and went on with his point.  With power returned to the states, he said, programs would be carried out more efficiently effectively and the federal government would be better able to concentrate on issues like military affairs, Social Security, and immigration. 

On immigration, Walker called for securing the border and imposing E-verify, which we might note is a massive federal program not known for efficiency and effectiveness.  He never did address the issue of the detention quota or the role of for-profit prisons.   Nor is it clear how shifting money and authority from the feds to the states would dilute the power of the corporate lobby.  It seems more likely that it would just give big corporations additional targets for influence peddling.  

As his aide drew Walker away I encouraged him to heed Eisenhower’s warning about the military industrial complex, calling it a model now adopted by Wall Street and other industries. 

“There’s too much power in Washington, period.” Walked said, as the aide said, “we’re racing the sun,” and the governor returned to his parked Harley.  Olivia meanwhile hopped on the back of Art’s Harley and zoomed up the road toward Franklin with the rest of the crew.

Art is an Army veteran, a peace activist, and a former official with the Laborers Union, and he tows a “peace bus” behind his bike.  When an accident brought about a delay in the ride, he found himself chatting with Governor Walker about motorcycle safety.   Walker signed his name on the peace bus before they hit the road again.

This was Art's first experience on the bird-dog trail.  He told Olivia he was surprised how easy it is to have access to the candidates and influence the political debate.  He also mentioned how much he admired Judy's ability to carry on a high level political conversation with a presidential candidate in a country store parking lot.

In New Hampton, Olivia and Art spoke to reporters.  Art said that he was not impressed with Walker’s labor record.  Olivia told NHPR, “"He talked about the system of lobbying and that we need to do something to address it, but he was very vague," Zink says. "I hope that throughout the next few months in New Hampshire he's able to really begin to articulate his position on how he'll end governing under the influence."


About the Reporter

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert is co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program, which he has led since 1981.  In that time he has been involved in movements for economic justice and affordable housing, civil and worker rights, peace and disarmament, abolition of the death penalty, and an end to racism and homophobia.