Filmmaker denies political motive in releasing Walker 'divide and conquer' footage
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JANESVILLE The filmmaker whose short clip of Gov. Scott Walker went viral this week said he had no political motives in releasing the footage.
Brad Lichtenstein, who has been filming a documentary in Rock County for several years, said he set out to tell the story of how a community reinvents itself after losing a General Motors Plant and then facing the Great Recession.
Lichtenstein told The Gazette that he has been showing clips—including the Walker footage—to small groups this spring. The clip showing Walker speaking to local billionaire Diane Hendricks on Jan. 18, 2011, was among those he screened.
Lichtenstein on Friday provided The Gazette with the raw footage of the conversation, in which the governor, Hendricks and Mary Willmer, M&I Bank of Janesville’s community bank president, discuss collective bargaining for public employees, tort reform and regulatory reform. Walker later that year signed a bill that gives the governor control over administrative regulations.
Hendricks and Willmer are co-chairwomen of Rock County 5.0, a public-private partnership intended to promote economic development. Walker was meeting with officials from the group and others at Hendricks’ ABC Supply in Beloit.
Lichtenstein was recording what Willmer and others in Janesville were doing to try to create jobs in an area hard hit by the shutdown of its General Motors plant and related businesses.
Lichtenstein and Hendricks both told Walker that Lichtenstein was filming a documentary shortly after he started to shoot footage of the governor.
Within minutes of saying hello to the governor in the video, Hendricks told Walker she wanted to ask him about some issues that might be a “little controversial” before the public event, where reporters would be on hand.
She mentions that Lichtenstein is filming, and Lichtenstein tells Walker that his work would not come out for more than a year.
In the conversation in the video, Hendricks asked Walker about right-to-work legislation. “Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions … ”
“Oh, yeah,” Walker broke in.
“ … and become a right-to-work?” Hendricks continued. “What can we do to help you?”
“Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill,” Walker said. “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 asked Walker if he would model himself after any other state, and Walker said he liked what Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was doing with that state’s right-to-work status.
All three participants agreed that Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, was “a good man,” as Hendricks put it, and was someone they could work with.
Willmer was asked for comment today, and BMO Harris Bank, which owns M&I, responded with an email that stated Willmer was not involved in the Walker-Hendricks conversation.
“Any interpretation that Mary Willmer was involved in the conversation or endorses the content of the conversation or reflected the views of BMO Harris Bank is simply inaccurate,” according to the statement.
“We are very proud of the personal commitment and leadership that Mary has made to help bring middle class jobs back to her community.”
Word of the video apparently reached reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who pressed Lichtenstein to let them see the entire 6 1/2 minutes of raw footage of the conversation.
Lichtenstein said he held off sharing the footage until he had fulfilled commitments related to production of the documentary, which is why it did not become public until Thursday. He said he had planned to release the trailer for the documentary around this time before the date of the recall election against Walker had been set for June 5.
Lichtenstein said he has had no contacts with the Democratic Party or the campaign of Tom Barrett, who is opposing Walker in the June 5 recall election.
Lichtenstein, president of 371 Productions in Milwaukee, acknowledged to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he has done work on Democratic campaigns and had given $100 in 2010 to Barrett. Lichtenstein’s wife is a public employee, a professor at UW-Milwaukee.
Lichtenstein said he did not accept any funding for his film from labor or Democratic groups because of the ethical standards required by the Public Broadcasting Service, which is expected to air the film in the fall. Instead, his funding came from groups like The MacArthur Foundation and the Sheldon and Marianne Lubar Family Foundation, he said.
“I have no political agenda with the film, and I’m not releasing the trailer to have a political impact in Wisconsin,” Lichtenstein said Friday.
Both the Democrats and Barrett’s campaign were quick to use the footage Friday. Lichtenstein said he can’t control how the video is used politically.
“People out there are characterizing me as a tool for Barrett or the unions, but if you look at the full film, that’s far from the case,” he said.
Lichtenstein said the full 10-minute trailer, which is posted at AsGoesJanesville.com, and the full documentary to be released this summer will show that he was evenhanded in telling the story of people affected by losing their jobs and those who worked to revive Janesville’s economy.
One story told in the film shows a worker who blames both management and the union for the loss of her health insurance, for example, Lichtenstein said.
Lichtenstein said “As Goes Janesville,” like his previous work, is an attempt to bring people of differing viewpoints together to discuss ways to solve common problems, “rather than yell at each other. We want people to get together and talk jointly about their economic future,” he said.
“It does not take a brain surgeon to figure out that I have been involved in supporting Democratic candidates for a long time, but that does not influence my filmmaking at all, and the trailer and movie will reflect that,” he said.
Lichtenstein is working to have the film premiere at a film festival in June, “and after that I definitely want do something down in Janesville, for sure.”
He said he is working with several local groups to arrange screenings.
The 90-minute documentary is expected to be shown in a 60-minute version on public TV this fall.
Lichtenstein said his past films had portrayed all sides in a fair way. He has worked on “With God on Our Side,” which is about the religious right, and “Ghosts of Attica,” which includes the perspectives of both inmates and correctional officers recalling the takeover of a New York prison by inmates 30 years ago.
“I’ve never set out to make polemical films,” he said. “I’m not (liberal filmmaker) Michael Moore.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this story.