5.18.2010

Did Walker flip-flop, or was it a clarification?

Apparently - at least according to liberals and the AP - we have our first major flip-flop in the race for governor. This one is courtesy of Scott Walker and his stance on the Arizona illegal immigration law. A quick review shows that in an AP story, Walker "says in a statement that he has serious concerns about the Arizona law empowering police to question and arrest anyone they suspect is in the U.S. illegally." Not exactly a controversial position and one that I've expressed on this blog and to many friends.

Yesterday we got a follow-up story from the AP detailing the flip (this is the entire story as posted):
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican candidate for governor Scott Walker reversed himself on Arizona's controversial immigration law over the weekend, first condemning it then saying he would be comfortable signing it into law.
The flip came after Walker was barraged with negative comments on his Facebook page following an Associated Press story reporting on his concerns about the law that critics say could lead to racial profiling.
Walker issued a statement Saturday afternoon saying he spoke with the state senator who introduced the Arizona law and he was now comfortable that the rights of citizens would be protected.
Walker's comments on immigration drew hundreds of Facebook comments, with several people saying they were disappointed and no longer supported him.
Now, talk show host Jerry Bader has a fuller statement from the Walker campaign. It reads in part:
After speaking this morning with the author of the new law in Arizona, State Senator Russell Pearce, I'm satisfied that the amended bill provides adequate protections against racial profiling and discrimination. A police officer may only inquire about the immigration status of persons they have stopped, detained or arrested for other reasons....
In addition, earlier decisions by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals satisfy my concern about any conflicts with the 10th Amendment. If I were Governor of Arizona, I too would sign the Arizona immigration bill."
Is this really a flip-flop? The two statements are not necessarily at odds. It is quite likely that Walker had some serious concerns about the Arizona law, but that after further reflection and consultation with the law's author, came to the conclusion that those concerns had been satisfied. This is not an unreasonable thought process and one that I think Walker can explain easily enough. If inquiries about a person's immigration status can only be made in the course of normal police interactions, then I see nothing terribly wrong with the bill or Walker's statements.

Unfortunately for team Walker, that is not how this looks. It looks like he made a perfectly reasonable statement, got a whole bunch of supporters mad at him and then promptly back-flipped like a Russian gymnast. Whether that is how Walker's decision-making process actually worked is irrelevant. Perception is everything in politics. Had I been advising Walker and his campaign I would have issued a statement yesterday highlighting the legitimate concerns over the Arizona law and the potential 10th Amendment issues, and stating that the County Executive would be talking to Gov. Brewer and Sen. Pearce - as well as local civil rights activists and law enforcement officials - about the law and its intent.

After talking more about the concerns he had - or possibly has - with the law, Walker could then talk about his thought process and why Sen. Pearce's reassurances were enough to calm his fears. Given the noise coming from the right, Walker could have easily garnered his own op-ed in the Journal Sentinel or the State Journal where he could have thoughtfully laid out his position. This could have been a huge PR victory for the Walker campaign. Unfortunately, it now just looks like he caved. I hope that the campaign learns from this mistake because once the election hits full swing, DPW and the Barrett campaign will make him pay for things like this.