MADISON, WI (FDL) – In the Capitol Rotunda, virtually everyone is talking about the release of the prank phone call from “David Koch” to Scott Walker. “I love when people get tripped up by their own words,” said one protester, a former Wisconsinite who drove down from Minneapolis to be at the Capitol. An older man leading the morning protests explained the one part of the call getting much of the attention, where Walker said he “thought about” bringing in troublemakers to mingle among the protesters. He called it an attack on peacable assembly and called for Walker to resign. That chant got a lot of traction. And many were amused by the fact that the caller, Ian Murphy of Buffalo Beast, considered calling in as Hosni Mubarak.

The “troublemakers” bit has received a lot of attention from local officials and local law enforcement. The Madison police chief said he was troubled by that:

(Madison Police Chief Noble) Wray said he was disturbed that Walker thought about planting troublemakers among peaceful protesters.

“I would like to hear more of an explanation from Governor Walker as to what exactly was being considered, and to what degree it was discussed by his cabinet members. I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers,” the chief said.

“Our department works hard dialoging with those who are exercising their First Amendment right, those from both sides of the issue, to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure they can demonstrate safely. I am concerned that anyone would try to undermine these relationships. I have a responsibility to the community, and to the men and women of this department – who are working long hours protecting and serving this community – to find out more about what was being considered by state leaders.”

The Mayor of Madison, Dave Cieslewicz, also called this “very upsetting… On its face, it appears that he seriously entertained the option of actually creating a more tense situation, and that would be very significant if that were the case.” I have a call in to the Dane County Sheriff about it as well. Local law enforcement, including those who have come in from out of town to work at the Capitol, have been unfailingly nice, and supportive of the peaceful protests. Setting up the possibility of a situation with outside entities coming in to foment unrest has really rankled them.

A former state Attorney General, Peg Lautenschlager (D), has gone a step further, seeing actual ethics and labor law violations in the conversation.

When Gov. Scott Walker discussed strategies to lay off state employees for political purposes, to coordinate supposedly “independent” political expenditures to aid legislators who support his budget repair bill, and to place agent provocateurs on the streets of Madison in order to disrupt peaceful demonstrations, he engaged in what a former attorney general of Wisconsin says could turn out to be serious ethics, election law and labor violations [...]

“I think that the ethics violations are something the (state) Government Accountability Board should look into because they are considerable. He is on tape talking with someone who he thinks is the funder of an independent political action committee to purchase advertising to benefit Republican legislators who are nervous about taking votes on legislation he sees as critical to his political success.”

Lautenschlager, a former legislator who has known Walker for many years and who has worked with many of the unions involved in the current dispute, says: “One of the things I find most problematic in all of this is the governor’s casual talk about using outside troublemakers to stir up trouble on the streets, and the fact that he only dismissed the idea because it might cause a political problem for him.” [...]

“I think there’s a serious issue there,” Lautenschlager explained. “That’s a public safety issue. And I think that is really troublesome: a governor with an obligation to maintain public safety says he’s going to plant people to make trouble. That screams out to me. For a governor even to consider a strategy that could unnecessarily threaten the safety of peaceful demonstrators — which the governor acknowledged he did — is something that simply amazes me.”

Lautenschlager also looked to the parallel Walker made with Ronald Reagan firing the air traffic controllers as potentially “signaling a willingness to commit an unfair labor practice violation by refusing to negotiate.” And, the part where Walker agrees to visit Koch in California after this situation resolves itself could be an acceptance of a gift, which could warrant an ethics investigation.

This call brings up a host of questions, and as I’ve said it has had a real impact on public opinion in the state.