Activism

Scott Walker's Occupy-Supporting Primary Challenger Talks to Blogger Who Punked the Gov

Why run against Walker in the GOP primary? Occupy protester Arthur Kohl-Riggs says it's one man's attempt to keep the Republicans honest.

Photo Credit: Leslie Peterson

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Tomorrow, May 8, Wisconsin voters will cast their ballots in the first phase of the recall election against Gov. Scott Walker -- the Republican and Democratic primaries. The recall election, mandated by the collection of more than a million petition signatures, was sparked by Walker's infamous strong-armed passage of a law that all but ended collective bargaining for the state's public employees, and also cut funding to education and social programs statewide.

At the height of the massive pro-union demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, in February of last year, Arthur Kohl-Riggs slept in the state Capitol building for weeks. When the mainstream media failed to tell the whole story at the Capitol, he grabbed a camera and got to work. When 700 occupiers were being arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, he was there. When Scott Walker wasn't facing a challenger in the recall primary, thus ensuring that Republicans would cross over to vote for a fake Democrat they had put on the state's primary ballot, Kohl-Riggs, 23, decided to run against him, he says, to maintain electoral integrity. Kohl-Riggs says he's actually the "real Republican" in the race because his platform is in the tradition of the abolitionist, civil-libertarian GOP of yore. 

Since punking Walker into thinking he was talking to his billionaire patron, David Koch, I've kept my eyes trained on the depravity of the Wisconsin GOP. When Kohl-Riggs threw his stovepipe into the ring, I thought, now there's a guy I can endorse. So I did. In our interview, a wide-ranging discussion of God, platypuses, third parties, possibly felonious Republican judges and Walker aides (and possibly the governor himself) under grand jury investigation, Kohl-Riggs proved his mettle as a quipster and political strategist. Part of that strategy has been his participation in an "ask me anything" (AMA) forum on Reddit where Kohl-Riggs has met his critics in some mouse-to-mouse combat.

Ian Murphy: There's a bunch of politicians who pop up on Reddit AMAs, and they say, "Hey, I'm running for this or that," and they don't have a chance in hell. And there was a guy who was critical of you because he felt like he was being pandered to. First, how do you respond to that? And, more specifically, do you have a real chance of affecting the primary outcome?

Arthur Kohl-Riggs: Winning would be -- winning is cool. Winning would be great. And given what we've experienced this last year, crazier things have happened. I mean, a [state] Supreme Court judge choked another judge.

IM: Prosser, right?

AKR: Yes, Judge David Prosser. [Last June,  Ann Bradley, a liberal judge, accused fellow judge David Prosser, a right-wing Republican, of "grabbing her around her neck and putting her in a choke hold during an argument in her chambers," according to the Daily Mail.]

I have personally been arrested for wiggling my fingers while in the Senate gallery. [Finger-wiggling while holding down one's hands is a sign of dissent in the Occupy movement.] [Republican lawmakers] put black plastic sheeting over the windows of the assembly gallery. When people do things they know are illegal, and they want to keep it from the public, they put black plastic sheeting over the windows. That's what murderers do. That's what Dexter does.

IM: Yeah, it's like Walker's kill room.

AKR: Crazier things have happened. The Republican primary turnout is expected to be pretty low, and they're doing such a good job of ignoring me that a lot of [Republicans] don't even know I'm running.

IM: Well, I have seen at least two anonymousattack sitesout thereagainst you. And there was a Facebook page.

AKR: Oh, you saw the "Gaybraham Lincoln" page?

IM: Yeah, that was it.

AKR: Yes, someone -- I think it got reported and taken down, but someone took a lot of time in Photoshop putting my face on, like, different animals having sex, a lot of offensive, homophobic pictures with my face near male genitalia. They made one with me wearing a t-shirt that says "I'd rather be smoking a blunt."

IM: Well, would you rather be smoking a blunt?

AKR: The industrialization of the hemp plant can produce thousands of jobs in Wisconsin.

IM: That's a great political answer. Getting back to the blacked-out windows, you had something to do with that, right?

AKR: Well, myself and others. It was in response to people filming into the galleries from the hallways -- mostly to document people being arrested, for silly reasons like holding a sign or a camera. Otherwise, there's no way to prove how the police conducted themselves. Legally, it's within a citizen's right to film a police officer in a public space, but they're still arresting people.

IM: Yeah.That happened to me. My trial's at the end of May. F*ckers. Whatever. Go on.

AKR: My most recent arrest -- and last week, all the charges were dropped -- was for possessing a camera in the assembly gallery. I wasn't filming, they didn't accuse me of filming, they just said, "You can't have that in there." I protested that because the rules of the gallery are set by leadership, and Robin Vos -- a member of the Republican assembly leadership -- was on record as saying, "You can have your gun, and you can have your camera, you just can't shoot either."

IM: Yeah, and before they blacked out the gallery windows, you got a pretty great video of one Republican defrauding the state --

AKR: Republican Assemblyman Joel Kleefisch. Yes, I recorded him submitting multiple votes on behalf of some of his absent colleagues.

IM: So busted. I saw that footage on "Countdown." Olbermann dubbed Kleefisch that day's "Worst Person in the World."

AKR: Correct.

Fake Democrat v. Real Republican?

IM: Robin Vos beenopenly advocatingthat Republicans cross over in the primary [to vote for whomever they perceive to be the weakest Democrat -- or even a "fake Democrat," such as Gladys Huber, who wasrecruitedby the Wisconsin state Republican Party to run on the Democratic primary ballot]. Wisconsin, as you know, has open primaries. The conventional wisdom has it that Republicans are likely going to vote for the former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk because she polls worse against Walker than Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and she's kind of easy to peg -- whether it's true or not -- as this "Madison Liberal."

AKR: For whatever -- possibly sexist -- reason, Republicans think they have a better chance against Falk than against Barrett. Honestly, I think Walker's doomed no matter who he goes up against.

IM: Well, the polls are close. Thelatest Public Policy Pollingsurvey put Walker a hair above Barrett and a more statistically significant percentage above Falk, while the newMarquette Law pollshows Walker with a 1 percent lead over Barrett, which is well within the margin of error.

AKR: I think it's a matter of the John Doe investigation doing enough damage before the election. ["John Doe investigation" is shorthand for a grand jury probe currently underway in Wisconsin that focuses on several areas of inquiry, including possible misuse of public resources and staff time for political activity, as well as sexually solicitous e-mails to a minor by a Walker aide.] I think any Democrat will beat him. Walker's been touting the same lies long enough, and I think with the increased scrutiny of the general election, the electorate will be presented with the brutal facts. People will realize it's not working. Wisconsin has had the worst jobs record in the country. We're the only state that's had significant job losses over the last year. Our budget is not balanced. We have a projected budget deficit that's larger than when Walker took office and forced through the Budget Repair bill, which ended collective bargaining for most public union employees. That is blatant evidence that it's not working.

IM: But that's his slogan: "It's working." So...it seems like if you've bought into that fantasy, I don't know what can change these people's minds. Wisconsin is pretty polarized right now. There's a lot of crazy coming from the right.

AKR: It's more desperation.

IM: Death throes, then?

AKR: Right. They realize how much is at stake for their backward agenda, and a loss here indicates the direction we're heading, not only in Wisconsin, but nationally. And they're desperate not to lose any of that ground.

IM: Okay, and I realize you don't want to say this, but I need you to talk about how you're messing around with the primary. I understand, as a guy who ran for office, that you want to project this idea that anything can happen -- perfect storm, you could win, and it truly is possible that if enough Democrats cross over, Walker could be out on May 8th.

AKR: Exactly.

IM: But, being more realisticwith the goal of your campaign, isn't it more about keeping Republicans honest -- you know, putting fear into the hearts of Walker supporters that Democrats will cross over for you, his opponent, and get him booted before the general election?

AKR: A service that I see my candidacy providing is that it helps safeguard the integrity of the electoral process. If Walker were to run unopposed, there would be nothing to keep the Republicans from, in this case, even [organizing to vote in the Democratic primary] for Gladys Huber.

IM: She's the fake,GOP-backed "Democrat."

AKR: Yes. And with four candidates on the Democratic ballot, it's possible that Walker supporters could give her a win with a mere 30 percent of the vote. So if Walker has to actually [work to] get his voters out to the polls to support him, hopefully it will help maintain the integrity of the election.

IM: And aside from that, what you're also doing is giving Wisconsin -- and the country by extension -- a little history lesson on the progressive origins of the Republican party.

AKR: A history lesson and, I hope, a little wake-up call. People have this philosophy that they'll only vote Republican or only vote Democrat. It blocks people from, often times, really learning about the individual they're voting for. The letter after your name really means nothing about you. Especially, as I'm trying to highlight, what the Republican Party used to stand for is not at all what it represents now. People tell me, you know, "My dad's been voting Republican for the last 60 years." But it's a blind allegiance to something that's changed radically over that time period.

ALEC and the Fugitive Slave Act

IM: Okay -- the history of the Republican party.

AKR: The Republican party was formed in Wisconsin in 1848. It was during the time of the Fugitive Slave Act. Wisconsin didn't want to participate in that. The Fugitive Slave Act was this compromise between the North and the South where the North agreed to imprison and return "fugitive slaves." (If ALEC [the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council] were around then, they'd have advocated for the Fugitive Slave Act.) Anyway, Wisconsin was like, "No, we don't really want to participate in this." Then there was this slave who was taken into custody and being held while some bounty hunters rode north to retrieve him. And this Wisconsin militia busted down the door to the prison, freed the slave -- the former slave -- and he escaped to Canada. Two days later, several members of that militia came together and officially formed the Republican party. Originally the party fought for civil rights and workers' rights, and they maintained those principles for a surprisingly long time.

IM: Right, arguably up until the Southern Strategy -- give or take, in a sort of morally relative way.

AKR: But it wasn't until recently that there was a radical shift. The party was hijacked and shoved to the right. But we've already talked about that.

IM: Ha! Okay, yeah, without even going back to the progressive roots of Republicanism -- Abe Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Bob La Follette, and those kinds of dudes -- as recently as Reagan, despite the kind of disingenuous Reagan worship we have now, the party more closely resembled what we today would call Democrats. I mean, Barack Obama is this sort of Reagan Republican.

AKR: Exactly.

IM: And the Republicans are just -- but, you know, don't get me wrong: Reagan was a massive sh*t.

AKR:  Right. But he'd be ridiculed as a RINO [Republican In Name Only] today -- a fake.

IM: Yeah, if he ran today, he'd be a Democrat. It shows how insane the Republican party has gotten.

AKR: It also shows how vulnerable the democratic process is to money -- corporate influence.

IM: Right, the whole goddamn thing's for sale.

On Politics and Money 

AKR: And that brings me back to my campaign. I have not, and will not, solicit out-of-state donations.

IM: I like the idea that a group like Americans for Prosperity isbacking Walkerfor his dance moves.

AKR: In addition, I'm not accepting donations over $100. In this race, individuals can donate up to $10,000 to the gubernatorial race. That's too much.

IM: And due to a crazy loophole, from the time recall petitions started circulating to the time they were all tallied and certified, there was no limit on what individuals could give.

AKR: Right, there was about a three-month period where Walker collected unlimited moneys. There were, I think, six people who gave over $250,000 each. And we haven't even seen the latest reports.

IM: Yeah, [former Republican presidential candidate Rick] Santorum's sugar daddy, Foster Friess, cut two checks for Walker for $250,000 each. And that's just one guy. It's estimated he could raise $70 million.

AKR: I've spent about $400 on my campaign so far, and most of that is printing.

IM: So back to the two-party system: what do you think?

AKR: The two-party system actively suppresses dissent.

IM: You don't need to tell my Green Party ass.

AKR: You're pressured by society to vote for the major parties, and vilified for voting for third parties.

IM: Right. No one wants to get Nadered.

On Climate Change, Thunder Dome and Love-Making

AKR: That was how I actually was introduced to the Koch brothers -- all those many millions they've spent on misinforming the public about global warming.

IM: And then they make a killing trading carbon credits in Europe, too. But, you know, Al Gore's fat, so global warming is a hoax. Okay, forget elections. We're going Thunder Dome. Man-to-man combat. You versus Scott Walker. To the death. Who wins?

AKR: I'm all about reach and agility. I think I could run circles around him, and keep him well beyond an arm's reach away from me. I would wear him out, tire him down, and then send him out of the ring because I subscribe to a philosophy of nonviolence. I'd tire him out; he'd curl up for a nap.

IM: Art Kohl-Riggs makes love not war, so who wins in a lovemaking contest between you and Scott Walker?

AKR: Scott Walker's never really struck me as a very compassionate person. I can't imagine him being very caring or thoughtful, so as far as lovemaking goes, I would tally that one up in Team Art. No question.

On God and Family

IM: So Scott Walker's the son of a preacher who's used religion to manipulate people. Do you believe in God?

AKR: There are a lot of questions. Caterpillars. Platypuses. And when I try to think about them, it ends up hurting my head.

IM: So, agnostic then.

AKR: That's fair.

IM: I mentioned in the Facebook group that we might want to do this ultra-cynical “I'm more in line with the teachings of Jesus than the preacher's son” kind of messaging. Kind of awful, but also true. Anyway, someone e-mailed me to say that they thought you were Jewish. So are you? Jewish?

AKR:  The rumors are true. I am, in fact, a Jew.

IM: So you're related to Sen. Herb Kohl, the U.S. senator from Wisconsin, right?

AKR: We actually grew up together. He just hasn't aged very well.

IM: Hard living. That's sad.

AKR: No, as far as I know, there's no relation. During the occupation of the Capitol, a lot of cops would ask me that, and I found it advantageous to be sort of ambiguous with my answer. But, no.

Sweet-Tooth Security

IM: So...anything else you want to talk about?

AKR: Sure. I want to address a question I received on Facebook. Someone asked: "Arthur, as details of your former post to elected office have emerged, I've wondered: if elected, will you institute a Capitol cookie day?" My first year as president of my high school student body, I implemented a school-wide cookie day. I think it was monthly. It essentially was me buying a bunch of cookies from our school cafeteria and distributing them to the students. I also read the announcements every day.

IM: Nerd.

AKR: So I'd read the announcements, and then I'd announce it's cookie day, and people would run up to the doors and we'd give them cookies.

IM: So you basically want to create this socialist, European-style cradle-to-grave cookie entitlement system.

AKR: I think there are certain things that are inalienable rights that everyone deserves and, um, periodically enjoying a tasty treat is one of those rights.