Tag Archives: Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

‘Regulatory vacuum’ exposes Wisconsin children to lead in drinking water at schools, day care centers

Almost two weeks into the school year, Melissa Corrigan got an email from the principal and superintendent of her daughters’ elementary school. Water from four West Middleton Elementary School faucets taken Sept. 1, the first day of school, had tested high for levels of lead or copper. As a safety precaution, the school would provide bottled water to students until the issue was resolved.

Corrigan — whose daughters Brooklyn and Carly are in first and fourth grades — thought little of the news, partly because the email told parents of the school west of Madison that it was “highly unlikely” that the water was unsafe to drink.

But West Middleton’s results were high — one faucet had more than six times the federal action level of 15 parts per billion of lead and nearly 19 times the federal action level of 1,300 ppb of copper. Samples from nine of the 10 faucets showed a presence of lead.

Any amount of lead can cause permanent brain damage, including reduced intelligence and behavioral problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Infants and children are considered the most vulnerable to lead’s negative effects.

Fresh evidence of the risk of lead poisoning at school surfaced Friday when Milwaukee Public Schools revealed that testing found dangerous levels of lead in 183 drinking water fountains, including at locations hosting early childhood programs. The months-long testing program involved 3,000 water fountains at 191 school district buildings. The district said it had shut down and plans to replace the fountains that tested at or above the federal action level of 15 ppb, even though “federal and state regulations do not require schools to test drinking water.”

The district failed to respond to repeated questions since mid-November from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism about whether water at the schools was being tested for lead, and calls and an email to district spokespeople Friday were not immediately returned. The testing began in June.

Efforts to protect Wisconsin children in schools and day care centers from lead in their water have fallen short on several fronts, the Center has found. Among the problems uncovered by the Center in documents and interviews:

There is a lack of testing for lead in drinking water consumed by children while away from home. Federal regulations enforced by the state of Wisconsin do not require most schools or day care centers to test at all. A 2016 USA Today investigation found that an estimated 90 percent of schools nationally are not required to test their water.

There has been confusion over proper lead testing procedures at some schools, day care centers and public water systems in Wisconsin, as the Center has reported. This year, the state Department of Natural Resources waited nine months to send an official notice to public water system operators that the EPA had updated its testing recommendations in response to flaws uncovered by Flint, Michigan’s lead-in-water crisis.

Lead service lines, a significant source of lead in drinking water, continue to provide water to hundreds of schools and day care centers around Wisconsin. In other communities, officials are not sure how many schools and day cares have lead pipes.

Because of West Middleton’s rural Dane County location, the school has its own well and is among the minority of schools that must comply with some of the same testing requirements as municipal water systems. Lead generally makes its way into water not at the water plant but as it travels through service lines and indoor plumbing, all of which could contain lead.

Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District Superintendent George Mavroulis said after learning of the testing results, the school immediately shut off drinking water and consulted with a private testing company and a liaison from the DNR.

Two weeks after the initial test, the K-4 school with 400 students had the same faucets — and three water fountains — tested again. The levels of lead and copper returned to below the action level, and students and staff were again allowed to use the water.

“We tried to do everything in our power to make sure everyone was safe,” Mavroulis said.

The school has since replaced two faucets and plans to replace two more over winter break, he said. Perry Hibner, the district’s spokesman, believed two human errors caused the school’s initial water samples to be high in lead and copper: not flushing the system beforehand, as the DNR suggests after long periods of non-use like summer break, and removing the aerators from the faucets, which allowed a higher than normal water flow.

Subsequent samples were taken after one hour of flushing and six hours of non-use.

The EPA issued new nationwide guidance in February clarifying that public water systems should not remove aerators or flush systems before sampling to avoid masking the level of lead in the water. DNR spokesman Jim Dick said West Middleton was in a “unique situation” because of its failure to previously flush the school’s system after the water had been stagnant for an extended period of time.

Going forward, however, the district will need to conduct two rounds of testing in the next year to assure the water is safe — and follow all of the appropriate sampling methods, he said.

After reviewing West Middleton’s test results, Yanna Lambrinidou, a Virginia Tech University researcher who helped train Flint researchers, said telling parents a health risk was highly unlikely was “a stunningly irresponsible statement, especially after Flint.”

Said Lambrinidou: “There is no safe level of lead in drinking water.”

All licensed day care centers in Wisconsin are required to identify and mitigate dangers from lead paint, but only centers that use private wells are required to eliminate lead hazards in drinking water, according to Joe Scialfa, spokesman for the state Department of Children and Families.

The USA Today investigation found that among schools and day care centers that are required to test, Wisconsin recorded the fourth-highest number of lead exceedances, with 24 between 2012 and 2015.

Lead in small doses dangerous

Exposure to even small amounts of lead can cause permanent damage. A 2012 study of nearly 4,000 fourth-graders in Milwaukee showed that those with elevated levels of lead — even below what is considered dangerous — scored significantly lower on reading and math tests than those without elevated blood-lead levels.

The Center reported in February that at least 176,000 homes and businesses in Wisconsin receive water from lead service lines, which can account for 50 to 75 percent of lead contamination in tap water.

Milwaukee says it has removed lead service lines leading to all of its public school buildings. Madison is thought to be the first city in the nation to remove all lead service lines from its water utility service area.

Milwaukee plans to focus $2.6 million from a new $14.5 million DNR program to begin replacing lead service lines leading to 384 licensed day care centers and 12 private schools in the city. In the meantime, the Milwaukee Health Department has advised those centers to reduce lead exposure by flushing water before using it and consider using only filtered or bottled water for preparing formula.

An additional 17 Wisconsin communities ranging from Antigo to Waterloo plan to use money from the program to replace lead service lines leading to their schools and day care centers.

School officials in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts also have found high lead levels in the drinking water at hundreds of schools.

And day care centers — where infants could be fed baby formula made with tap water or toddlers could eat food cooked in lead-laden water — are of particular concern.

Rep. LaTonya Johnson, a Democrat from Milwaukee, operated a day care business out of her 90-year-old home for several years before running for public office. She recently spent $10,000 to replace corroded pipes throughout her northwest side house, which is served by lead service lines.

Johnson said she used a cooler to provide water to children in her care, but not every day care provider does.

“I’m sure people use sink water,” she said. “It’s right there.”

A ‘regulatory vacuum’

In the Lead Contamination Control Act, the EPA recommends that schools test water at each cold water tap — although no frequency is mentioned — share abnormal results with the public and take action to remediate any problems. But these are not requirements.

News investigations have shown that administrators in Newark, New Jersey, Portland, Oregon and Ithaca, New York knew about lead in water at schools for several months or years before the findings became public. Lambrinidou, the Virginia Tech researcher, and others decried the “regulatory vacuum” surrounding water testing in schools in a 2010 paper titled Failing Our Children.

“If you’re a parent … it’s better to know that they’re not doing much than to have false comfort that the schools are taking care of them,” Lambrinidou said.

School leaders mixed on lead mandate

A Center survey of all 424 Wisconsin school district superintendents revealed a mixture of attitudes toward identifying and mitigating lead hazards. Most chose not to complete the survey at all.

The 47 respondents were split on whether there should be a statewide requirement that all public schools test their water for lead. While some do test — either voluntarily or because they have private wells — others said paying for testing is simply not an option.

A Fox 6 News investigation in May surveyed the 10 largest school districts in southeastern Wisconsin, asking if they had tested their schools for lead. Six answered; all said “No.”

Jon Bales, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, said most of his members support water testing. But if it identifies lead hazards that require costly remediation, he said, “We feel like there ought to be some federal support and state support to do that.”

When officials at Riverside Elementary School east of Wausau discovered that lead from pipes in its foundation was leaching into the water, they opted to remove the school’s drinking fountains entirely. Assistant Superintendent Jack Stoskopf said the school relies on a filtration system for tap water and has spent about $1,000 a month over the past 10 years on bottled drinking water.

“That’s far less expensive than tearing up the foundation of the school and tearing up the pipes,” he said.

Crystal Wozniak, who lives in Green Bay with her 4-year-old son Casheous, said she tried to avoid lead in drinking water when deciding where he would attend preschool. Casheous was lead poisoned when he was 9 months old, possibly from paint.

“The water at a school may be more harmful because they’re ingesting the water, and the food there is made with the water,” she said. “All the kids aren’t necessarily going around licking the walls, but they’re drinking the water.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Wisconsin schools, day care centers slated for lead service line removal under new DNR program

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources launched a $14.5 million program to help “disadvantaged municipalities” replace lead service lines. Of the 38 recipients, 18 communities, including Milwaukee, planned to use at least some of the money to replace lead lines leading to schools and day care centers.

Below is a list of the communities and the estimated number of schools or day care centers with lead service lines slated for replacement under this program:

Antigo — 4 of 4

Ashland — 5 of 5

Clintonville — 2 of 10

Eagle River — 10 of 10

Town of Florence — 2 of 10

Manitowoc — 15 of 15

Marshfield — 10 of 20

Milwaukee — 400 of 400

Monroe — 5 of 5

Mosinee — 2 of 2

Park Falls — 5 of 5

Platteville — 2 of 2

Princeton — 4 of 4

Randolph — 5 of 5

St. Francis — 2 of 5

Sheboygan — 11 of 11

Stratford — 4 of 4

Waterloo — 3 of 3

 

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Concerns linger over ‘transitory’ records in Wisconsin

The last six months have been a roller coaster for Wisconsin’s open records law. After the Legislature’s failed attack on the law over the Independence Day holiday, August brought a new threat.

A little-known state board expanded the definition of “transitory records,” which can be immediately destroyed. Once this action was revealed, there was an impressive outcry from the public and that change was dialed back last month. But there is still cause for concern.

The state Public Records Board sets retention schedules for state and local government records. Retention is important—if records aren’t retained, they can’t be requested and obtained by the public. State law makes retention the rule, and records can be disposed of only if the Public Records Board grants permission. The board’s mandate is to “safeguard the legal, financial and historical interests of the state in public records.”         

But in 2010, the board made the questionable decision to allow immediate deletion of some correspondence. Such “transitory records” were deemed of such temporary value as to not require any retention. State agency employees could simply delete these records after they were created, without any further oversight.

On Aug. 24, 2015, the board held a meeting and expanded the transitory records category. Now it included not just correspondence, but other documents such as “interim files” and “recordings used for training purposes.”

The board’s meeting notice and minutes contained no indication of this change, later prompting the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council to file an Open Meetings complaint with the district attorney. The day after the new definition was passed, the Walker administration notified the Wisconsin State Journal that records it previously requested had already been destroyed as “transitory.”

News outlets then reported the Public Record Board’s actions, and the reaction was swift. Critics said the change undermined the records law and the public’s right to know, inviting abuse. They pointed out that records the board defined as “transitory” were actually of significant public interest.  There were also concerns that whole categories of electronic communications would be deleted as “transitory.” The Public Records Board was flooded with nearly 1,900 emails.

Fortunately, the board listened. At a meeting in January, it rescinded its August decision to expand the definition of “transitory records.”

But the danger has not passed. The old, 2010 definition of “transitory records” is still in place. Records custodians can still immediately delete some correspondence. Comments from board members in January suggested they are resistant to eliminating this category, despite state law suggesting that no records can be instantly deleted. Board president Matt Blessing said the issue would be revisited at a future meeting.  The board next convenes on March 7.

Another positive step is a bill being circulated by Democratic lawmakers that would create penalties for destroying public records. As Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca observed, “There’s no recourse if agencies destroy records.” The bill would shore up existing provisions in the law that deter premature destruction of public records.

Let’s hope one or both of these potential fixes advance. Otherwise, Wisconsin’s weak records retention requirements will continue to undermine the public’s right to know.

Christa Westerberg is an attorney at Bender Westerberg LLC in Madison, and co-vice president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.


Critics: Proposed bill limiting exotic pet ownership in Wisconsin falls short of goal

Thirty minutes outside the Wisconsin Dells’ maze of flumes, rollercoasters, go-kart tracks and the duck boats plying the Wisconsin River, Jasmine is something of a minor local celebrity.

“I go to the pharmacy at ShopKo here in town and (people are) always, ‘Where’s Jasmine? Bring her in to see us!’” said her caretaker, Melanie Nawrot, 36, whose small capuchin monkey lives with her family in the city of Adams. “We go on the lake with her, a lot of 4-H clubs and Boy Scouts come and see her.”

Jasmine has been under the care of Nawrot since she was two days old after being rejected by her mother. Jasmine, who could live to be 45 years old, might outlive her, and Narwot said she has made provisions for the family’s pet in her will.

But Jasmine is also a wild animal. Owning a monkey, or almost any other nonnative animal species, is currently legal in Wisconsin. It is among five states — Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina are the others — that have no bans on owning “dangerous” exotic animals.

A bipartisan measure making its way through the state Legislature would change that. Senate Bill 241 would ban ownership, breeding and sale of  “dangerous” exotic animals, including non-native big cats, non-native bears, apes and crocodilians. A companion measure, Assembly Bill 333, also has been introduced.

Exotic pets not affected by the proposal include venomous snakes and constrictors, monkeys (including baboons) and marsupials, such as kangaroos.

Current owners of banned pets, such as tigers, lions and chimpanzees, would be allowed to keep their animals under the bill. Veterinarians, accredited and municipal zoos, circuses, federally licensed research facilities and wildlife sanctuaries also would be exempt, as would Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

Owners who violate the law would be subject to a $1,000 fine. If a dangerous exotic pet caused property damage or attacked someone, the owner could face a $2,000 fine.

The ban would not affect Melanie Nawrot or Jasmine, nor would it prohibit Nawrot from keeping her other exotic pets — a ring-tailed lemur and a pair of marmosets, another type of monkey.

And, as far as Nawrot can tell, SB 241 also would not immediately threaten Monkey Mommy LLC, the business through which she breeds, sells and offers monkeys for hire at special events and educational programs. Nawrot holds a dealer’s license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nonetheless, Nawrot opposes the legislation. She said local governments in Wisconsin can and sometimes do pass their own regulations, and that is good enough.

“I personally think we’ve been doing a really good job in Wisconsin with exotic animal owners,” she said, adding, “Why fix something that’s not broken?” 

Bill, changes debated

SB 241, proposed by Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, was the subject of a hearing Oct. 1. The most passionate testimony centered on a not-yet-introduced amendment that some argued would weaken the bill.

The amendment would remove a provision that forbids members of the public from coming into direct contact with dangerous exotics, and exempt members of the Zoological Association of America as well as people and facilities licensed by the USDA.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported in August about lax and fragmented oversight of exotic animal owners in Wisconsin, including by the USDA.

Three of the 15 speakers testified against the bill, including the executive director of the ZAA, the park director of Wisconsin’s only ZAA-accredited zoo, and a nonprofit reptile rescue and educational group. Out of those three, both ZAA-affiliated speakers said they would support the legislation if the amendment were added.

The 12 speakers testifying in favor of the bill included the owner of a big cat rescue organization, a wildlife rehabilitator, a veterinary assistant, animal advocates and zoo directors.

Even some proponents warned, however, that the measure contains loopholes that would make enforcement difficult. Some also told the committee that the proposed changes would gut the bill, leaving the state’s lenient approach to exotic animals largely intact. One speaker, Renee Benell of Fitchburg, questioned why other species such as snakes and monkeys were not included in the ban.

Dean Collins, Brookfield’s assistant police chief, told lawmakers the law would be “unenforceable” because it does not authorize officers to arrest owners who violate it. Collins also said unless the bill is amended to create a statewide database of animals, authorities will not be able to determine the owners of animals that escape or are released.

The amendment to exempt certain licensees and allow public contact with dangerous exotics has not been formally introduced yet, said Valirie Maxim, a Wanggaard staffer. The senator’s chief of staff, Scott Kelly, said the bill likely will get a vote near the end of October in the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Wanggaard has said the measure was partially inspired by reports of a lion-like creature near Milwaukee, thought to be an escaped or released exotic pet and a 2013 incident in which police and the Racine Zoo discovered rattlesnakes, alligators, crocodiles, a snapping turtle and a Gila monster in a Kenosha home.

Push for stricter bill

Melissa Tedrowe, the Wisconsin state director for the Humane Society of the United States, attended the hearing and said she hopes to work with lawmakers to refine elements of SB 241, particularly its grandfather clause.

Under the bill, people who owned dangerous exotic animals at the time the bill went to effect could keep their pets, but would be required to pay a fee and register the animals with their municipality. Enforcement of the law would be the responsibility of local governments, and owners would be required to notify local authorities if their dangerous exotic pet escaped.

Tedrowe recommended that in cases in which existing exotic pets are grandfathered in, Wisconsin lawmakers should require owners to have a minimum five acres of land, have at least two years’ experience caring for such an animal or pass a written exam on caring for the species.

Tedrowe also said lawmakers should require exotic pet owners exempted under the grandfather clause to carry liability insurance in case the animal harms anyone or causes damage. In addition, she suggested any owner of a “dangerous” exotic pet be at least 21 years old and that all such pets be microchipped “unless a veterinarian says it’s not a good idea.”

Chuck Wikenhauser, director of the Milwaukee County Zoo, said in an interview that he was surprised to find out lawmakers were already considering an amendment. On behalf of all five Wisconsin zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Wikenhauser testified in favor of the bill but against the proposed amendment to allow people to come in contact with the animals and exempt those with licenses from the USDA or accreditation through the ZAA.

“A lot of roadside zoos or zoos that are less than adequate as far as their ability to manage animals with modern zoological standards have USDA licenses, and it doesn’t necessarily qualify them or make them prime candidates to home some of these dangerous exotic animals,” Wikenhauser said.

The Milwaukee zoo belongs to the AZA, an organization that Wikenhauser, who chairs the group’s accreditation commission, said has been the professional standard recognized by the federal and state governments for many years. Members of that organization, including the Racine Zoo (Wanggaard is a board member), are already exempt under SB 241.

But Zoological Association of America executive director Alan Smith, who opposes the bill unless it is amended, said in an email that “there are really no important differences” in terms of animal welfare and public safety between facilities accredited by the two associations. The ZAA lists Wildwood Wildlife Park and Nature Center in Minocqua, which is also licensed by the USDA, as its only Wisconsin member.

But Wikenhauser said broadening the exemption “waters down the bill.”

“If (the bill) is amended to include all of that,” he said, “I don’t think it’s going to accomplish what (lawmakers) had hoped it would.”

This is the latest installment in the series “Exotic and exploited?”, which examines Wisconsinites’ relationships with exotic animals and efforts to regulate them. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Banned or not banned?

Senate Bill 241 and Assembly Bill 333 would ban the breeding, sale and ownership of certain

“dangerous” exotic animals in Wisconsin in some instances. But some dangerous animals are already banned, and others would be allowed under the measure.

Would be banned: “Dangerous” exotic animals

Lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, Sunda clouded leopards, cheetahs, big cat hybrids, Asiatic black bears, brown bears, polar bears, sloth bears, sun bears, giant panda bears, spectacled bears, bear hybrids, gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gibbons, alligators, crocodiles and caimans could not be kept as pets.

Already banned: Wildlife native to Wisconsin

Under existing state law, native wildlife, species deemed “harmful,” and endangered or threatened species cannot be kept as pets. The list of species currently banned include white-tailed deer, mink, badgers, wild and feral swine, cougars, black bears, raccoon, weasels, striped skunk, Canadian lynx, gray wolves, bobcats, red foxes and Northern river otters.

Not banned: Other exotic animals

Boa constrictors, anacondas, ball pythons, capuchin monkeys, marmosets, baboons, mandrills, macaques, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, chameleons, iguanas, geckos, bearded dragons, sugar gliders, chinchillas, lemurs, sloths, kangaroos, wallabies and zebras could continue to be kept as pets.

Iron mine is halted, but battle scars remain

In late 2011, Bill Williams stood on a ridge in the Penokee Hills, overlooking his company’s proposed site for a $1.5 billion iron ore mine. A reporter asked him about the environmental challenges posed by such a project.

Williams, president of Gogebic Taconite, batted the concern away. If a problem should arise, he told the reporter, “We have to engineer our way out of it.”

In late February, Williams announced that his company was dropping plans for the northern Wisconsin mine for now, saying the environmental challenges proved too great. That drew the mother of all “I told you sos” from Bob Jauch, a former Democratic state senator whose district included the mine site.

“I always had the impression that this company was not ready for this project,” Jauch says. He says it was focused more on the political process than on the challenges posed by the mine itself. And he rips Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers for having “genuflected to (the company) in blind obedience” to pass a mining bill that weakened state environmental protections.

Jauch says the bruising political battle over the mining bill “tore the community apart. It pitted neighbor versus neighbor. It destroyed relationships. And for what? All to come to the conclusion that this thing was never feasible in the first place.”

Tracy Hames, executive director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, says it was abundantly apparent that the number and quality of wetlands on the proposed mine site would be practically impossible to mitigate, as required under state and federal law. “This is an unbelievably special place.”

George Meyer, former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, agrees the wetland challenges and potential complications due to Native American treaty rights likely doomed the project from the start. Meyer now heads the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, which did not oppose the mine but fought the changes to the mining law.

In March 2012, the Legislature’s effort to retool this law failed when then-Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, refused to go along. In that fall’s elections, Republicans increased their control of the state Senate to 18-15, enough to overcome Schultz’s opposition. The bill passed in March 2013.

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign tallied more than $15 million in donations to state political campaigns from pro-mining forces between 2010 and mid-2012. Groups on both sides spent more than 14,000 hours lobbying on the mining bills between 2011 and 2014. And Gogebic Taconite funneled $700,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which helped Walker and other Republicans in the 2011 and 2012 recall elections.

Walker’s 2013 State of the State speech featured out-of-work union miners in hard hats representing some of the thousands of jobs he said the mine would bring. Now the promise of those jobs has evaporated, and the state is left with weakened protections.

“I think the credibility of the Legislature took a major hit, as did the governor,” Meyer says.

Williams told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that while his company had good relations with regulators under Walker, “there is probably still a subculture at the DNR, for lack of a better word, that is green.” He and Walker also blamed federal wetlands mitigation requirements; but these were in place earlier, when both were aglow with optimism about the mine.

Gogebic Taconite says it will continue to look into the possibility of a mine. And while declining prices for iron ore make that unlikely in the near future, Ashland County Board member Charles Ortman told the Ashland Daily Press this prospect is “never really gone for good, not until that pile of ore is gone.” He worries that there will now be a push to relax federal rules.

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” he said, “but we saw what happened here, and the same

man who made that happen is now running for president.”

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight. The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.


Walker acknowledges ‘stupid’ behavior

In an interview with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker uncharacteristically expressed remorse over major missteps he’s made since taking office last January.

“If I could do this all over again, I’d spend more time in January and February making a case,” Walker said in the interview. “I just kind of came in and said, ‘OK, here’s the problem, here’s the solution, I’ll just go fix it.’ And I didn’t spend a lot of time building up a communications effort to explain … the reasons why.”

Walker was referring specifically to his so-called “Budget Repair Bill,” which eliminated nearly all collective bargaining rights for public employees. Walker now faces a likely recall over that move combined with his slashing of public education and healthcare funding and his voter photo ID bill, which makes it more difficult for traditionally Democratic constituencies to vote.

The recall election will probably be held in June, according to a consensus of published reports.

The most surprising part of the conversation with interviewer Bill Lueders was Walker’s expression of remorse over a phone call he took from a prankster pretending to be corporate-right billionaire David Koch. Koch and his various political front groups are among Walker’s most generous donors. Koch Industries is seeking to do a lot of business with the state.

The conversation, which was posted on the Internet and went viral, includes Walker bragging about his refusal to negotiate with Democrats and his consideration of a plan to plant unruly demonstrators among the tens of thousands protesting him at the Capitol.

In the conversation, Walker called his actions “stupid.”

“(The call) diverted attention from a debate that needed to be focused on the facts and instead got off into this hysteria and everything. … I was duped … that I would go off and talk about stuff like that, yeah it was stupid.”

The governor called the experience “a pretty good reality check for me.” He said it showed the importance of keeping the focus on his agenda and “not about what people think about me personally.”