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Who is Diane Hendricks?

The billionaire Walker's speaking to in the "divide and conquer" video, and much more.

diane-hendricksShe’s one of two donors who dropped $500,000 on Walker earlier this year. As such, she holds the state record for the largest donation ever given to a gubernatorial candidate. (The other $500,000 came from Texas conservative funder Bob Perry.)  She owns the Beloit-based ABC Supply Co., a wholesale roofing and siding supplier with 400+ locations around the country. She ranks 188th on the Forbes 400, with an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion. She has seven children, many of whom work for ABC Supply, and oversees a couple dozen more companies under Hendricks Holding Co. She’s the widow of Ken Hendricks, whom became her business partner soon after they started dating; they founded ABC Supply in 1982. She had grown up on a dairy farm, and he was a roofing contractor. On their first date, Ken asked to eat the rest of another customer’s sandwich, according to Inc. magazine. The writer of said profile, which ran in 2006, says Diane offered some of her leftover pizza to another group of diners (three strangers) while meeting with her during her reporting. Diane is frugal.

In 2007, Ken died after falling from a roof at a construction site, but Diane’s star has only continued to rise. Like Ken, whom Tommy Thompson called one of America’s “finest sons,” Diane has contributed heavily to Republican candidates. She’s also funded the Beloit International Film Festival, bankrolled some feature-length films with conservative messages, invested heavily in downtown Beloit, and sits on the Republican National Committee. When George W. and Laura Bush made an unannounced visit to Wisconsin in late 2010, they parked their jet in ABC Supply’s private hangar, lunched with Diane and met some of the company’s employees. (News accounts speculated the visit had something to do with Diane’s support for the George W. Bush Institute think tank.) And she attended the Koch Brothers’ Summer Seminar, a hot ticket for Republican high-rollers, in 2011 – a few months after running into newly-inaugurated Gov. Scott Walker in Janesville.

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As coincidence would have it, a documentary filmmaker, Brad Lichtenstein, had a camera running nearby and captured this exchange, as most everyone has read by now …

“Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions?” Hendricks asks, after greeting Walker with a hug.

“Oh yeah,” he says.

“… and become a right-to-work?”

“In fact, the … ”

“What can we do to help you?”

“Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions.”

“Right.”

“Because [indecipherable, has been widely interpreted as ‘you’ but could also be ‘use’] divide and conquer.”

A month later, Walker’s administration introduced the contentious Budget Repair Bill that eventually stripped public employees in the state of most of their bargaining rights, sent 14 Senate Democrats running for the hills, brought a small world of protesters down on the State Capitol, etc.

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