Walker, Democrats won’t meet
Wis. politicians blame each other over stalemate
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats who fled the state nearly three weeks ago asked yesterday for a meeting with Governor Scott Walker to talk about changes to his plan to eliminate most public workers’ union rights, a request the governor dismissed as “ridiculous.’’
Walker said he and his administration have been in communication with at least a couple of the absent Senate Democrats about a deal that could bring them back, but the lawmaker who asked for the meeting, Senate minority leader Mark Miller, “is firmly standing in the way.’’
That accusation led to a flurry of angry responses from Democrats who said Walker was misrepresenting the talks. The sometimes-angry exchange suggested that any resolution to the stalemate was farther away than ever.
“Right now, I’m so damn mad at his misrepresentation of the truth and the public should be as well,’’ said Senator Bob Jauch, one of two Democrats who had talked last week with the Senate Republican leader about possible compromises. “Trust is completely broken down now. I don’t believe anything he says.’’
The standoff has drawn national attention and placed Wisconsin at the center a vigorous debate over the future of union rights. Walker’s proposal to balance the state budget remains in limbo because, without the 14 Democrats, the state Senate does not have enough members present for a quorum.
The senators said pressure is mounting on Walker and the GOP to compromise after weeks of protests that have drawn tens of thousands of people to the Capitol.
In addition, polls show substantial opposition to the governor and his plan, and recall efforts have been launched against Republican senators. Recall efforts have also begun against the Democrats.
“The problem for the Democrats is to figure out how to come back and not be seen as conceding,’’ said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor and founder of Pollster.com.
Walker tried to place blame for the stalemate on Miller, the Democratic leader in the Senate, saying he blocked progress on talks with Jauch and Senator Tim Cullen. “It leads you to question who’s in charge,’’ Walker said at a news conference also attended by the Republican leaders of the Senate and Assembly.
Miller issued a statement saying if Walker didn’t want to talk with him, the governor could meet with any of the 14 Senate Democrats. And Democratic Senator Jon Erpenbach said it was Walker who was standing in the way.
Before Walker refused the meeting request, Democrats were talking more openly about the need to return sooner rather than later.
“I don’t think anyone expects us to stay here forever,’’ Jauch said in a telephone interview from Illinois.
Walker’s proposal would remove most collective bargaining rights for public employees, except over wage increases no greater than inflation. Police and fire departments would be the only exemptions. The legislation would also require state workers to start paying more for their pension and health care benefits starting in April, which amounts to an 8 percent pay cut on average.
The unions have agreed to the pay concessions as long as they can retain their bargaining rights. Over the past three weekends, rallies at the Capitol in opposition to the bill have grown as large as 80,000 people.
Since last week, Miller has been talking about the importance of returning to oppose Walker’s larger budget bill, which cuts about $1 billion from public schools and local governments to close a projected $3.6 billion shortfall. “I don’t think a lot of us have the stomach to stay away and watch our state plummet off a cliff,’’ Democratic Senator Chris Larson said.