Wisconsin Gov. Walker Accuses Sen. Miller Of Torpedoing Labor Negotiations
After three weeks of political turmoil and protests in Wisconsin over the collective bargaining rights of public employees, Governor Scott Walker claimed Monday that he was close to making a deal with key state Democrats to return to the state.
Standing in his way, Walker said, is Democratic Sen. Mark Miller.
"For the last several weeks, Sen. Fitzgerald and my administration have been reaching out to reasonable senators, many of whom are very interested and willing to come back to the state of Wisconsin," Walker said at a press conference. "Time and again, the person standing in the way of making that possible is Sen. Mark Miller."
Although Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the state Senate, the state constitution requires a quorum of 20 senators for all finance-related bills.
Walker needs at least one more Democrat to show up reach a quorum.
Fitzgerald said at the conference that he had spoken with the lead Democratic negotiators – state Senators Tim Cullen and Bob Jauch – about returning to Wisconsin over the weekend, but that those negotiations did not include the Senate Minority Leader.
"At no time did Senator Miller become a part of those discussions,” Fitzgerald said at the Monday press conference, adding that he believed, along with the governor, that he could convince five of the fourteen Democratic Senators on hiatus to return to Wisconsin and carry out the vote on Walker’s “budget-repair” bill.
While 14 Democratic Senators from Wisconsin are seen as standing up for labor rights across the country, Gov. Walker is being exalted for his unwavering dedication to solving the state’s budget problems.
The result is an incredibly polarized political arena, according to political science professor Charles Franklin of the University of Wisconsin.
“The current political issue is, how does either side find an accommodation or compromise without bitterly disappointing their supporters?” Franklin said.
Franklin said polling over the weekend showed that 90 percent of Democratic voters disapproved of Walker’s job as governor, whereas 90 percent of Republicans were pleased with his work. An expert on political polling, elections and public opinion, Franklin believes that the political polarization in Wisconsin continues to force elected officials to negotiate behind closed doors to avoid disappointing their supporters.
“As long as they continue private negotiations, we won’t really have a clear idea of what’s happening,” Franklin said. “[However, Walker] did say he would release all emails after an agreement has been reached.”
The current standstill stems from Walker’s firm stance on revoking state public employee's collective bargaining rights – or the method in which employees and employers negotiate the conditions of employment. His position sparked massive labor protests over the past few weeks across Wisconsin, which have seen as many as 100,000 demonstrators at the state’s capitol in Madison.
According to Walker, the proposed “public employee bill” would save Wisconsin $300 million over the next two years.
Conflicting reports from a Sunday Wall Street Journal article claimed that Democrats were ready to return from exile soon.
However, Sen. John Erpenbach (D-WI) said his contingent has no desire to return to Madison unless Walker agrees to take collective bargaining out of the budget repair bill.
"I think what [Sen.] Mark [Miller] was trying to get across is something we've been saying from the beginning, that we're going to come back eventually, and we're going to be voting on something, whether it's the original proposal or the changes the governor agrees on," Erpenbach said.
Walker also dismissed a letter by Sen. Miller on behalf of the state Democrats to meet on the Illinois boarder to negotiate the conditions of their return as “ridiculous” at the press conference.
Miller released his letter to Walker to the media early Monday and can viewed here.
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