Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tension Explode Between Wisconsin Governor and Democrats

The impasse in the Wisconsin State Senate led to a firestorm of words Monday between Governor Scott Walker, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Senate Minority leader Mark Miller. The reaction resulted from a letter Miller sent to Governor Walker suggesting they meet to find a compromise solution to the problem. Citing instances of mismanagement on Miller's part, the Governor would have none of it.

“For the last several weeks both 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, and time and time again the person standing in the way of making that possible is Sen. Mark Miller,” Walker shot him down during a press conference on Monday.

The letter, sent by Miller on Monday morning, plainly asks for the two legislative leaders to meet together to end the stalemate created by the disappearance of the 14 Senate Democrats who fled the State on February 17.

"Over the past several weeks we have witnessed an unprecedented public debate in Wisconsin over the value of

Public workers and the importance of collective bargaining rights," the letter begins. "I write today to offer to meet, in-person,

as soon as possible to resume discussions on how we reach a bipartisan solution to our differences on the January

2011 Special Session Senate and Assembly Bill 11."

"It really leads to a question of who's in charge," Walker further said of the Senate Dems in the press conference where he was accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald fired off his own response to Miller in which he also excoriated the absent Senate Minority Leader.

"Thank you for your hand-delivered letter with an offer to meet, in Illinois, about the business and future direction of Wisconsin. Let’s set aside how bizarre that is for a moment," Fitzgerald's letter began. "As you know, this legislation is designed to finally balance the state budget, prevent layoffs and create jobs in the real world. There are hundreds of thousands of unemployed or underemployed Wisconsinites, and at least 1,500 more whose jobs are in the balance because of your media stunt. We all deserve better than this.

In the meantime, members of your caucus have been meeting with the governor’s staff, talking to the media, trying to find a way back to Madison, and contradicting your message in public. In case you don’t remember, you were present yourself at one of those meetings with the governor’s staff. Your grasp of reality, and control of your caucus as minority leader, continues to amaze me. "

Two other Senators involved in recently disclosed negotiations with Senate Republicans, Tim Cullens and Robert Jauch, then took the opportunity to defend their minority leader and express how offended they were by the Republican statements.

"I was furious when he suggested that Tim and I were willing to cut a deal to find a way to go back," Jauch said told theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel.  ". . . There was no agreement. We were just trying to build that staircase"

"Never, never has there been a suggestion that Tim Cullen and I would somehow abandon the other 12 for the sake of cutting a deal," Jauch said. "That's just an outrageous lie."

"Our understanding in our discussions was always that they had to take where the discussions were at back to the governor, the (Senate) majority leader and the (Assembly) speaker and we had to take the discussions back to our caucus," Cullen said.

Both Senators reiterated their viewpoint that the Democratic Senators weren't thinking of holding out forever and would eventually have to return to the State to take up business in their districts; however, it was up to Scott Walker to compromise on the Budget Repair Bill and both said they were involved in talks with Walker’s Chief of Staff Keith Gilkes and Deputy Chief of Staff Eric Schutt as recently as Sunday morning to talk out details about how they could come to an agreement. Walker, himself also said that he has been meeting with the wayward Dems in negotiations. Jauch and Cullen actually met with Fitzgerald last week in Kenosha and Walker said at the press conference that his staff had met with Miller last Wednesday at a McDonald's in Kenosha and also had met with other Democratic Senators in South Beloit on Sunday.

A spate of recent polls, including a Rasmussen report from over the weekend continue to show that a strong majority of Wisconsinites favor the Governor reach a compromise with Democrats over the collective bargaining provisions of the bill. Walker seems to be showing a posture toward compromise but it is hard to tell if he actually means it. Throughout the course of the debate, the Governor has held firm on his stand that the collective bargaining restrictions will remain in place. The Democrats want them stripped out. Walker and Fitzgerald have both signaled that the restrictions are not up for compromise.

Fitzgerald said today that despite calls for compromise from the other side of the aisle, Republicans are "rock-solid" behind Governor Walker's proposal. Jauch, meanwhile, stated this afternoon that he has been in constant talks with various GOP lawmakers behind the scenes and that "6 or 7" of them have reservations about the CBA restrictions and have felt pressured by Governor Walker to support it. He also says that he has talked with a number of Assembly Republicans who supported the bill but would like to see a compromise measure come out of the Senate.

“My view is it’s time to get back,” Cullen told Wispolitics. “Others just as honorably and just as sincerely believe there’s more to be accomplished by staying here. That’s the different views that human beings have about things.”

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