Right-Winger Scott Walker Overreached, and His Arrogance Has Turned the Political Tide Against Him in Wisconsin
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Wisconsin's government has effectively been shut down as the stand-off between hard-right Republican Governor Scott Walker and the 14 senate Democrats who left the state to block passage of his draconian union-busting bill continues into its 3rd week. Walker's intransigent stance even after state workers conceded to his wage and benefit demands has cost him much of the political capital he held when he assumed office earlier this year; an effort to recall the governor next year is already underway.
On Monday, Walker told reporters that the absent lawmakers had to return to the capitol within 24 hours to address a non-controversial measure in the bill to restructure the state's debt – a move that would save Wisconsin $165 million. It's unclear what the exact deadline is – the Associated Press reported last week that the date-certain was February 25 – but whether it's today or later this week, the governor has set up a game of chicken with the provision, threatening to lay off thousands of public workers if the measure doesn't pass.
The 14 Senate Dems who are reportedly holed up in Illinois responded by offering several other options to avoid the looming deadline. "He doesn't have to do the bonding," Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller told the Wisconsin State Journal . "It's not as time critical as the governor has indicated." According to the Journal, “whether Walker takes one of those options will show whether he's serious about avoiding a financial crisis — or wants to 'scare people' into accepting his controversial bid to end most collective bargaining for public employees.”
If even one wavering Democrat returns to the capitol, Walker will be able to push his bill through the legislature. On the other hand, if 3 moderates in the Republican caucus turn against his bill, it will die; Republican state senator Scott Fitzgerald has signaled privately that he would not support the measure, but his office says he's still officially onboard.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin's public workers have already been hurt by the assault on their unions. As Ruth Conniff reported this week, “record numbers of public employees are requesting retirement papers” in anticipation of deep cuts. The effect on the state, Conniff notes, “could be devastating,” adding that the number of people retiring from the public sector in the next two weeks “could easily dwarf the 12,000 lay-offs the governor has threatened” if his bill isn't passed.
Above all, this is a political show-down. The side that the public comes to view as being primarily responsible for the messy standoff will lose. And Walker, having overreached dramatically, has the political winds blowing against him. He has refused to accept a compromise offered by one of his fellow Republicans and to sit and negotiate in good faith with his political opponents, as he is required to do by law (one union filed a complaint this week charging the governor with unfair labor practices).
He ordered the capitol building closed to the public, despite the fact that the state's Constitution guarantees citizens access. In response, Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney pulled his deputies from the doors because, he told reporters, it is not their job to act as "palace guard." A judge issued a restraining order on Tuesday ordering the building to be re-opened.
A Capital Times editorial accused Walker of 'assaulting free speech' in the state, noting that the governor has “gotten his allies to engineer changes in the Legislature's rules in order to limit hearings and debate.” Walker, charges the Times, “is desperate to silence the outcry against his attempt to take away public workers' collective bargaining rights, undermine BadgerCare and SeniorCare, and concentrate decision-making in his office so that he can sell state properties to his cronies in no-bid deals.”