|Page 2 of 2 <|
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has history of going up against unions
Union leaders say Walker never negotiated in good faith and had a singular solution to every budget problem: cut. Under his watch, the county privatized public jobs, laid off workers and placed others on furlough.
"The guy's a one-trick pony. His playbook is very limited," said Rich Abelson, executive director of AFSCME District Council 48, Milwaukee's largest union. "The result of that is an absolute devastation of the programs and services in Milwaukee County."
Abelson said the union filed multiple lawsuits against Walker over the years for unfair labor practices, and the relationship continued to sour as Walker kept "cutting wages and benefits for working people."
Walker argued that collective bargaining was the biggest hurdle to balancing the budget and that unions had little incentive to give ground because they almost always prevailed in arbitration. He said that the cuts he proposed were intended to prevent layoffs and accused union leaders of being uninterested in compromise.
"If I could go after . . . the pension and health-care contribution, I could have avoided layoffs; I could have avoided other service cuts," he said. "But because of the way the law is, local governments just can't do that."
Walker, a native of Colorado Springs, spent his formative years in a small town 60 miles south of Madison, called Delavan, where his father served as pastor at the Baptist church. He became an Eagle Scout and idolized Ronald Reagan.
He attended Marquette University but left just shy of a degree to take a marketing job with the American Red Cross, making him the first Wisconsin governor in more than half a century not to have a college degree.
At 25, he won election to the state Assembly and served for nine years. But in 2002, Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament, a Democrat, resigned in the wake of a county pension fund scandal, and Walker became the rare Republican to win office in the area by vowing to clean up the mess.
Friends and foes alike describe Walker as hardworking and amiable, a devoted husband and father of two teenage sons. They also call him a gifted and ambitious politician who has never strayed from his conservative ideals.
"He was tea party before there was a tea party. He's always been ideologically pure," said Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political science professor who sparred with Walker on a weekly television show during his Assembly days. "He would do whatever it took not to raise taxes. He never wavered, never doubted."
Lee said Walker's repeated success at the polls, even in Democratic strongholds, came as no surprise. He preached fiscal conservatism but also campaigned on his own frugality, noting that he packed ham-and-cheese sandwiches for lunch and drove a weathered Saturn.
"Scott Walker is the Republican Obama - he's likable, he's nice, so voters saw that [side] rather than the very ideological Republican," Lee said. "He's one of the most impressive politicians I've ever seen."
On Friday evening at the Capitol, Walker remained true to the portrait painted by supporters and detractors alike - calm and composed even during the tensest moments but utterly unwavering and unapologetic in his views.
Guards stood outside every entrance to the governor's office. Walker talked about finding time to watch "American Idol" with his wife the previous night. The crowds outside chanted, "Kill the bill!" Walker talked about texting with his sons throughout the day. "They've been following this. They're intrigued," he said.
Outside, the sun was setting. The crowd sang "We Shall Overcome." The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson had arrived to fire up the tens of thousands of protesters in their fifth day of demonstrations.
Inside, the governor prepared to slip quietly out of the Capitol and head 80 miles north to welcome home members of a National Guard unit from Iraq, a brief and welcome respite from the budget battles.
He predicted that the legislative impasse would soon end and that he would have the votes to push through his bill. As for the union backers who would surely return day after day to shower him with their discontent - well, he wasn't looking for their affection.
"I sleep all right," he said.