Wisconsin protests: Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic state senators continue standoff

Demonstrators at the Capitol building in Madison are protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's legislation to cut public employees' benefits and eliminate most of their collective bargaining rights.
Compiled by Justin Bank
Washington Post Staff
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 5:05 PM

Protests in Wisconsin continue as Democratic legislators remain in exile to avoid voting on Governor Scott Walker's proposed changes to union laws. An end to the impasse does not appear imminent:

After some of the 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state to block a vote on the governor's proposal to sharply curtail collective-bargaining rights for government workers in Wisconsin signaled their possible willingness to return, Walker called a news conference at which he accused the legislators of being the biggest impediments to ending the stalemate.

The governor said members of his staff seemed to be making progress in negotiations with some of the absent Democrats, only to have Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller stand in the way. He also accused Miller of being in the pocket of organized labor, whose leaders Walker blames for escalating the conflict into a national drama.

"Senator Miller is misleading the public, just like he misled us," Walker said, adding that Miller was also "misleading his own caucus."

The governor's comments came after at least one Democrat said Monday morning that he and his colleagues were on the verge of returning to the state because they were sure that voters would consider the passage of Walker's "budget repair" measure an overreach that would quickly weaken Republicans' hold on power in Wisconsin.

But the governor's comments later in the day seemed only to deepen the Democrats' resolve to stay away until he gives in on his demand to end collective bargaining for public employees.

Mike DeBonis found that former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is sympathetic to the Gov. Scott Walker's situation:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker this morning got some rare Democratic support for his high-profile push to eliminate most state workers' collective barganing rights -- from former D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Fenty made his comments as a guest on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," making an in-studio appearance in New York with takeover mogul and ex-"car czar" Steven Rattner and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.

When discussion turned to Walker's anti-union push, Fenty jumped right in.

"This is kind of what I faced in four years as mayor," Fenty told hosts Mike Barnicle and Mika Brzezinski. "He's right on the substance, I think. I tend to agree with him on the need for collective bargaining reform. But he's also right on the politics. I just don't understand why the legislature has been given this pass to go to another state and not do what they were sworn to do, and that's to take a vote. Unfortunately for Gov. Walker, he hasn't been able to get that out. He needs to point the finger a little bit more at them and say. 'Listen, they should take a vote. All I want is for them to vote up or down, and I will be fine with whatever they decide.'"

Wisconsin Democrats told Greg Sargent that there was less support on the ground in the state. In fact, they claim have evidence of support for a recall of Republican state senators:

Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the party, tells me that activists working on the recall push already collected over the weekend 15 percent of the total necessary signatures needed to force recalls in all eight of the GOP districts Dems are targeting. He says that the party -- which is helping to coordinate and keeping track of outside efforts to gather signatures -- set itself a goal of 10,000 signatures for the weekend, and has already exceeded it by 35 percent.

Zielinski also claims that recall forces over the weekend put more than 2,000 volunteers on the street to collect signatures. He also says volunteers have collected 26 percent of the signatures required in one district, and 20 percent in another, though he wouldn't say which ones, because Dems want GOP senators to fret that they are the ones in question.

If these numbers are close to accurate, they are a surprising sign of the power of the grassroots energy uncorked by Scott Walker's union-busting proposals. Under Wisconsin law, a recall requires a number of signatures totaling 25 percent of the number that voted in the last gubernatorial election.

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