In a brief phone conversation following the end of an hours-long Democrat caucus, Sen. Chris Larson said Gov. Scott Walker’s description of the meeting process between the GOP and Democrat senators over the past week was a lie and they are standing firmly behind their leader, Sen. Mark Miller.
“The negotiations had broken down and Sen. Miller tried to reconnect with a heartfelt letter,” Larson said. “But instead, Gov. Walker used the letter as a prop instead of talking about the issues.”
Larson said the meeting Walker referenced did occur, but they were not serious or deep negotiations.
“He misrepresented them. They were simple meetings between colleagues.”
The biggest lie according Larson was Walker trying to convince the public that any of the 14 would break ranks and come back behind the backs of the caucus.
“His lie brought us closer together,” Larson said. “And we have reaffirmed Sen. Miller as our leader. He brought us through a difficult impasse.”
Larson said the truly divided caucus is the GOP Senate, where moderate Republicans are “walking the halls of the Capitol with fear in their eyes.”
He said there is a good chance that the Democrats will come, but it is based on a number of conditions including the removal of the collective bargaining cuts in the repair bill and having the moderate GOP Senators stand up in public and share their concerns with that same bill.
“A lot is based on the moderate Republican senators,” Larson said. “We’ve achieved the goals we set out for – slowing down process so the public would know what was in the bill and shining a light on the right-wing, conservative agenda which favors corporate interests over the hard-working people of Wisconsin.”
Earlier Monday, Gov. Walker suggested Senate’s Democrat Caucus consider choosing a new leader.
“Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) is standing in the way,” Walker said in a noon-time news conference. “We have had good discussions with reasonable senators, but the barrier seems to be Sen. Miller.”
Walker, along with Senator Speaker Scott Fitsgerald (R- Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, held a press conference at the Capitol in response to a letter released by Miller requesting a meeting with the three in Illinois.
Walker explained that contrary to what the press has been saying, his administration and Senate officials have been meeting with Democratic senators intensely over the past week in an effort to end the stalemate and bring the Wisconsin 14 home.
“On Wednesday (March 2) I authorized members of the administration to travel to Kenosha to meet with senators interested in coming back,” Walker said.
According to the Governor, Republican staffers and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald met with Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) and Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar). He wouldn’t disclose the exact details of the discussion, but said they talked about some of the mechanics of implementing the budget repair bill.
“My staff called me at quarter to 12 at night, woke me up and told me what happened at the meeting,” Walker said. ” They said there was a way they (a small number of Democrats) would come back on Thursday or Friday. But again Miller stood in the way. It really leads you to question who is in charge. Reasonable senators have come to an agreement and are making progress, but the barrier is Senator Miller.”
Walker added that he even sent administration staffers to South Beloit on Sunday, so the senators wouldn’t be subjected to police custody under the contempt of Senate orders. During the press conference, Gov. Walker did not hide his displeasure over receiving the letter from Miller requesting that Walker and his representatives meet with him near the Illinois/Wisconsin border to discuss the issues.
“This letter is ridiculous,” Walker said while waving a copy of the correspondence in his hand.
Walker went as far to suggest that unions are pulling Miller’s strings and have backed him into a corner he can’t get out of.
He added the Democrat Senators know he will not back off the collective bargaining cuts, “but the facts will clearly show we have had give and take. They (ostensibly referring to Cullen and Jauch) have acknowledged that they understand why we made the collective bargaining changes, they don’t agree but they can vote no. Sen. Mark Miller is firmly standing in the way, and the rest of the Democrats have to decide if they are going to find someone else to lead them.”
A call to Larson has not been returned, but he tweeted shortly after Walker’s remarks that the Governor’s interpretation of the discussions are a lie. Jauch didn’t comment on the aledged discussions, but said he will return to Wisconsin at “the appropriate time.”
Scott Fitzgerald described the meeting with Cullen and Jauch as intense. “We discussed the budget repair bill and each line item. Cullen pulled out his yellow legal pad and took notes and at the end of the meeting I forwarded them to director Lange at the (Legislative) Fiscal Bureau,” he said. “I reviewed them, took them to the Governor’s office and quickly figured out I needed to continue the talks. Miller wasn’t invovled.”
Fitzgerald said he thought he had a promise that 4 or 5 Democrat Senators would come back by Tuesday. When that didn’t happen, Fitzgerald enlisted Walker’s office.
“The time for this to end has come and gone,” Fitzgerald said. “We have been willing to sit down and talk about these things.”
Walker ended the conference with a request to the Senate Democrats.
“There are senators who are willing to work with us, but they need a leader to help them find a way back.”