Gov. Scott Walker gave a press conference at 5 p.m. this afternoon that was notable for its extraordinary lack of news. He made the exact same points he made at his press conference yesterday (held at the exact same time), in many cases using the exact same words. He even appeared to be wearing the same clothes.
Walker bashed the Democratic members of the Wisconsin Senate who have fled the state to block a vote on a "budget repair bill" that would extract unilateral concessions from state workers and end the collective bargaining rights of all public employees in Wisconsin. He said he was pursuing these changes out of absolute necessity, because of the budget deficit he inherited from fiscally reckless Democrats.
The governor allowed that this is a "bold" political move but insisted he was making only "a very modest request" of workers, saying most of the state's blue-collar employees would be thrilled to have the deal they've have, even after the budget bill. And he granted that the tens of thousands of people who have gathered at the state Capitol for days have "a right to be heard" but not to "drown out the voices" of the state's 5.5 million residents.
Walker asserted that "many" of the people whose chants could be heard from inside his conference room were from out-of-state. He said his office has now gotten 19,000 emails from state residents, the "majority in favor" of his plan. Yesterday, he placed the number at 8,000, again with most urging him on.
Apparently, the tens of thousands of people in the streets are just not that into email. (The address is email@example.com.)
The governor even suggested the bill has received an exhaustive level of scrutiny and input, noting that the one hearing held on it dragged on for 17 hours. "I served in the Legislature," he noted. "I don't ever recall a 17-hour hearing."
Walker did offer a fuller rationale for his insistence on stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights. "You're going to see major cuts in local government," he said of his upcoming budget, now set to be unveiled March 1. He argued that the only way he can ensure these cuts do not lead to "massive layoffs" is to give local governments and school boards the ability to make unilateral adjustments to pensions and other benefits.
"To protect our schools, to protect our local governments, we need to give them the tools they've been asking for, not just for years but for decades."
I asked him how removing the collective bargaining rights of every public employee union in the state constituted "a very modest request." He responded that collective bargaining rights were really no big whoop, since Wisconsin has such strong civil service protections, which "don't expire with collective bargaining."
Walker then went back into his talking points about how many private sector workers in Wisconsin don't have it as good as public employees. I asked if he wasn't just trying to focus the resentment of one group of workers against another, but his handlers insisted he move on to other questions.
I thought it was an pretty good question. I hope some day to hear his answer.