Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature's Republican leaders have met the enemy and the enemy is ... state Sen. Mark Miller, Democrat of Monona.
At a press conference held at 12:30 today, Walker was flanked by brothers Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald, respectively the leaders of the state Senate and state Assembly. All said they were committed to moving the budget process forward, but for one main obstacle: Mark Miller, the Senate's minority leader.
Walker said he hoped he would be announcing some good news today, that "we have an agreement" for the 14 missing senators to return, so the state can once again move forward. "Instead," it was his sad duty to report, "we have a letter from Mark Miller."
The letter (PDF), released this morning, is addressed to Walker and Sen. Fitzgerald. It conveys Miller's offer "to meet, in-person, as soon as possible to resume discussions on how we can reach a bipartisan solution to our differences" regarding Walker's budget repair bill. It also asks "that you or your authorized representatives agree to meet with us near the Wisconsin-Illinois border to formally resume serious discussions as soon as possible."
Walker, at the press conference, was just appalled. "We need to walk through why this letter is so ridiculous," he said.
He and the Fitzgerald brothers proceeded to do just that. Walker said there have been meetings with "reasonable and responsible" Senate Dems who want to end the stalemate, but "time and again the person standing in the way has been Sen. Miller." He said his staff was so encouraged by the progress made in some of these talks that they woke him up past 11 one night last week to share the good news.
But then Miller put the kibosh on all of this good work. Miller, said the governor, was like Lucy in the "Peanuts" cartoon, who plays the same cruel joke in holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick: "Time and again, Lucy would pull the football away." Oh, good grief!
Scott and Jeff sang from the same hymnal. It was Miller who was mucking everything up. Scott Fitzgerald said the Republicans have "been willing to sit down and talk about these things," and in fact have had productive meetings with Sens. Tim Cullen and Bob Jauch on the budget bill. (Fitzgerald also mentioned, as an aside, that with regard to the budget repair bill with its sweeping provisions to do away with most collective bargaining and probably destroy public employee unions altogether "we're not flexible on that.")
Today, as at his press conference last Friday, Walker made repeated reference to Senate Democrats he said were "reasonable and responsible," in contrast to Sen. Miller. He has declined to name names, for obvious reasons: What self-respecting Democrat would want to be known as someone Scott Walker considers "reasonable and responsible"?
But that fortress of secrecy was punctured today when Scott Fitzgerald dropped the names of Cullen and Jauch, as being exemplars of reasonableness in contrast to their misguided leader. After the press conference, WisPolitics.com spoke to Jauch, who said: "Never, never has there been a suggestion that Tim Cullen and I would somehow abandon the other 12 for the sake of cutting a deal. That's just an outrageous lie."
Walker, in the question-and-answer portion of the press conference, ratcheted up the rhetoric, saying Miller "appears to be listening to the labor union bosses in Washington rather than to his own caucus." He said Miller "apparently got a phone call" really, governor, you want to speculate about who's calling who? from these labor bosses, which prompted him to send his incendiary letter.
Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, normally a savvy reporter, asked a question that showed he was just not getting it: "The person who is holding this up wants to talk to you. Why is that a negative thing?"
Walker, as is typical, did not directly answer the question, but spoke of the frustration he and the public are feeling over Miller's obstinacy: "We need to find out who in the caucus can really deliver."
Mike Tobin, a correspondent for the national Fox News, wondered whether the decision last Thursday by Senate Republicans to find their missing Democratic colleagues in contempt and issue warrants for their arrest might have contributed to the Democrats' sour mood. Walker would have none of it. No, he insisted, what happened was the labor bosses in Washington "got on the phone" again with the phone! and told Sen. Miller, 'You cannot budge.'"
Of all the nerve!
Said Walker, "The facts are clear that we have put idea after idea on the table and there's been give and take." He declined to identify any of these the ideas heaped on this table, and returned to his main theme: Mark Miller.
"It just seems so apparent that the person standing in the way," he said, "is the person putting out a press release trying to redirect attention from himself."
Ah, yes, that time-honored strategy of trying to divert attention from oneself via press release. But this time, thanks to Scott Walker and the Brothers Fitzgerald, it isn't going to work.