Walker called the Democrat's walkout "a stunt," saying it "is more about theater than anything else."
If anyone thought Gov. Scott Walker -- in his frantic push to extract unilateral concessions from state employees and break the back of public employee unions throughout the state -- could not possibly be more arrogant, they were wrong. Walker took this aspect of his character to a whole new level late this afternoon, in a press conference in his office.
In an appearance that lasted all of 10 minutes, including questions, Walker insulted the Democratic members of the state Senate who fled the state today to prevent passage of these measures, belittled the tens of thousands of citizens who've flocked to the Capitol in protest, and unaccountably claimed the mantle of overwhelming public support for his agenda.
"These are bold political moves, but these are modest, modest requests," Walker asserted, of proposals that would completely strip public employees of their right to collectively bargain for anything except salaries (and to severely limit their ability to do even this), along with sweeping new rules that will make it difficult for their unions to survive. He said his office has gotten "over 8,000 emails" over the last few days and "the majority are telling us to stay firm, stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers." [Last five words of this quote corrected from earlier version].
In what he obviously thought was an effort to be diplomatic, Walker said the teeming masses of protesters, who, even as he spoke, packed the Capitol inside and out, had "a right to be heard." But, he added, they don't have the right to "drown out" the millions of state residents he claims support his moves.
Walker called on the Democratic members of the state Senate to return to work to do the job "they were elected to do." Again, he insisted this is what the state's residents want, overlooking that the Democrats' decision to not show up for work today was drawing audible cheers from many thousands of people.
One reporter suggested a possible compromise: just hike the amount workers pay toward their benefits without gutting their rights to collective bargaining. Walker rejected this, saying it was too essential to his plan.
So what impact might Democrats have if they return? Walker said they had the right to propose amendments, but he had no intention of doing "anything that's going to cost state and local governments the ability to balance their budgets."
The Senate Democrats, predicted Walker, would "do their stunt for a day or two," adding that their action today "is more about theater than anything else."
He also alleged that the unions couldn't be believed when they now say they want to negotiate because, back in December, after he was elected and before he took office, they tried to "ram through" state employee contracts in the dying days of the last session, even though he had already been elected governor. [Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Walker was accusing legislative Democrats of doing the ramming through.]
I asked if he thought his proposal -- which called on the Legislature to act six days after it was introduced -- did not amount to ramming things through. He denied it absolutely, and chided me for editorializing.
Walker reiterated that it should have been obvious to everyone what he had in mind before he announced it, saying, "If anyone doesn't know what's coming, they've been asleep for the last two years."
He also restated his talking point about how the average state employee contract takes 15 months to negotiate, time the state simply does not have.
Curiously, as he spoke, the Madison Common Council was about to hold a special meeting to pass city employee contracts that have been negotiated over just the last two days, in anticipation of the changes sought by Walker. Turns out contract negotiations can be done even more quickly than Walker and the GOP can rob workers of their rights.
But there was no time for anyone to make that point. Gov. Walker exited the room, through a back door.