For weeks now, a Democratic talking point against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has been that he is a “tyrant.” Day after day, protesters dressed in Star Wars costumes have bemoaned the “imperial” Walker, decrying his unwillingness to negotiate over his plan to scale back collective-bargaining rights for most government employees.
Yesterday, the Walker empire struck back. Responding to an open-records request by a local media outlet, Walker released a series of e-mails indicating that his staff has been negotiating with the Democratic state senators in exile to bring them back to Wisconsin for a vote on his plan. Walker’s staff e-mails show that the governor was willing to give a little on salary caps, on bargaining workplace safety, on how often unions have to recertify, and other items in the bill. In a press conference earlier this week, Walker had said he thought several times in the past few days that there had been a deal struck.
Backed into a corner, Democrats are now forced to feign outrage that Walker would release the details of their negotiations. In fact, they refuse to call them “negotiations,” preferring the more tepid term “discussions.” Yet it seems unlikely Walker would send his staff to fast-food restaurants across the border because they make better Egg McMuffins in Illinois.
The Democrats are, in effect, now arguing that Walker is being unreasonable by being reasonable. By calling their bluff, Walker has exposed their line about his “inflexibility” as a pure hot air. Their current stance amounts to “we’re against anything that might make Scott Walker look good.”
Some have gone so far as to say the negotiations with Walker are now dead. So, for those keeping score at home, Democrats have twisted themselves into the following untenable syllogism: They said Walker would not negotiate, but because he showed that he would, they now can’t negotiate with him.
It is worth noting, incidentally, that while the public favors cutting a deal, Walker’s supporters might not be so ecstatic about the behind-the-scenes talks. For weeks, they have endured vitriolic insults from state workers and their sympathizers, which has hardened their anti–public union position even further. Giving the Democrats anything, they say, amounts to rewarding bad behavior.
Fortunately for those hard-liners, it appears the Democrats may now be pulling the plug on future negotiations. Embarrassed by the fact that they were going behind their more strident caucus members’ backs, and perhaps receiving a national directive from labor to stretch this disaster out even further, moderate Democratic senators appear willing to stay in a galaxy far, far away.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.