As a proposal to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state rushes through the Legislature, Governor Scott Walker is defending a shift in his position on taking up the bill during the current legislative session.
Walker insisted on the campaign trail and before the start of the session that right-to-work would only be a distraction this spring, and that he was urging lawmakers not to act on the measure because it would draw attention away from more important issues. After Republicans announced last week that they planned to fast-track the bill and pass it within two weeks, the governor’s office announced he would sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.
Democrats have criticized Walker for the change in rhetoric. During a Capitol press conference on Thursday morning, Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) called it “unbelievable” that the governor would reverse his position on taking up the bill. Pointing to an interview from last September in a Milwaukee newspaper, Barca said “I don’t know how much more clear you can be. I don’t know what any person, voter or citizen in this state, could think when a person says I’m not pursuing it, I’m not supporting it.”
AUDIO: Rep. Peter Barca (:47)
Speaking to reporters in Milwaukee Thursday morning, Walker maintained that he has always supported right-to-work legislation, but felt introducing the bill early on in the session could be a distraction from the roll-out of his state budget plan. Now that the budget has been introduced and lawmakers are waiting to start marking up the bill, the governor said he believes it’s the “right time” to act on right-to-work.
AUDIO: Gov. Scott Walker (1:02)
Democrats have also criticized Republicans for rushing through the bill and silencing debate, after a public hearing on Tuesday was cut short while several people were still waiting to testify. Walker claimed that the legislation is getting plenty of exposure and was the focus of a “lengthy debate” in the state Senate this week.
Walker also pointed to a budget repair bill Democrats rushed through without a public hearing while Governor Jim Doyle was in office, claiming that it’s a “hollow argument” to say Republicans the bill is moving too quickly.
State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) fired back at Walker Thursday, calling it “absurd” for Walker to continue blaming Doyle when things don’t go his way. Gaming compacts the Doyle administration had negotiated with the Forest County Potawatomi were also recently blamed for Walker’s decision to reject the Menominee tribe’s proposed Kenosha casino. Mason said “the reality is, he’s the governor. He needs to take the responsibility for what’s happening now.”
The state Senate passed the right-to-work bill on Wednesday night. An Assembly committee is scheduled to begin a public hearing on the bill Monday. It remains unclear when the legislation will go before the full Assembly.