Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch of Wisconsin tells Newsmax that Republican leaders are growing tired of being misled by Democrats, but adds that there are signs that some of the state’s 14 AWOL Democrats have reached the breaking point and soon may come back home.
The Democratic senators are facing increasing pressure after fleeing the state three weeks ago in a desperate bid to block a budget-reform bill Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker backs. Walker’s bill would increase public workers’ contributions to their healthcare and pension plans and would prohibit unions from bargaining collectively when it comes to entitlements.
Walker, meanwhile, went on the offensive on Monday, blasting Democratic Minority Leader state Sen. Mark Miller for “misleading” the public.
“It’s sort of like Charlie Brown and Lucy when they’re playing the football game,” Kleefisch tells Newsmax. “Every time the Democrat senators who are reasonable think that there’s an opportunity to return, and a path has been forged so that they can come back to Madison and vote, it seems like Senator Miller is pulling the football out from underneath them.”
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For his part, Walker suggested that Miller, who wrote a letter Sunday asking for face-to-face negotiations to take place somewhere along the Illinois-Wisconsin border, may no longer be in control of his own caucus.
“Senator Miller is misleading the public, just like he misled us,” said Walker, who added that Miller already has been involved in face-to-face negotiations with his administration.
The impasse in Wisconsin has emerged as a national political issue, following a remark by President Barack Obama to a local television station charging that Walker appeared to be engaged in an “assault on unions.”
Several critical swing states likely to determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential race — Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio — are embroiled in controversial efforts to remain solvent by scaling back public-sector entitlements.
Walker’s tough rhetoric Monday marked a distinct shift. As recently as Friday, the governor told Newsmax: “We haven’t lashed out at opponents. We haven’t personalized this debate.”
One reason Walker may be ratcheting up the pressure: Several of the absent Democrats are now facing recall-petition drives in their home districts.
If their opponents can gather enough signatures, those Democrats will face early re-election battles. Fending off recall petition drives from Illinois would be difficult, if not impossible.
That may mean the Democratic senators may not be able to stay away much longer.
Sen. Bob Jauch, one of the Democrats hiding in Illinois, addressed that issue Monday.
“There is an end coming to this,” Jauch told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “There has to be.”
Jauch told the newspaper that Democrats eventually would have to return to their districts to fight the looming recall battles.
"My wife brought me home another two weeks of clean clothes, but I told her I hoped I didn't have to use it,” Jauch said, according to the Journal Sentinel. “At some point this transition has to occur."
Formal recall-petition drives have been launched against all 16 Wisconsin state senators who are vulnerable to early elections. The recalls are split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
In her exclusive interview, Kleefisch told Newsmax.TV that she and Walker “absolutely” know that some AWOL Democrats are on the verge of coming back to the state.
She told Newsmax Walker seeks “real negotiations,” and questions whether Miller’s letter, which some in the Wisconsin media characterized as a sincere effort to find reasonable compromise, “was necessarily written in good faith.”
“While it seems very encouraging by just reading it,” Kleefisch said, “we know that Senator Mark Miller was actually partaking in at least one of those negotiations. So the negotiations have been going on for some time now."
Asked whether she sees signals that one or more Democratic senators are on the verge of returning to break the impasse on Walker’s budget repair bill, Kleefisch replied: “Absolutely I do. And those are the reasonable senators that we continue to negotiate with, and the ones who keep having the football pulled out from under them.
“What’s frustrating here is it seems that every time they return to Senator Miller with ideas on how to return to Madison so they can vote like their constituents want them to, Senator Miller seems to agree to it for a little while, and then after he has spoken with union leaders seems to change his mind,” she said.
“So what I’m wondering is, Who’s in charge of Mark Miller’s soul here? Is it Mark Miller, or is it somebody else?”
Miller fired back Monday afternoon, stating: “Senate Democrats remain united in our fight to protect the priorities of the people of Wisconsin and committed to showing the kind of responsible leadership necessary to get the job done.
“We have made numerous attempts to reach out to Republicans,” Miller said, adding, “I would hope as we move forward, the governor and Republican leaders will spend less time at press conferences and more time on the phone or at meetings pursuing a resolution to our differences.”
Acting in good faith to resolve differences is precisely what Kleefisch said Miller has failed to do.
“We were so trying to avoid layoffs here,” Kleefisch told Newsmax. “But our Democrat 14 need to return to vote on this budget repair bill in order to save those jobs.”
Unless those Democrats return, Kleefisch said, 1,500 state workers will receive pink slips within 30 days.
Walker told Newsmax on Friday that the required notifications of possible layoffs have gone out to the unions.
Kleefisch told Newsmax she’s undaunted by polls that vary widely based on how they are worded, but which generally appear to support workers’ efforts to bargain collectively in Wisconsin.
“No, I think there’s a lot of confusion out there about what collective bargaining actually does,” she said. “And let me give you an example of why it’s so financial with facts and figures behind it to us.
“Right now through collective bargaining our teachers’ union employees, some of them, are forced onto the teachers’ union health insurance program. If they simply switched to the state health-insurance program, it would save $68 million. That’s $68 million that could go back into schools.”
The poll that really mattered, she said, was conducted on Nov. 2.
“That’s the validation that we need, the electoral mandate, where voters went out in droves to tell Governor Walker that they wanted their budget balanced with no tax increases.
She also had some friendly advice for President Barack Obama, who recently warned the nation’s governors not to “vilify” or “denigrate” their public employees.
“I think that the president, with all due respect, is looking at $14 trillion in debt, and should probably focus on that instead of the problems Wisconsin potentially faces,” she said, “because Governor Walker has taken care of those handily.”
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