Border meetings, legal actions and recall drives

There are all sorts of conflicting signals coming out of Wisconsin. Here's what you need to know

By Peter Finocchiaro
Published March 7, 2011 7:35PM (EST)

It's been three weeks  since Wisconsin became the epicenter of a nationwide debate over the legitimacy of public sector unions. The basics of the stand-off haven't changed. Republican Governor Scott Walker is still refusing to compromise on his plan to severely limit union rights for state employees. Meanwhile, the 14 Democratic senators who fled the state to forestall a vote on the legislation remain in Illinois.

But we could be entering a new phase, thanks to some significant developments -- or potential developments -- in the last 24 hours:

  • In a seemingly blockbuster scoop, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday night that the 14 Democratic senators are now ready to return to Madison for a vote on the bill, effectively ending the weeks-long standoff and allowing Senate Republicans to pass Governor Walker's anti-union bill. But this was apparently a false alarm. Chris Larson, one of the Democratic senators, immediately told TPM  there are no plans to return to Madison until Republicans make concessions to ensure "worker's rights are preserved." 
  • The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute released polling data showing that two-thirds of Wisconsinites want Walker to compromise with Democrats and public sector unions -- the latest polling evidence that voters are turning on the governor.
  • In a letter to Walker, Senate Democratic leader Mark Miller is now proposing a meeting on the Wisconsin-Illinois border, saying: "I write today to offer to meet, in person, as soon as possible to resume discussions on how we reach a bipartisan solution to our differences." He also insisted that he and other Democratic senators were, and had always been, willing to make a "reasonable compromise." Walker held a press conference this afternoon in which he called Miller's proposition "ridiculous."
  • Efforts to recall state senators of both parties are picking up steam. Petitions are now circulating to force recall elections for all 16 state senators who could legally face one this year. This means that half of the chamber's 32 members could theoretically be recalled this summer, when the elections would be held. The movement amounts to a "series of legislative recall campaigns on a scale the nation has rarely, if ever, seen." It remains to be seen if the threat of a recall will alter any senator's showdown posture.
  • The Wisconsin Democratic Party is filing a complaint today against Walker for remarks he made during a secretly-recorded prank phone with a blogger pretending to be David Koch. Walker's supporters dismiss the complaint as grandstanding.

Peter Finocchiaro

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