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What’s With Walker and Wisconsin?

OK, I’m officially confused by what Walker and the Republicans are (and are not) doing in Wisconsin. It doesn’t square with the battle that they launched, and seems to suggest a deal in the works.

Gov Walker pushed the budget repair bill through in a late-night session called on barely two hours’ notice. At the time I didn’t see any real reason to do it this way; even had Walker given 24 hours’ notice as may (or may not) have been required under the statutes the bill would have passed even if the Democrats had shown up (and if any of them did show up he could have pushed the fiscal measures as well). It seemed oddly hasty for a man who has proceeded carefully throughout.

Liberal Democrat LaFolette postpones publication of the law until 3/25, and Walker is placatory. Then liberal Democrat judge Maryann Sumi issues a restraining order, and in the midst of doing so tells the Republicans that they can go ahead and pass the bill, just to do it the right way. This means that they could give 24 hours’ notice at any time and get the do-over. The Republicans decline and say they intend to pursue the legal strategies, which will of course take time and is a lose-lose strategy (more below).

In the meantime, the coalition of unions, leftists, students and whoever else is mobilizing to recall everyone they can think of while terrorizing Republicans circulating recall petitions against Democrats. So far as I can tell, the GOP remains silent and inert.

And finally, while the budget repair bill languishes the public employee unions throughout Wisconsin are pushing ahead with getting contracts that would not be possible under the bill. And again, so far as I can tell the GOP remains silent and inert.

So what is going on here? I’ve been around long enough to know that politicians are calculating people and rarely if ever do anything without some sort of plan. So what is the plan here? The budget repair bill was urgent, so Walker said. The best explanation I heard for the late-night session was that time was of the essence (though given how long Walker waited before performing the maneuver even that was suspect). But if time is of the essence, why the dithering now?

Why did Walker not challenge LaFollette to publish the bill immediately? Why did he agree to have the matter heard by a judge who told everyone she would be going out of town for a week or so after the hearing? Why is he opting to pursue legal remedies when he could very easily do another end run and get the bill passed? Why, if he is pursuing legal remedies, hasn’t he sought a writ against Sumi’s ruling? And above all, why is he playing a waiting game when the public employee unions are undercutting the effect of the bill with their rush to get the new contracts?

None of this squares with the urgency Walker attached to the legislation in the first place, and it’s very odd behavior for a man who is supposed to be the next GOP “rock star”.

So now, looking at things from the point of view of “there must be a strategy, so what is it?” I am left with only one inference: Walker is angling for a deal with the Democrats and the unions. For that matter, the deal may already be in place. I won’t be surprised to see a “do-over” that trims the budget, maintains the new contributions to health care and pensions (though the amounts may go down and even that may well be irrelevant to many in light of the new contracts), but scales back the diminution in the role of public employee unions, compromising on the scope of collective bargaining and eliminating the requirement of yearly recertification. I’m not sure what he’d get from the Democrats in return other than their agreement on fiscal issues (preventing another mobilization) and perhaps an agreement to abandon the recalls (assuming things have not gone too far already).

To be clear, I was never wild about the union issues to begin with. That isn’t my point. My point is that Walker picked a fight, won, and now seems to be backing off. I’d be delighted to be proven wrong, but it’s hard for me to come up with any other explanation.

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