Republican lawmakers mull Labor Day participation

AP News
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Posted: Sep 02, 2011 2:36 PM
Republican lawmakers mull Labor Day participation

As a Republican, state Sen. Pam Galloway knows she might be as unwelcome as rain at this weekend's Labor Day parade in Wisconsin. The threat of possible hecklers, though, won't keep her from the event.

With labor rights a prickly subject in some states, many Republican lawmakers have to decide whether it's politically savvy to attend Labor Day events. Community gatherings usually let politicians meet and shake hands with voters who are in a celebratory mood. But the feeling could be different this year, when crowds might be especially vocal in expressing their discontent over Republican moves to restrict labor rights.

"I'm sure there will be people who won't be happy to see me there," Galloway told The Associated Press. "But you know, I have a good many supporters, too."

In Wisconsin, some legislators who supported Gov. Scott Walker's moves to curb collective-bargaining rights are treading carefully. Walker himself won't attend any Labor Day event. A spokesman said the governor will spend the day with his family as he traditionally does.

Labor groups are still fiercely angry about Wisconsin's new law, under which public employees lost most collective-bargaining rights and must contribute more to their health care and pensions. The measure prompted an unprecedented wave of protests at the Capitol, and two Republican state senators were recalled for supporting it. Chanting protesters continue to hound Walker even at non-political events.

In Ohio, where a new law this year also restricted collective-bargaining rights for more than 350,000 public workers. Gov. John Kasich planned to issue a proclamation honoring Labor Day, a spokesman said, but he wasn't scheduled to go out among the crowds at any Labor Day parades or picnics.

One labor group in Wausau still bears a grudge over Wisconsin's new law. The Marathon County Labor Council tried to ban Galloway and other Republican lawmakers from Monday's parade, but the group eventually backed down after the city's mayor threatened not to cover the event's insurance costs or other expenses.

However, even after the Labor Council reversed itself, President Randy Radtke took a swipe at Galloway, Walker and U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy for taking "anti-worker positions."

They "should be ashamed to even show their faces at a Labor Day parade," he said in a statement. "... We will let everyone march and hope these Republican politicians finally take away some lessons about what Labor Day really means."

One labor official liked the idea of banning Republicans from Labor Day events.

"Do you think the American Legion would let Jane Fonda in a Memorial Day parade? There isn't a chance in hell that would happen," said Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. "How is that different than labor saying `Duffy, don't walk in our parade?'"

But that attitude wasn't going to deter the congressman, spokesman Brandon Moody said. Duffy still planned to attend the Wausau parade this year, as he did last year, Moody said.

"Is he concerned that the level of political discourse continues to devolve? Yes," Moody said. "But this is a nice family event and he's going to treat it like that."

Wisconsin's top two GOP legislators also planned to attend Labor Day events. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon and his brother, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, will participate in the same parade in Randolph that they attended last year, their spokesmen said.

Other Republicans planned to stay away from labor-organized events. State Rep. Robin Vos told AP he'd attend a public parade if there were one, but he wasn't sure he'd want to attend the labor festival in Racine "because most of the people who go to those events are hardcore Democratic activists."

Most labor groups said GOP lawmakers were more than welcome at their events. Sheila Cochran, the secretary-treasurer at the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, said Republicans could attend, but noted that they've rarely shown up in previous years and weren't expected to come this year.

Rich Hinderholtz, the chairman of Racine Area Labor Festivals, said Vos and Sen. Van Wanggaard have been invited. He said Wanggaard received a civil reception when he came last year as a candidate.

"I'm not sure what sort of reception to expect under these circumstances," Hinderholtz said.

Wanggaard's spokesman Scott Kelly said the senator likely couldn't attend because of a scheduling conflict. But if Wanggaard did go, Kelly speculated, he'd get a reception that, "I suspect, would not be a terribly friendly one."

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Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.