The leader of the 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats who left the state last month to block legislation that would curb public-employee union rights said the senators plan to return "in the relatively near future," because negotiations with the governor have failed.
Er, what negotiations? I was under the impression that it's rather challenging to negotiate credibly in Madison when you've escaped to Rockford. Have Wisconsin Democrats finally seen the light? Doubtful. It seems they've come to two conclusions: Governor Walker is not going to back down, and public opinion may swinging in their direction:
Democratic Sen. Mark Miller said the Democrats intend to let the full Senate vote and potentially pass Gov. Scott Walker's "budget-repair" bill, which would also limit public unions' collective bargaining rights. The Democrats believe that the measure lacks voter support based on recent polls and that passage could hurt Republicans politically, Mr. Miller said.
"We are now looking at returning to the state capitol and requiring the senators to take a vote and have them declare who they're with -- the workers or the governor," Mr. Miller said Sunday. He said he thinks recent polls have been "disastrous" for Mr. Walker and give Democrats more leverage to seek budget changes.
How telling: Democrats may finally be willing to come home and do their jobs not out of any sense of duty or public service, but because they sense an opportunity for political exploitation. They might want to read the portion of the survey that also shows majority disapproval for their fleebagging tactics. Walker appears totally unfazed by the dip in public support he's experienced in the last week or so. He knows that if he capitulates on his budget measure while 14 Democrats remain engaged in this anti-Democratic stunt, he'll set a terrible precedent with which he'll have to live for (at least) the next four years. Walker's position is to get the policy right, and let the politics play catch up:
Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for the governor, said, "If the governor made his decisions based on polling, he would still be in the general assembly. The voters elected people to make the difficult decisions to balance the budget and create an environment where 250,000 jobs can be created by the private sector."Democrats may finally be waking up to a reality that Walker has recognized for weeks: Even a whiff of compromise can only be achieved with everyone at the table.
Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature is on the brink of passing an even tougher, more comprehensive union benefit reform package, which Gov. Kasich is eager to sign. If they hurry, the Buckeyes could beat the Badgers twice in one week.
UPDATE: Guess who's editorializing that state governments need to consider serious reforms to public sector employees' wages, pensions, and health benefits? Surprise.