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Scott Walker opponents dispute details in upcoming book

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Patrick Marley/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
October 29, 2013

MADISON--Two of Gov. Scott Walker's opponents are disputing accounts Walker gives of talks he had with them in his forthcoming book.

According to Walker, Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) said he would have persuaded his fellow Democrats not to head to Illinois to try to block Walker's labor legislation if Cullen had been at the meeting where Democrats decided to leave the state. But in an interview, Cullen denied he said that.

The former head of a Milwaukee County union also contended Walker got it wrong in his book when he describes a meeting between the two. Walker writes that he said he would lay off hundreds of workers if the union didn't make concessions and the union official responded, "Go ahead and do it!"

"That is frankly just a lie. He has no proof and no witnesses (of that)," said Rich Abelson, who was executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 48.

Walker told Madison's WKOW-TV on Monday he could not comment on his book until it is published Nov. 19, but that the book relies on extensive research and notes taken by him, his staff and lawmakers.

"I think when people see all the research we did for the book, not just my own recollection, but talking to other individuals, they'll see by far this is the most comprehensive overview of what's happened over the last 21/2 years," Walker said.

"Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge" is co-written by Walker and former presidential speechwriter Marc Thiessen and is being published by Sentinel, an imprint of the Penguin Group. The Journal Sentinel recently independently obtained a copy of the book.

Most of the book focuses on Walker's plan to tightly restrict collective bargaining for most public workers, the protests that erupted and the unsuccessful attempt to recall Walker a year and a half later.

A week after Walker revealed his plan, all 14 Democrats in the state Senate at the time left Wisconsin in an effort to block the measure. They stayed away for three weeks, returning only after Republicans found a way to pass the bill without the Democrats present.

The Democrats hastily made the decision to leave just before the Senate was to vote on Walker's bill. Cullen was the only Democrat who wasn't at that meeting and he later met up with them across the state line in Rockford.

"When I called Senator Cullen a few days later, he told me that he thought he could have convinced them not to leave if he had been at that meeting. ... (He) told me that if he had been there, he thought he could have persuaded them not to leave because it was a stupid idea," Walker writes.

Later, Cullen told Walker in frustration that he was coming back on his own, Walker writes. Walker said he told him he would arrange for security for him because of how angrily the protesters would react.

In an interview, Cullen said he never told Walker he would have been able to persuade his fellow Democrats not to leave the state. Cullen said he supported the decision to leave but thought Democrats needed a plan for returning to Wisconsin.

"Had I been at the original caucus, I wouldn't have argued against leaving," Cullen said. "I would have been asking the question, 'what is our strategy for returning?'"

Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said he never heard Cullen say he would have tried to persuade the Democrats not to leave the state. Cullen and Larson often disagreed on tactics while they were in Illinois.

Former Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover), who sided with Cullen on strategy while in Illinois, said he thinks Cullen would have made the Democrats think about an exit plan before they left if he had been at the initial meeting.

"A lot of stuff was said and Tim was always in favor of first trying to negotiate something and thinking it wasn't a good idea to stay out without some kind of endgame," Holperin said.

Also in his book, Walker discusses how his years serving as Milwaukee County executive led him to conclude collective bargaining for public workers was deeply flawed. He writes that shortly after he was elected to that job in 2002, he proposed making county workers pay more for their pensions and health care and having shorter work weeks to avoid layoffs.

When he met with Abelson of AFSCME to say he would have to lay off workers if there weren't concessions, Abelson looked him in the eye and said, "Go ahead and do it!" according to Walker. The governor uses the phrase as a chapter title.

"I was stunned," Walker writes. "I explained again how many jobs would be lost if he stood in the way of our reform. He told me he didn't care how many workers I laid off, he wasn't giving up any benefits."

Abelson denied he said that and said he wanted details from Walker about when the meeting occurred. He said he did not normally meet with Walker on his own, so Walker aides and other union representatives would have heard any exchange between them.

"I have no recollection of that," Abelson said. "I would never have told him to go ahead and do it."

He acknowledged the two often clashed, but said Walker was the one who took unreasonable positions.

"There is no question we at times took a hard line with Walker and his sense of brinkmanship," Abelson said. "We were willing to compromise. He was just never willing to negotiate. ... It was always my way or the highway."

Other topics Walker covers in the book include:

-- Recall night comments. The book includes Walker's decision on what to say the night he won his recall election in June 2012. His wife Tonette suggests he tell the crowd, "This is what democracy looks like," repeating a phrase his opponents chanted throughout the protests.

Walker calls it a "great line" that would have been "enormously satisfying to deliver," but said he decided not to do it because of the importance of humility and because he wanted to "end the acrimony and unite our state once again."

What he doesn't mention in the book is that his lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, used that very phrase when she took the stage at their victory party — "Now, this is what democracy looks like," she told the crowd.

Kleefisch spokesman Casey Himebauch declined to comment and referred questions to Walker's office. Walker's office and campaign officials did not respond to questions Monday.

-- Lobbyist. In one new detail in Walker's book, he writes that AFSCME tried to hire Steve Foti — a Republican lobbyist who formerly served as Assembly majority leader — in an effort to stop the labor law from passing.

"The union leaders told (Foti) they didn't need them to cut a deal; they just wanted him to buy them two more weeks of time," Walker writes.

In an interview, Foti acknowledged the discussion with the union. He said the decision not to work for them was mutual because "they didn't seem to like the direction I wanted to go."

Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24, said union officials reached out to every Republican they could in an effort to meet with Walker and tell him they were willing to make concessions if they could retain the ability to collectively bargain. But he said they didn't try to hire Foti as a stalling tactic.

"This is again typical of Walker lying," Beil said. "Now it's in print."



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