Scott Walker’s knack for bringing people together was on full display in St. Paul last night.
As the Wisconsin governor wooed local Republican lawmakers and raised funds for his presidential campaign inside O’Gara’s Bar & Grill, about 20 Building Trades union members and other protesters marched outside in a steady rain.
Tempers flared briefly after a Walker supporter – a self-described former union member – stepped outside to heckle the protesters. The shouting match that ensued offered a glimpse of how Walker’s divide-and-conquer approach has played out for Minnesotans’ neighbors to the east.
Nate O’Reilly, a member of Iron Workers Local 512 from southern Minnesota, remembered watching on TV as thousands of union members streamed into Madison soon after Walker took office in 2011, protesting legislation that stripped teachers and most other public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
Act 10 weakened public employees’ unions, making it easier, O’Reilly said, for Walker to attack the rest of the labor movement – signing right-to-work legislation and, most recently, gutting Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law.
“Those things take money out of the pockets of working families,” O’Reilly said.
Walker pitched his attacks on collective bargaining as reforms necessary to balance the state’s budget and jump-start its economy after the Great Recession (as opposed to kickbacks for his corporate donors).
But the same recession hit Minnesota, where DFL Gov. Mark Dayton took a much different approach than Walker. Dayton expanded collective bargaining rights, raised taxes on the rich and invested in the state’s public schools and infrastructure.
The results? Dayton’s approach turned a $5 billion budget deficit into a $1 billion surplus in just one term, while Wisconsin still faces a $2 billion budget deficit. And Minnesota’s economy has thrived, with wage and job growth consistently outperforming Wisconsin’s.
It begs the question – why would Walker risk the comparison with Minnesota for a lousy campaign stop?
“I’m stunned he would show his face here,” Sprinklerfitters Local 417 member Kimberly Brinkman said. “We’re so union strong, and he has done nothing for working families in Wisconsin.
“It just blows me away that anyone would support him.”