Brat summit a good 1st step, but more needed, lawmakers sayLawmakers emerged from Gov. Scott Walker's highly publicized "brat summit" Tuesday saying the political ice cream social was a good first step in the healing process, but more would be needed to help move the state beyond the rancor of the past 16 months.
By: By Clay Barbour, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
Lawmakers emerged from Gov. Scott Walker's highly publicized "brat summit" Tuesday saying the political ice cream social was a good first step in the healing process, but more would be needed to help move the state beyond the rancor of the past 16 months.
The governor's victory over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in this month's recall election capped what has been one of the most divisive periods in Wisconsin history. Since Walker introduced his landmark collective bargaining bill in February 2011, the state has gone through a series of major protests and 15 recall elections.
The summit, first announced a week earlier during Walker's recall victory speech, was advertised as a chance for Democrats and Republicans to come together at the Governor's Mansion for beer, brats and some bipartisan fence mending.
The idea was immediately derided as a publicity stunt by critics, despite the fact that the event was not open to the public or even reporters. But immediately following the party, most attendees seemed willing to give those on the other side of the aisle the benefit of the doubt.
"This was nice, but the question is not what happened today, but rather what will happen tomorrow," said state Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison. "It is probably something that should have happened a year and a half ago."
A similar tone was taken by state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who said he didn't know if the two-hour party changed anyone's minds, "but maybe we broke down a few barriers."
Of Wisconsin's 132 state legislators, 98 said they would attend the party, a number that included 37 Democrats, 60 Republicans and one independent. Cullen Werwie, Walker's spokesman, didn't have a precise head count Tuesday but said that more than 300 people showed up, a total that included legislative aides.
To get to the party, lawmakers walked through a small crowd of familiar protesters, many of them holding signs that read things like "End Corporate Rule" and "Healing begins with an indictment," a nod to the ongoing John Doe investigation into some of the governor's current and former staff.
Whenever a group of older politicians get together, inevitably one will pine for the days when lawmakers fought like enemies on the Legislature floor and drank like colleagues at a bar afterward.
Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, said he remembered those days well. He said he felt it was still possible for lawmakers to capture some of that old spirit and move forward on important bills.
"It's good for people to sometimes sit down and talk about something other than politics, to remind us that we are all people," he said, over a protester's yells.
Tuesday's unity building may have to wait to be tested. The Legislature is not in session until January, with the entire Assembly and half the Senate up for re-election this November.
But said state Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford: "This was a step, an important step. I'm glad we did this."
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