- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2011

MADISON, Wis. | Wisconsin Democrats who fled the state nearly three weeks ago asked Monday for a meeting with Gov. Scott Walker to talk about changes to his plan to eliminate most public workers’ union rights, a request the governor dismissed as “ridiculous.”

Mr. Walker said he and his administration have been in communication with at least a couple of the AWOL Senate Democrats about a deal that could bring them back, but the lawmaker who asked for the meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, “is firmly standing in the way.”

That accusation led to a flurry of angry responses from Democrats who said Mr. Walker was misrepresenting the talks. The sometimes-angry exchange suggested that any resolution to the stalemate was further away than ever.

“Right now, I’m so damn mad at his misrepresentation of the truth, and the public should be as well,” said state Sen. Bob Jauch, one of two Democrats who had talked last week with the Senate Republican leader about possible compromises. “Trust is completely broken down now. I don’t believe anything he says.”

Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party on Monday filed an ethics complaint against Mr. Walker, alleging, among other things, that he violated campaign-finance laws during a recorded prank call recently posted online. The Democrats contend that Mr. Walker’s apparent request for help shoring up politically vulnerable Republican lawmakers from a caller he thought was a wealthy campaign donor constituted “illegal third-party coordination,” of campaign donations. Mr. Walker’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie, called the allegations baseless.

The standoff between Mr. Walker and the Democrats has drawn national attention and placed Wisconsin at the center a vigorous debate over the future of union rights. Mr. Walker’s proposal to balance the state budget remains in limbo because, without the 14 Democrats, the state Senate does not have enough members present for a quorum.

The senators said pressure is mounting on Mr. Walker and the Republicans to compromise after weeks of protests that have drawn tens of thousands of people to the Capitol.

In addition, polls show substantial opposition to the governor and his plan, and recall efforts have been launched against Republican senators. Recall efforts have also begun against the absent Democrats.

“The problem for the Democrats is to figure out how to come back and not be seen as conceding,” said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin at Madison political science professor and founder of pollster.com.

“Both sides have been so strongly supported by their constituencies that it makes it awfully hard to compromise unless they can find a way to both claim victory,” Mr. Franklin said. “And that’s certainly difficult.”

Mr. Walker tried to place blame for the stalemate on Mr. Miller, the Democratic leader in the Senate, saying he blocked progress on talks with Mr. Jauch and Sen. Tim Cullen.

“It leads you to question who’s in charge,” Mr. Walker said at a news conference also attended by the Republican leaders of the Senate and Assembly.

The minority leader issued a statement saying if Mr. Walker didn’t want to talk with him, the governor could meet with any of the 14 Senate Democrats. And Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said it was Mr. Walker who was standing in the way.

“We continually reach out with suggestions, ideas, offers,” Mr. Erpenbach said. “We’re not the ones getting in the way.”

Before Mr. Walker refused the meeting request, Democrats were talking more openly about the need to return sooner rather than later. And even if they lose in a Senate vote, the lawmakers said, they had accomplished their broader goal of striking a nationwide political blow against Republican plans to cut back union rights.

“I don’t think anyone expects us to stay here forever,” Mr. Jauch said in a telephone interview from Illinois.

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