- Associated Press - Monday, June 11, 2012

MADISON, Wis. — Nothing brings people together in Wisconsin like the promise of beer and brats.

At least that’s what Gov. Scott Walker hopes.

Exactly one week after the Republican fought off a Democratic-led attempt to recall him from office, Mr. Walker tried to mend some fences by inviting state lawmakers from both parties to a cookout Tuesday.

The idea isn’t new. Politicians have long recognized the symbolic and sometimes substantive power of sharing a meal or drink to bring people together.

President Obama used the tactic early in his presidency when in 2009 he invited a black scholar and the white police sergeant who arrested him to the White House to share a beer and talk about race relations.

But other, similar efforts haven’t gone as well.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former brewpub owner, invited the House speaker to meet him for a glass of bourbon under a tree on the Capitol lawn last month after House Republicans blocked a vote on civil unions for same-sex couples.

The two met in the middle of the night without staff or reporters, but the Democratic governor failed to persuade Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty to end the filibuster. The session closed without a vote on the measure.

In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam tried to carry on his Democratic predecessor’s tradition of holding bipartisan breakfast meetings with legislative leaders during the session. But minority Democrats expressed frustration with the meetings and stopped attending.

Such meals traditionally have been held outside the public eye at restaurants or bars near the capitol so officeholders can talk informally about the issues of the day.

But as both Republicans and Democrats have become more partisan and the attacks more pointed, the willingness to break bread or share a cold one has diminished.

Mr. Walker’s tenure in Wisconsin has been marked by bitter partisanship — all 14 Senate Democrats fled the state for three weeks last year in an ultimately futile attempt to stop Republicans from passing Mr. Walker’s bill eliminating most public workers’ collective bargaining rights.

After the measure became law, Democrats led the effort to recall the governor and a number of Republican lawmakers. Mr. Walker kept his job, but others didn’t.

The governor has expressed regret over the bitterness of the fight, and after winning his recall election by a 7-point margin last week, he floated the idea of having all 132 state lawmakers to the governor’s mansion in Madison for brats and beer as a way to bridge the divide that has driven state politics for 1 1/2 years.

Lawmakers may bring their spouses and two staff members, but otherwise, the two-hour picnic is closed “to provide a relaxed environment for lawmakers to socialize with each other and with the governor,” said Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie.

It makes sense to keep the picnic private to encourage conversations and avoid accusations that it’s just a photo opportunity, said Brandon Scholz, a Republican consultant and former state party executive director who heads the Wisconsin Grocers Association, which handled food for the event. The menu was to be released Monday afternoon.

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