- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker donned a white apron to man the grill at a bipartisan picnic that had the air of an international peace conference, with a news helicopter circling overhead, protesters yelling outside the gates and lawmakers ushered onto the grounds under tight security.

Mr. Walker didn’t allow the media into the cookout he hosted at the governor’s mansion just a week after winning a recall election spurred by anger over his push to eliminate most public employees’ union rights. He billed the bipartisan gathering as a way to heal political wounds created during his first 18 months in office, which saw massive protests and multiple recall efforts targeting lawmakers of both parties.

Some of the nearly 100 state lawmakers who attended the picnic said later that it was a good first step, but Mr. Walker needs to do more to show he’s serious about bringing the parties together.

“The question is not what happened today, but what’s going to happen tomorrow,” said state Rep. Brett Hulsey, Madison Democrat, who emerged from the two-hour picnic carrying a souvenir bottle of Sprecher root beer with a special label that said “Moving Wisconsin Forward.”

The so-called “brat summit” featured the local sausages whose name is pronounced “brahts,” cheese and many other Wisconsin-made products.

Earlier in the day, the president of the Illinois-based Woman’s Christian Temperance Union chided Mr. Walker for having beer on the menu. President Rita Wert said the problems facing Wisconsin are serious, and policymakers shouldn’t cloud their judgment by drinking alcohol.

“That portrays kind of a party atmosphere, and I don’t think that’s what people want,” she said. “It’s just really a shame that it has to be that way.”

The two dozen protesters outside the gates included those who have hounded Mr. Walker for months, along with Marty Beil, executive director of the state’s largest public employees union. Mr. Beil dismissed the cookout as “nothing more than a PR gig.”

But lawmakers were upbeat after the event.

Rep. Gary Hebl, Sun Prairie Democrat, said the cookout laid a good groundwork for future talks on more substantive issues like job creation.

And Rep. Peter Barca, the Democratic minority leader in the Assembly, said Mr. Walker stepped out from behind the grill to talk with him and promised follow up discussions with all legislative leaders in the coming weeks.

“I do think it was a positive step, no question about it,” Mr. Barca said.


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