MADISON -- One week after he became the nation's first governor to survive a recall election, Governor Scott Walker hosted nearly every member of the state's Legislature and their staff members for a bipartisan "Beer and Brat Summit" at the Governor's Mansion in Madison on Tuesday afternoon, June 12th. Gov. Walker promised the summit during his victory speech in Waukesha, and said the goal is to begin the process of healing the bitter divide of the last year-and-a-half.
The media was not allowed inside the "Brat Summit" Tuesday and Gov. Walker said there is a reason for that, saying he didn't want the summit to serve as a photo opportunity.
"No one gets a closeup, in case I burn one of the brats," Gov. Walker joked Tuesday.
Gov. Walker grilled the brats himself. He said Tuesday his hope for the "Brat Summit" was for it to serve as an opportunity for lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to come together and talk, and begin to rebuild trust.
Gov. Walker said he hoped this would be the first step towards bridging Wisconsin's bipartisan divide.
During the height of protests after Gov. Walker passed Act. 10, effectively stripping collective bargaining rights for union workers, brats themselves became a partisan issue, when people protested Madison's famous "Brat Fest" because executives from Johnsonville (the event's sponsor) had donated to Gov. Walker's campaign.
"Since I'm bringing Democrats and Republicans together, we're mixing all the brats together so nobody knows whether they get Trigs, whether they get Johnsonville or whether they get whatever brand out there. We got all kinds of brands, and they're all going to be mixed up, just like all the lawmakers and staff are going to mixed up," Gov. Walker said.
"We had a good meeting with Republicans and Democrats. We had great brats -- the governor did a hell of a job. He's a hell of a cook and we had some good conversations," Rep. Scott Suder (R - Abbotsford) said.
"It was very casual, and it is probably something that should have happened a year-and-a-half ago. This is just one step. There's a lot more work to be done in the next few months, but we've got to start somewhere," one lawmaker said.
A handful of lawmakers declined Gov. Walker's invitation to the "Brat Summit." Gov. Walker said all but three Democrats and one Republican lawmaker attended Tuesday's "Brat Summit."
"I thought out of 132, to have what is it? 3 or 4 now? That's a pretty good ratio," Gov. Walker said.
Gov. Walker said he knows one afternoon "Brat Summit" won't heal the state, but he hopes it's a step in the right direction.
"I'm not naive to suggest that after today, just having enough beer and brats will automatically, magically make sure that everything's better, but it's a good start. We'll have our differences. There will be plenty of debate. Nobody should naively think that there will never be a battle over any issue in the future, but I just think there's a way we can renew a little bit of that collegiality -- that we can say, maybe on the issues we can agree on, building a little more social interaction is a way of getting that done," Gov. Walker said.
"This is a small step, but it's a good step. There's a difference between having a bratwurst and having people interested in your ideas. It's good to talk to people about something other than politics," Sen. Tim Cullen (D - Janesville) said.
"Today is not just a photo op. It's an opportunity to work together, to talk together, to get to know each other, and I think in this painful recall environment, it's a chance to go forward and say can we go forward for the people of Wisconsin?" Sen. Alberta Darling (R - River Hills) said.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said he hoped real agreement can come of the cookout.
"The problem isn't that we haven't eaten together. The problem is that we haven't worked together. If nothing else, if we agreed that we would attempt to come forward with a couple of different bills in the next 60 to 90 days, that would certainly be a great outcome of today's Brat Fest. I did talk with the governor, and we did discussed the idea of coming back into special session the next two to three months, and coming forward with bills like closing the skills gap, so we can get people back to work," Barca said.
"If the governor's serious about partisanship, then he needs to have a real summit on some of the key issues and bring us together and keep us together until we come out with real, meaningful solutions," Sen. Bob Jauch (D - Poplar) said.
All of the food and drinks for Tuesday's "Brat Summit" were donated by Wisconsin companies to the state of Wisconsin, but donors were not invited.