Book tells story of political standoff between Gov. Walker and unions

MADISON (WITI) -- A new book tells the inside story of the epic political standoff between Gov. Scott Walker and organized labor. On January 3rd, 2011, Scott Walker was sworn in as Wisconsin's 45th governor. A month later, he began rewriting the stat's history. Now, all of those events are cataloged in a definitive account -- a new book called "More Than They Bargained For."

The book was written by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel correspondents Patrick Marley and Jason Stein.

"Jason brought it up in the halls a couple of weeks into the occupation of the Capitol and said 'we should really think about doing a book' and as soon as he said it, I thought, 'that's a great idea' because clearly there was national, if not international interest in what was happening," Marley said.

The book draws upon their daily reporting, but goes deeper. The two reporters conducted hours of new interviews with all of the key players.

The budget battle started in earnest on February 11th.

"He came forward on the 11th and announced that and the unions were really back on their heels, but it wasn't until the next week that everybody saw just how dramatic the response would be," Marley said.

Gov. Walker personally held briefings with the Republican caucus, and the details of his plan literally sent shivers through their spines.

"The phrase that sticks out to me is Sen. Schultz, said 'people kill their dogs over this sort of thing,'" Stein said.

Behind-the-scenes, powerful Republican Senator Scott Fitzgerald had concerns. He thought Gov. Walker's proposal went too far, and would be viewed as a political attack -- not a responsible fiscal stewardship.

"One of the reasons Scott  Fitzgerald -- the Republican leader in the Senate gave for not wanting to end collective bargaining for most public employees was this will look like we're trying to destroy our political enemies," Stein said.

Just three days after the bill was publicly announced, some 10,000 protesters had converged on the Capitol.

"The Joint Finance Committee was meeting. It got to be three in the morning, and no end in sight because you had hundreds of people waiting to testify.  So Republicans said this is enough. We'll pick it up again tomorrow, so we're going to close it down," Marley said.

The Democrats decided to hold an informal hearing through the night, and the Capitol Police were forced to make a choice, one that would unintentionally fuel a movement.

"They said if the Democrats are doing something semi-officially, they'll keep it open, and that set this precedent that allowed people to be in the building around the clock," Marley said.

The occupation of the Capitol lasted for nearly a month.

"They brought blankets, they brought food, people were sharing things, pasting signs everywhere, chanting and drums," Marley said.

"For me, the way I always short hand it is, because we were writing about complex things, parliamentary and policy wise,  it was like writing a Master's Thesis in the middle of a rock concert every day," Stein said.

Suddenly, the eyes of the world were on Wisconsin.

"We had media coming in not just from around the country, but around the world," Stein said.

This was a precursor to the "Occupy" movement that occurred around the country.

"Time Magazine later named the 'Protester' as its person of the year," Stein said.

So how did Madison become the stage for an epic showdown about the size and scope of government?

"Certainly a contributing factor was the Senate Democrats' decision to leave the state that Thursday when it would have been voted on," Marley said.

Gov. Walker and the Republican majorities in the Legislature were going to force a vote less than one week after the proposal had been made public. But the Democrats in the Senate had one final card to play.

"They met quickly that morning and said they'd found this way that if they left the state, Republicans couldn't act because they needed a higher quorum than normal for a bill that spent money, so they said, 'let's go to Illinois,'" Marley said.

They left with no long-term strategy, but many assumed it would be a trip that lasted days, not weeks.

"Once they were gone, that fueled the protests.  They saw it as progress because the bill's jammed up in the Senate, schools are clsoing down because teachers wouldn't show up to work," Marley said.

"That also galvanized his supporters who -- in turn became enraged by what they saw as the Democrats' refusal to do their duty and vote, so that moment more than any other you see both sides get to an extraordinary level of emotion," Stein said.

"Once they got to Illinois and started to be some divisions.  They started to strategize, some saying 'we'll camp out as long as it takes,' others saying, 'I got to get back to my district, this is getting ridiculous,'" Marley said.

Senator Tim Cullen was the only Senate Democrat who remained in the Capitol that morning. He had made a promise to announce to the press corps that his long-time friend, former state Senator Bill Bablich had died.

"Cullen actually talks to Mike Ellis, and they work out something where Cullen can slip away before they have a call of the house," Marley said.

"(Mike Ellis) certainly had an opportunity to perhaps have stopped it, sure," Stein said.

With the Democratic senators out of the state, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca emerged as the face of opposition to Gov. Walker.

The Assembly held a record-setting 61-hour debate on Act 10 before it was finally passed, but the Senate standoff continued.

However, Sen. Fitzgerald had figured out a way to take a vote without the Democrats, and ordered a conference committee to essentially rewrite the bill, splitting the non-fiscal items out of the bill.

A vote would be taken in less than two hours.

"They did it in a very tiny room, just behind the Senate, so a lot of media is crammed in there, some legislative staffers, 20 members of the public let in, thousands of others outside the chamber chanting.  The committee was just starting and one member yelled, 'take a moment, step back from the abyss,'" Marley said.

The Republican senators refused media interviews and all got on a bus, and out of the Capitol, which was shaking with the anger of the protesters.

"There was a crucial decision made by the chief of the UW Madison Police that night which was to not try and keep people from coming into the doors. Just to move back and let people come in and gently move them out later on," Stein said.

Act 10 was later signed into law, but the standoff revealed something about Gov. Walker.

"Remember him being very calm, not projecting nervousness. Looking tired, but not in anyway nervous or shook up, and as people kick around the idea he might run for president, that's something to remember," Stein said.

Gov. Walker is coming out with his own book this fall.