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Recall survivor Gov. Scott Walker extends half an olive branch to unions

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, recall election behind him, says fight over collective bargaining was about money, not unions, and that 'right-to-work' legislation is something he is 'not going to do.'

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the Monitor Breakfast on June 14.
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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), survivor of a recall election last week, sought to clarify his motive for eliminating collective bargaining rights for many state workers in 2011, saying the fight "wasn't about unions" so much as about fiscal responsibility. He also said, again, that he does not intend to pursue right-to-work legislation, which labor leaders see as akin to union-busting. 

But his tone was not all sweetness and light, as he took credit for setting the reset button on state and union balance of power in Wisconsin government. Labor leaders never believed "anyone would ever dare to make the changes we did," he said Thursday at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters. For too long, "they intimidated local officials into never daring to make tough decisions."

The reform agenda he and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature pushed through early last year eliminated collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions except police and firefighters. The agenda brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to Madison, the state capital, for months, and motivated the recall challenge that resulted in last week's election.

Walker has long said those reforms were needed to eliminate the state's $3.6 billion budget deficit without tax hikes or widespread layoffs. Unions held sway for so long in Wisconsin, he said Thursday, because no previous governor had challenged them. Still, media reports after his June 5 victory "overstated" the blow it represented for public-sector unions in Wisconsin, he said. 

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