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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brown Bagged

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Walker’s first television commercials in his quest for the Republican gubernatorial nomination touted the launching of a “Brown Bag Movement,” symbolized by Walker’s claim that he’s so frugal he packs a bag lunch every day.

Citizens who wanted to join Walker’s campaign for lean government were invited to purchase brown paper bags (five for $7, 50 for $35) embossed with Walker’s picture and slogans such as “I have to brown bag it so I can pay Wisconsin’s taxes” and “I’d be eating out if government wasn’t gobbling up my money!”

Pretty clever, actually, although state Democrats ridiculed the fact that the entire promotion was recycled almost word-for-word from a campaign used 12 years ago by Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich.

But there is another more embarrassing problem. Politicians who feast in glass restaurants shouldn’t throw hard rolls.

Two Associated Press reporters, Ryan Foley and Scott Bauer, went through Walker’s campaign expenditures and discovered Walker and his campaign staff had spent more than $24,500 on meals, often at high-end restaurants, over the past year and a half.

While supporters are being encouraged to eat out of brown paper bags bearing Walker’s picture, Walker and his campaign staff were spending $2,182 for “meeting expenses” at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Middleton and $805 at Timmer’s in West Bend.

Other impressive tabs paid with campaign funds included $244 at the Bay City Smokehouse in Green Bay, $230 and $193 at Carrabba’s Italian Grill in Greenfield, $230 at the Capital Grille in Washington, D.C., and $149 at the Waterfront in La Crosse.

It takes bags of campaign contributions to live so high off the hog.

Truth in Walker’s Actions?

There’s nothing particularly shocking about a candidate and his campaign staff running up big bills in nice restaurants, but it’s not very honest to then falsely portray the candidate as an ordinary working stiff going off to work every day with his sad, little ham-and-cheese sandwich.

The hypocrisy was what made the AP report a legitimate political story. Interestingly, even though newspapers all over the state picked up the AP story, Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, blacked it out to protect their hometown candidate from embarrassment.

There is something fundamentally dishonest about politicians running for governor claiming to be ordinary folks. Candidates in the last gubernatorial race raised and spent more than $30 million. Ordinary folks need not apply.

And there is something particularly jarring about Walker presenting himself as your average working guy carrying a bag lunch. It’s all those average working guys with bag lunches employed by Milwaukee County who have been laid off or had their wages and benefits slashed with unpaid furloughs and other contractual givebacks.

Walker has claimed the right to refuse to live up to county contracts negotiated with unions under special “emergency powers” as county executive. The emergency was that Walker was running for governor and did not want to raise taxes enough to pay the county’s bills.

Walker, who has eliminated jobs throughout his tenure as county executive and heads a government on the brink of bankruptcy, now claims to have the power to create—citing a totally made-up number—250,000 jobs as governor of Wisconsin.

A whole lot of Milwaukee County workers believe job creation should begin at home.

A working-class hero Walker is not. His lack of respect for the basic principles of labor relations was demonstrated when Walker submitted a county budget that included drastic wage and benefit reductions that had never been negotiated with county unions.

Rather than bargaining in good faith to reach a mutually beneficial agreement through a process of give-and-take, Walker expects union leaders to enter into sham negotiations where working people do all the giving and Walker does all the taking.

Working people in Milwaukee County who really do have to eat bag lunches saw their family-supporting jobs disappear as Walker outsourced their work to private, profit-making companies operated by wealthy campaign contributors.

In order to create private profits from what used to be public service, private contractors sometimes hire back desperate, laid-off workers at a fraction of their previous pay.

Maybe the next time Walker and his campaign staff enjoy a sumptuous $2,000 wingding at an expensive steakhouse, he could ask for a doggie bag to take a little back to those who really need it.

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