By MOLLY BALL | 2/26/11 3:29 PM EST
The final day of the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting turned into an impromptu rally for the public workers of Wisconsin, demonstrating that the standoff over GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget has galvanized labor and liberals.
“The fight is on,” Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told the closing session of the DNC gathering at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel Saturday morning. “We work together. We help those embattled states right now where public employees are under assault.”
Solis, a former congresswoman from California, got cheers and multiple standing ovations for her remarks blasting Walker and other Republican governors who seek to weaken government workers’ collective bargaining rights.
“We know many states are facing tough budget decisions,” she said. “We know there’s room for shared sacrifice — shared sacrifice. We’ve seen our brothers and sisters in public employee unions willingly give up their fair share. … The governors of Wisconsin and Ohio aren’t just demanding that they tighten their belts, they’re demanding that they give up their uniquely American rights as workers.”
Top labor officials — from Gerald McEntee, president of the government workers’ union AFSCME, to Anna Burger, former secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union — came to the floor to speak in favor of a resolution supporting workers and collective bargaining.
It was a moment of unity and passion for a party that has lacked both in the months leading up to and since Democrats’ pounding in the midterm elections. One senior Democratic official acknowledged as much, and said the party hopes to gain politically from the Wisconsin conflict even if Walker prevails.
“Regardless of how Wisconsin plays out, what’s clear from the display today is that Scott Walker has handed us a gift,” the official said. “He took a deflated, fractured party coming out of 2010 and as evidenced by what we saw in this room, [has] given us a unified, energized and motivated base.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a DNC vice chair, said in an interview that she couldn’t recall seeing Democrats so energized and unified “in a long time.”
“Democrats understand we need to make sure to focus on deficit reduction, tightening our belts and living within our means in difficult economic times, but what Governor Walker is doing in Wisconsin goes way beyond that,” she said. “He is trying to break the back of the unions.”
A newly elected former county executive in just his second month in office, Walker has refused to back down in the face of weeks of raucous protests and counter-protests in Madison. He says the collective bargaining changes are a necessary part of his drive to balance the state budget in lean fiscal times. While Assembly Republicans voted Friday to back Walker’s approach, the legislation is stalled in the Senate after Democrats fled the state on Feb. 17 to prevent a quorum.
Though most other GOP governors have shied away from a Walker-style showdown, the DNC speakers sought to pin the issue on the Republican Party as a whole.
“This is where we go when we elect Republicans to these powerful offices,” McEntee said on the floor at the meeting.
McEntee noted that AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka will be on “Meet the Press” Sunday opposite Walker. “We’re trying to find out where [Walker] will be so we can picket him,” he added. “We think he’s worthy of that.”
McEntee was followed at the microphone by more than a dozen others, including national and state union officials and DNC members from across the country, expressing solidarity.
“We are tired of seeing those people in their fancy suits cry crocodile tears dropping on their alligator shoes,” said Christine Trujillo, president of New Mexico’s teachers union and its AFL-CIO federation. “It’s time to make them stop.”
Burger, the former chairwoman of the Change to Win union coalition, said the Wisconsin battle was part of a national struggle. “As we stand here with our sisters and brothers in Wisconsin, we are really standing with all workers in this country,” she said. “Let’s rise up in our country and make sure all workers have justice.”
The heat over the union issue threatened to overshadow the session’s star speakers, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who gave platitude-laden speeches echoing the themes of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, complete with its call to “win the future.”
Daley emphasized the positive, not even alluding to the GOP, while Kaine sought to paint the opposition as backward-looking.
“In that battle between winning the future and the other party fighting the battles of the past, I like our odds,” Kaine said.