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Journalist: Lawmakers Getting Along - But Tensions Persist in Post-Act 10 Legislature

UW Press

A new book gives a behind-the-scenes look at Governor Walker's administration during the collective bargaining fight.

When Governor Scott Walker made a priority of eliminating most collective bargaining rights for public employees two years ago, it sparked a period of nearly unprecedented political turmoil in this state. And reporters Jason Stein and Patrick Marley were in the middle of it.

We heard numerous times through that period from the two state capitol reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Each wrote thousands of column inches about Act 10 and its aftermath, and they continue to write about how that controversy informs politics here today.

Stein and Marley have a new book out about time surrounding the Act 10 debate. It’s called More Than They Bargained For: Scott Walker, Unions, and the Fight for Wisconsin.

Stein says like much of the public, journalists, too, were taken by surprise by the governor's actions.

"There was certainly strong signs that he was going to take aggressive actions against public employee, public employee benefits and unions, but nothing that really gave the public or I should say us as reporters a sense of how far he was going to go," he says.

He says the pair felt compelled to write the book to include perspective they could only gain after the fact.

"Some of the most important things in the book were things we didn't even know were happening at the time," he says.

Moreover, Marley says a book allowed the reporters to delve further into the competing personalities that added fuel to the ideological debates taking place in the state capitol.

"There's a lot of characters in the Wisconsin legislature, and we were able to sort of explore that and show how that dynamic affected the way things went," Marley says.

Credit UW Press
Two Journal Sentinel reporters' new book examines Wisconsin's political battle over public union rights.

The book also investigates how the Obama campaign determined its Wisconsin strategy following Act 10's passage and immediately following the recall election against Scott Walker - including why some feel national Democrats abandoned Mayor Tom Barrett in the recall election.

Marley and Stein also detail the bitter tensions that pervaded the capitol in the aftermath of Act 10 - as Republicans pursued concealed carry, voter ID laws, and a budget that cut school aid, much to the chagrin of Democrats. Stein says personal as well as political relationships were left in tatters.

But in this new session, even with Republicans still in control, Stein says tensions have eased - slightly.

"So far people seem to be getting along much better in the assembly," he says. "They've brokered this deal to limit debate so that they don't have as many overnight sessions, that seems to be going well. But there's still that tension in the background, that we know that everything could sort of spill over at any moment."

The authors will hold a launch event for the book at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee on March 26th.