MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats who fled the state nearly three weeks ago asked Monday for a meeting with Gov. Scott Walker to talk about changes to his plan to eliminate most public workers' union rights, a request the governor dismissed as "ridiculous."
Walker said he and his administration have been in communication with at least a couple of the Senate Democrats about a deal that could bring them back, but the lawmaker who asked for the meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, "is firmly standing in the way."
That accusation led to a flurry of angry responses from Democrats who said Walker was misrepresenting the talks. The sometimes-angry exchange suggested that any resolution to the stalemate was further away than ever.
"Trust is completely broken down now. I don't believe anything he says," said Sen. Bob Jauch, one of two Democrats who had talked last week with the Senate Republican leader about possible compromises.
The standoff has drawn national attention and placed Wisconsin at the center of a vigorous debate over the future of union rights. Walker's proposal to balance the state budget remains in limbo because, without the 14 Democrats, the state Senate does not have enough members present for a quorum.
The Democratic senators said pressure is mounting on Walker and the GOP to compromise as protests have drawn tens of thousands of people to the Capitol.
In addition, polls show substantial opposition to the governor and his plan, and recall efforts have been launched against Republican senators. Recall efforts have also begun against the Democrats.
"The problem for the Democrats is to figure out how to come back and not be seen as conceding," said Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political science professor and founder of pollster.com.
Walker tried to place blame for the stalemate on Miller, saying he blocked progress on talks with Jauch and Sen. Tim Cullen.
Walker's proposal would remove most collective bargaining rights for public employees, except over wage increases no greater than inflation. Police and fire departments would be exempt. The legislation also would require state workers to pay more for their pension and health care benefits, which amounts to an 8 percent pay cut on average.