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Wis. gov. says support will grow for new law

By Scott Bauer

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 11 2011 10:16 p.m. MST

State Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee), center, and other Assembly Democrats thank protesters in the gallery after they were unable to stop the Republican majority from voting on, and passing, the budget repair bill at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., Thursday, March 10, 2011. The Assembly voted today to limit to limit eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers.

Wisconsin State Journal, Michael P. King, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Friday signed into law the proposal that eliminates most union rights for public employees, saying he had "no doubt" that support for the measure would grow over time.

The governor's signature on the bill quietly concluded a debate over collective bargaining that provoked three weeks of loud, relentless protests at the Capitol.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Walker said once the public sees government becoming more efficient, support for the changes will increase.

"What we're doing here, I think, is progressive. It's innovative. It's reform that leads the country, and we're showing there's a better way by sharing in that sacrifice with all of us in government," he said.

Walker, the 43-year-old son of a preacher who has swiftly become one of the most polarizing politicians in the country, signed the legislation in private Friday morning. At a ceremonial signing later in the day, he said the new law would be "good for the middle class for years to come."

The governor insisted the proposal was necessary to balance the state budget, and he never backed down, even after 14 Senate Democrats fled the state in an attempt to block the bill. The drama touched off an intense national debate over labor rights for public employees.

Parts of the fight were sure to continue in the courts and in the battle over the broader state budget.

On Friday, the Democratic executive of Dane County asked a court to find passage of the law to be unconstitutional, arguing in part that it was adopted without the required quorum. A judge denied an emergency request to block the measure and scheduled a longer hearing for Wednesday.

Walker said he was confident the law would withstand legal challenges.

The law does not take effect until the state issues an official notice that it has been enacted, and the notice is published in the Madison newspaper. Secretary of State Doug La Follette said he typically takes 10 business days to send the notice. Given the court action, he said he was not going to act any sooner than that.

Walker's success was a key victory for Republicans who have targeted unions in efforts to slash government spending.

Labor leaders and Democrats vowed to use the setback to fire up their supporters across the country and mount a counterattack against the GOP at the ballot box in 2012.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said the GOP was not listening to the people.

"Republicans may have achieved a short-term policy goal, but their radical agenda, the war on working families, has been exposed, and the people of Wisconsin and across the country are united against it as never before," Miller said in a statement.

Democrats said the battle with Walker helped them raise nearly $1 million in a matter of days, and efforts to recall Republican state senators who sided with Walker were gaining momentum.

Walker, who has sharply divided the state just 10 weeks into his term, remained defiant Friday, issuing a message of his own seeking donations from supporters.

"The voters of Wisconsin didn't elect me to pass the buck or run away from a tough fight," said the governor, who asked for donations starting at $100 and said he hoped to reach $150,000 within a month.

Walker told the AP he wasn't bothered by becoming such a polarizing figure.

"People, I believe, in times of crisis want leadership," he said. "They want leaders who identify the problem, identify a solution and then act on it. That's what we did."

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