Wisconsin Police and Firefighters Didn’t Endorse Walker

Of the 314 police and firefighter unions in Wisconsin, only four endorsed Scott Walker.

Among the many problems when a local debate goes national is that outsiders have little knowledge of the background facts and frequently labor under grossly mistaken ideas.

For example, in the Wisconsin showdown, most of us have been laboring under the notion that Republican Governor Scott Walker exempted police and firefighters from his plan to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees because they endorsed him for election whereas the teachers’ unions and others backed his Democratic opponent.

It turns out that this is completely untrue.  Walker tells CBS News’ Chris Wragge:

There are 314 fire and police unions in the state. Four of them endorsed me. All the rest endorsed my opponent.

NewsBusters’ Noel Sheppard has an impressive roundup of newspaper headlines and other proof for those not inclined to take Walker’s word for it.

And it makes sense, once you get past the erroneous factoid that got us on the wrong track to begin with. After all, despite being exempted from the change in the law, firefighters and cops have been marching in solidarity with their union brethren.

Yesterday, my colleague Steven Taylor asked a perfectly reasonable question: “If it is a fundamental principle that public sector employees ought not to have the right to collective bargaining, why are the police, firefighters and state troopers of Wisconsin not part of the package?

On NPR this morning, Walker answered that he couldn’t take the risk of cops and firefighters going out on strike and allow mayhem to ensue. But that’s an appeal to consequences — and a very dangerous one — rather than a principled reason.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Matt says:

    I mentioned this in Dr. Taylor’s post yesterday, and saw people saying the opposite just a few comments down. It was an interesting example of watching an established narrative taking such a hold that contrary information was simply ignored.

    As to Walker’s answer, I still think the underlying reason was to keep his opponents from being able to scream about him wanting to kill Grandma in a fire and/or hail of bullets. Not a terrible political move, but not exactly a profile in courage.

  2. Elia says:

    I can’t speak for others, but this is not news to me. And, what’s more, I think the following tarnishes any claim that Walker’s actions had no political motivation:

    Except the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association and Milwaukee Police Association don’t deliver much in terms of campaign donations. The firefighters gave Walker no money, while the police union chipped in $1,100 to his campaign and that of his lieutenant governor.

    What these labor groups deliver instead is an image that their candidate is tough on crime. You may remember that in addition to endorsing the eventual winner, leaders from both Milwaukee unions starred in one of Walker’s most compelling campaign ads late in the election season.

    “I can’t speak to whether any deals were cut,” said Patrick Curley, chief of staff for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat who was defeated by Walker in November. “But it’s obvious that these two groups received special consideration in this bill.”

    On Friday, the first-term Republican governor called it “utterly ridiculous” to suggest that the provision in the budget bill was a payback to Milwaukee’s police and fire unions.

    Walker noted that the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin – the two state organizations – backed his opponent. If the new governor really wanted to reward his supporters, he said he could have simply exempted the Milwaukee unions from his proposal.


    Dave Seager, head of the Milwaukee firefighters union, said Walker has made his group no promises on any issue. But Seager – who appeared in his full firefighter’s garb for the Walker TV spot last fall – said he would have been derelict in his duties if he hadn’t raised the residency issue with Walker last year.

    And what was the response? Seager said Walker pointed out that he backed legislation to repeal the requirement when he was a legislator.


    Here’s the source: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/noquarter/116139104.html

    I don’t know a ton about WIsconsin, but I would imagine the Milwaukee unions hold a rather significant proportion of influence/power compared to the state-at-large.

  3. wr says:

    Interesting. The headline reads “Wisconsin police and firefighters didn’t endorse Walker.”

    But when you read the story, it is entirely based on a quote — from Walker. A man who has been lying about his motivations all along.

    If you’re going to make a blanket statement like this, you might want to source it better than a single quote from an interested party.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @wr: I follow the quote with “NewsBusters’ Noel Sheppard has an impressive roundup of newspaper headlines and other proof for those not inclined to take Walker’s word for it.”

  5. Ben says:

    I don’t care who the police and firefighters’ unions endorsed in the campaign, because that’s only important if you think Walker is corrupt. He exempted the police unions because Republicans have always worshipped the police, and always take the pro-LEO stance on every issue, every time. To not do that would be to put yourself out there as “soft on crime”, which is death to candidates in this country.

  6. Elia says:

    In these issues, the line between ideology and corruption can become very thin and, of course, in the eye of the beholder:


  7. Armando says:


    I do not understand your reasoning on why Walker’s explanation for exempting police and firefighters makes sense.

    If a strike by police and firefighters would be a more serious matter than a strike by other state workers, that argues for less collective bargaining for police and firefighter, not more.

    Strikes are called by well organized unions, not by unorganized unions. By strengthening the organizing abilitires of police and firefighters, Walker would be increasing the police and firefighters’ ability to strike, not lessening it.

    The argument seems to support the opposite conclusion to me – that allowing state workers who arenot police and firefighter to bargain collectively is less risky than allowing police and firefighters to bargain collectively.

  8. James Joyner says:


    We agree: I’m saying that Walker’s explanation makes no sense. If anyone should be denied the right to strike, it’s cops and firefighters.

  9. Axel Edgren says:

    If there is one thing republicans hate, it is solidarity between groups they want to turn against one another.

  10. Armando says:


    My mistake then. Apologies.

  11. Andy says:

    It is also worth mentioning that the man who is newly appointed to run the state police (also exempt from the collective bargaining portion of the bill) is the father of both the head of the senate and house in WI (who just happen to be brothers).
    Worth noting as well that there are other things in this bill that the people of WI should be paying attention to…

    While there has been significant attention devoted to the fact that Walker’s 144-page budget repair bill would strip away collective bargaining rights for public employees, the site “Rortybomb” points out a less noticed provision that would allow the state to sell or contract out any state-owned energy asset in no-bid deals with private corporations. From the legislation (emphasis added):

    16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

    It’s unclear what “the best interest of the state” is.

    But if this deal goes through, one of the companies that could stand to benefit significantly is Koch Industries. Koch already has several companies in the state, including a coal subsidiary, timber plants and a large network of pipelines.

    During the 2010 election cycle, Walker received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC, his second-largest contribution. The PAC also gave significantly to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn helped out Walker considerably in his race. Koch also contributed $6,500 to support 16 Republican legislative candidates in the state.

    The Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity has also been standing with Walker throughout his budget battles, busing in Tea Party activists and launching the site, Stand With Walker. After the election, Walker and other Republican governors received guidance from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that is also funded by Koch dollars and has pushed anti-union measures

  12. daveinboca says:

    I’ve got an even better reason for allowing police and firefighters to bargain collectively. The police & firemen are public safety officers and have danger written into their job descriptions and have to be ready day & night, 24/7/365.

    And the public service unions of the teachers have a record of producing second-rate students, much worse than their parochial & private school teachers, while getting three months of vacation and gold-plated Cadillac retirement benefits better than any other teachers unions in the USA.

    My brother and his wife are coming from Milwaukee to Boca tomorrow, she teaches in a public school with a huge salary while he teaches in a parochial for a pittance. Ditto on the benefits, which he has to pay for and she doesn’t.

    Scott Walker for President and I hope he CRUSHES the greedy incompetent teachers’ mafia.

  13. Chris Cherest says:

    Totally agree with a number of you. Reagan saw fit to fire those traffic controllers who thought they had a right to strike. Same appliers here.
    If one opts to work in the public sector in ANY job, collective bargaining is not an option. It makes no sense that the unions spend money to elect the candidates that are willing to prostitute themselves to the unions for the sake of votes, and then they sit down to negotiate these same candidates and ask for sweetheart deals that the taxpayer (who has NO say in the proceeding) has to pay for. And they the funds the taxpayer pays to the union members goes to pay the dues to the union, which then pays the money to the candidate and so on and so on. When do we realize just how corrupt the whole process is.
    And there is no way that I want any public service worker, including firemen and police to have the right to determine what their benefits package is going to be that I have to bay for in 30 years.

  14. jwest says:


    I hope you realize that your chances of becoming an MSNBC contributor are now slim to none.

    Let this be a lesson to any other blogger who publishes facts.

  15. Terrye says:

    That is what happens when you have public service unions, the leadership endorses the people who will give them the best pay rate and benefit package. And that is the Democrats, the people they give the most money too… it is a corrupt system. These people should be making their determination on who to vote for based on who they think is best for the job…not on who they think has been bought by their union.

    I wonder if this holds true however for rank and file. For years Teamsters supported Democrats, but the rank and file supported Republicans.

  16. sam says:


    “My brother and his wife are coming from Milwaukee to Boca tomorrow, she teaches in a public school with a huge salary while he teaches in a parochial for a pittance. Ditto on the benefits, which he has to pay for and she doesn’t.

    Scott Walker for President and I hope he CRUSHES the greedy incompetent teachers’ mafia.”

    Gee, maybe you should try and talk him into divorcing that incompetent mafiaosa. I mean, it’s the least you could do, right?

  17. Idi Amin says:

    Unions are the last thing standing between the serf/lord economy the Republicans would like to bring back and the America we’ve gotten comfortable with since FDR.

    Republicans generally see themselves sittin’ on their verandas, sippin’ mint juleps and watching their field-hand serfs work their fields down below.

  18. Zee says:

    @DaveinBoca Wow, you have a gross misinturrpretation of just how a teaching job works….

    First off, that “three month” vacation, is maybe one month. You have to do paperwork, and testing, and take classes, and gain further education. You are working through a lot of the summer. But you aren’t actually getting paid.
    Which leads to point two. Yes, you get paychecks all year round, but that is because they take the hours you worked, and stagger your pay. You get paid for 9 months of work over a 12 month period. You aren’t actually being paid for the summer.
    Three, I’m not sure where you are getting this picture of a fabulous retirement package, cause there isn’t. There is a very basic retirement and pension plan, that is no different than any other plan. You contribute, your work contributes and matches you to a point. At least half of it is money that you already earned. Why do you think so many teachers work well into their sixties and seventies? Cause they just love their work sooo much?
    Four, and finally, teachers are the backbone of this country, and its’ future. Without an education your children, and your friends children, and your neighbors children, and any other children connected to have little to no job prospects, and will be looked down upon in our degree based society. Teachers play a massively important part in our country, why would you treat them so bad?