Gov. Scott Walker, in stark contrast to the weeks leading up to his inauguration, has begun meeting with local officials across Wisconsin, impressing both supporters and detractors with his accessibility.
Walker appeared to have burned bridges in December when he killed a Madison-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail project without discussing the plan with elected officials who would have benefited from the rail line. But Walker has kept more of an open-door policy since taking office last month.
“He’s a guy that will take phone calls,” Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt said.
Schmitt has talked to Walker several times, he said, including conversations in which they have discussed specific ways to promote business in Green Bay.
“I talked to him about Greenwood Fuels, a company that’s expanding. They’ve put $20 million into it,” Schmitt said.
“He said to his assistant, ‘Set up a visit.’ Just like that; not, ‘OK, send this to this department.’ It was awesome.”
Walker also recently met with Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who expressed anger that he couldn’t get a conversation with Walker before the governor turned away federal rail money.
The move, Cieslewicz said at the time, indicated Walker “couldn’t give a damn about us.” Several weeks later, though, Cieslewicz and Walker appear to have cleared the air.
Cieslewicz could not be reached for comment Monday because he was traveling back to Madison from Washington, where he watched the Super Bowl with President Barack Obama. A Walker spokesman did not respond to a request for comment by deadline Monday.
Cieslewicz, though, described his meeting with Walker in the mayor’s blog as “establishing a working relationship.” The two men pledged to seek common ground, Cieslewicz said.
A spokeswoman for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who also said he never spoke to Walker regarding the rail project, could not be reached by deadline Monday.
Despite Walker’s efforts to connect with local officials, an adversarial tone remains among left-leaning candidates — including Cieslewicz, who is up for re-election — running for local offices. Many candidates have aimed their campaigns as squarely at the Walker administration and its policies as they have toward their opponents.
“When they propose cuts in spending that negatively affect the people of Dane County, I’m going to fight them,” said Joe Wineke, a candidate for Dane County executive. “We have something like 70,000 state employees who live in Dane County. So, if the government proposes a 10 to 15 percent cut in wages, local businesses are going to go into a recession mode.”
But Eileen Bruskewitz, another candidate in the Dane County executive race, said local officials should embrace Walker’s policies.
Of her more liberal opponents, Bruskewitz said, “they’re not used to having an economic downturn of this magnitude, so they’re just mad. They’re angry at what Scott Walker’s going to do, but if you look at the Republicans and Democrats before Scott Walker, they borrowed too much, they spent too much, they taxed too much.”
If elected, Bruskewitz added, “Scott Walker will take my calls.”
The governor, though, appears to have expanded the list of people from whom he’s willing to take calls.
“You really want to have a government that is open to listening to you, and I think the Walker administration is very open to new ideas,” Schmitt said. “And I think that’s very healthy to restoring confidence in the business community.”