By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker told Republicans who control the state Assembly on Thursday that he is committed to making it easier to hire and fire state workers, saying the current system is broken.
Walker’s strong endorsement of the changes came just three days after he abruptly quit the Republican race for president and now tries to reassert himself as governor.
Walker, who enraged state workers in 2011 when he took away nearly all their collective bargaining powers, said he planned to travel the state to talk about the merit of reforming how public employees are hired and what constitutes just cause for firing them.
The proposal elicited immediate opposition from Democrats and union leaders, who said it will open the door to GOP cronyism and corruption.
“We’re excited,” Walker told Republicans who were meeting before heading into session to debate other measures. “There are many great reforms ahead.”
The 15-minute address to Republicans marked the first time Walker has spoken publicly since he dropped out of the presidential run due to fundraising drying up. Walker spoke to donors on a private call Wednesday, and said he planned to take reporters’ questions Friday. He declined to answer questions Thursday.
But he made it clear to lawmakers that he was excited about continuing as governor, repeating that he’s not interested in a Cabinet position if a Republican is elected president. Walker also repeated that he is committed to serving out the remainder of his term, which runs through 2018.
“I love being governor,” he said.
The bill focusing on the recruitment, retention and reform of state worker hiring and firing policies is being introduced by Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, and state Sen. Roger Roth. Steineke said he hoped to have it introduced no later than Monday.
The measure would reshape the state’s 100-year-old civil service system by eliminating exams for job applicants and instituting a resume-based system. Hiring authority would shift from state agencies to also include the Department of Administration, a direct extension of Walker’s office. The hiring process would have to be completed within 60 days of the job posting.
The measure also would define just cause for terminations and require that workers undergo a standardized annual performance review in an effort to issue merit raises, Steineke said.
A union leader said the current system is designed to ensure that hiring decisions are based on what people know, not their political connections.
“This is another attack on Wisconsin’s tradition of clean government, a tradition this administration has already placed on life support,” said Rick Badger, executive director of the state’s largest public employee union AFSCME. “Any changes coming from a governor who is clearly obsessed with silencing workers, punishing foes and concentrating his own political power should be viewed with alarm.”
Walker said changes were justified because there were cases of state workers who viewed pornography at work and had sex in conference rooms but could not be fired under the current system. “That just doesn’t make sense,” Walker said.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Steineke both said they hope to vote on the measure next month.
“This is about preparing our state hiring process for the future,” Steineke said. “We have to modernize it so we can get the best and brightest in.”
But Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jen Shilling said the changes are an “invitation to more corruption.”
Steineke said he viewed the idea as “employee friendly,” and not as the next step forward from Act 10, the law that took away collective bargaining for nearly all state workers. Anger over that law led to Walker’s recall election in 2012, which he won.