It turns out not all of Wisconsin's problems were solved over
beer and brats Tuesday.
But Republicans and Democrats came a little closer to at least having a civil discussion about issues dividing the state during the so-called brat summit at the governor's mansion.
"This can't hurt," Rep. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) said. "Is it the answer? Probably not. But I think it's a first step."
"First step" was a phrase legislators from both sides employed repeatedly.
"It was a good first step, and the follow-up is what really counts," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha).
Lawmakers from both parties stressed as they came out of the event that its purpose was not to reach agreement on the role of public-sector unions or what the state's tax structure should look like, but to begin to treat each other with respect after more than a year and a half of tumult. During that period, Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans all but ended collective bargaining for most public employees, Democrats left the state for three weeks to try to stop that measure and 15 recall elections were held over the issue.
In his victory speech after winning his own recall June 5, Walker announced plans for the bipartisan cookout on the shore of Lake Mendota. Cabinet secretaries, lawmakers and their staffs ate Wisconsin brats from places such as Kenosha's Brat Stop and sipped local beers such as Lakefront's Wisconsinite.
Ninety-eight of the state's 132 lawmakers -- 60 Republicans, 37 Democrats and one independent -- planned on attending. They said as they walked out they had friendly conversations, and there was at least a hug across the partisan aisle. (Marklein said he received it from Democratic Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa of Milwaukee.)
"I don't know that we changed minds, but maybe we broke down some of the barriers that have existed for 16 months," Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said.
Breaking down barriers will be tough, and evidence of that was on display outside the mansion's gates. As Nygren and other Republicans talked to a scrum of reporters, a small band of protesters heckled them.
One repeatedly sang "Who's John Doe?" in an operatic voice, referring to an ongoing secret investigation of Walker aides going back to his time as Milwaukee County executive. Another held a sign that said, "Healing begins with indictment."
Some Republicans weren't embracing bipartisanship either. On Monday, Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) announced he was boycotting the cookout because he didn't like recent comments from a pair of Democrats and thought it was important for legislators to "stand up to bullies."
Walker declined to allow the media into the event, and they lined up their cameras outside the mansion's gates. A news helicopter circled the property, and photos were snapped from a boat.
That kind of coverage overstated the importance of the event, said Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), who joked it received "media attention like it is Camp David."
But such get-togethers are important to foster better relationships, said the veteran lawmaker.
"The fact is," Jauch said, "this sort of stuff should happen more often."
Tuesday's meeting of the minds over local brews didn't sit well with at least one outside group.
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union, which successfully lobbied for Prohibition in the 1920s and whose 5,000 members continue to spread its antidrinking message nationwide, criticized the serving of alcohol at the event.
"I don't think it's cool at all," said Rita Wert, president of the group. "It sets a very poor example."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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