Gov. Scott Walker said he's looking forward to bringing lawmakers together for a so-called "Beer and Brat" summit on Tuesday.
Walker's mission behind the meeting is to follow through on an Election Night promise to try to bring people together after the recent recall election and preceding controversies dividing lawmakers at the state Capitol. The meeting comes one week after Walker fought off a Democratic-led attempt to recall him from office. Walker said he'll be manning the grill.
"To the extent that we can renew some of that bonds of friendship that we've had in the past, certainly having a brat and a burger and a beer is a good way to start it out," Walker said. "Certainly won't be the last thing but a good way to start."
The governor's office said that 98 of the state's 132 lawmakers will attend the event, but a number of lawmakers are staying away.
The reasons why some are declining the invitation vary. Some said they simply don't get the goal of the grilling.
"No disrespect to the governor, but we don't need to have a brat and a beer to do our job," said Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton.
Erpenbach is joining Democrats Mark Pocan and Kelda Roys in skipping the event, along with Republican Steve Nass.
"I don't know why we need to do it. We all know each other and believe it or not, we get along more than we don't," said Erpenbach.
But some legislators said something needs to be done to start the healing after more than a year of confrontation.
"It's pretty hard when people have been yelling and screaming at each other to start right away and negotiate on some sort of a serious topic," said Republican state Rep. Robin Vos. "Sometimes, you need an icebreaker."
Vos won't attend the summit because of a prior engagement, but he said he would be there if he could, because the event has the right sentiment.
"Having some symbolic things like this where Gov. Walker, I think, is sincerely reaching out, saying 'Let's get together, let's start in a way that brings people together over something innocuous so you can get together over things that are more serious,'" said Vos.
Nass' reason for declining was because of comments by Democrats at their party convention over the weekend, saying the governor was "arrogant" or would "end up in a jail cell before the end of his first term. Nass said in a statement that he was standing up to bullies by not going.
Marquette University Law School Professor Charles Franklin said it's unclear what kind of impact the summit might have at the Capitol.
"I think if you expect miracles, you're asking a little too much," Franklin said. "The old line is 'Politics ain't beanbag, this is a contact sport.' And it's the NFL and you don't expect that these things are suddenly going to produce dramatic changes But on the other hand, after such an intense period, maybe anything that lowers the tensions a little bit would be a move in a positive direction."
Walker's tenure as governor has been marked by bitter partisanship, with all 14 Senate Democrats fleeing the state for three weeks last year in a futile attempt to stop Republicans from passing the governor's bill eliminating most public workers' collective bargaining rights.
Despite a likely quorum of lawmakers planning to be in attendance, a spokesman for the governor said that no official business will be discussed. As such, the event won't be subject to the state open meetings laws.