CHICAGO (Reuters) - Dozens of chanting protesters briefly interrupted a speech by first-term Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Thursday in Chicago.
Shouting “union-busting is disgusting” and “we are the 99 percent,” the demonstrators forced Walker to suspend his breakfast address to the Union League Club for about five minutes, than filed out of the room.
Walker, who pushed a number of controversial laws through the Wisconsin Legislature this year, including curbs on public worker union rights, went on to defend his record, saying his “tough but needed decisions” had already saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
He said his agenda, which included tort and regulatory changes and the creation of tax breaks for employers, had “helped us create a better business environment, which has led to more jobs in our state.”
“No matter how loud you shout,” Walker said, “the reforms work.”
Walker contends the union curbs, and a related requirement public workers pay more for healthcare and pensions, were needed to help close a $3.6 billion state budget deficit.
Critics say his legislative priorities, which have also included a requirement that voters present photo identification at polling places, are designed to pressure Democratic Party finances and disenfranchise Democratic voters.
Walker’s efforts to get those measures enacted, ultimately successful, thrust Wisconsin into the national spotlight, igniting massive pro-union protests at the state Capitol and triggering nine recall elections over the summer.
Although two Republicans who supported Walker on the union issue lost their seats in the recalls, the party retained control of the state Senate. It also controls the Assembly.
Walker himself is now the target of a campaign that could force him to defend his seat in a recall election next year.
During his speech, Walker acknowledged the recall campaign but said he was confident he would survive the effort.
Reporting by James B. Kelleher