Gov. Patrick Says Unions Don’t Have to be the “Bogeyman”

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Nine Democratic and Republican governors assumed the stage Saturday morning to field questions from the press corps at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, DC.

And not a single reporter posed a single query about the political fisticuffs between public unions and the chief executives of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and New Jersey.

Granted, none of the governors from those states attended the news conference. But aside from the press jawboning, the political protests and jockeying emanating from Wisconsin and other locales is taking center stage at the governors conclave this weekend.

"Everywhere we go, the media has been asking us about how much time we're spending talking about what's going on in Wisconsin. We're not," said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D). "I think for a lot of us, it's a distraction."

However, when asked about Wisconsin, Patrick seized the opportunity to portray a positive picture of how he's dealt with disputes with state employee unions in Massachusetts. And Patrick directly criticized some of Walker's tactics sparring with the unions.

"I don't want to get at what Wisconsin is doing, but that is not our approach in Massachusetts," Patrick said. "We haven't needed to turn the public employee unions into the bogeyman to make progress."

But Walker received some sympathy from Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R). Heineman took a veiled shot at Democratic Wisconsin lawmakers who went AWOL from the state capital so the state legislature couldn't debate and vote on Walker's plan to halt collective bargaining arrangements.

"I have 1.8 million people in Nebraska who have very strong opinions and they share them with me every day," Heineman said. "The good thing is that after they are done sharing those opinions, they're willing to sit around the table and talk with me."

Dozens of states are facing serious fiscal crises which has exacerbated tensions between state governments, their employees and the people they serve. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has only been in office a few weeks. But he previously served as Mayor of Waterville, ME and is known for creating a robust surplus in the town coffers. Still, LePage faces different circumstances in Augusta as the state faces a widening budget gap.

"If you don't have the money, I don't think you can print counterfeit money to pay your bills," LePage said.