Vos Fitz terrorist

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, left in this file photo, apologized Monday for calling three senators "terrorists." Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, right, had earlier called for the apology.

JOHN HART -- State Journal

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has apologized for using the term “terrorists” to describe three Republican senators who struck a last-second budget deal with Gov. Scott Walker.

In a statement Monday, Vos said the remark bucked his own efforts to make the Legislature more civil.

“I now regret using the word ‘terrorist’ because it goes against the guidelines I’ve set for our chamber and myself,” Vos said.

But Vos said he remains concerned with the demands of what he called “rogue holdouts” in the GOP legislative ranks. In a WISN-TV interview that aired Sunday, Vos blasted three hard-line conservative senators — Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville — for making what Vos called a “backroom deal” with Walker last month to enable passage of the 2017-19 budget.

“I don’t want to see the constant, defiant demands of a few derail our progress,” Vos said.

Hours before Vos’ statement was released Monday, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, in a rare rebuke from one top Republican to another, said Vos should apologize for his choice of words.

Nass and Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, the influential Koch-funded conservative advocacy group, also called on Vos to apologize. “Vos choosing to take this to a level so personal is severely inappropriate,” Kapenga said.

The latest flap between Republican legislative leaders also could have implications for the remainder of the 2017-18 legislative session. Nass said in a statement that Vos’ comments likely are “a shallow political ploy … to thwart conservative legislation from advancing in the fall floor session.”

Nass spokesman Mike Mikalsen said Nass believes Vos sought to portray the three senators as untrustworthy and difficult to work with in order to lay footings to block Senate legislative priorities.

For the remainder of the session, lawmakers are expected to consider proposals from business and conservative groups to change the workers’ compensation system, loosen mining restrictions and wetland protections and scrap state family and medical leave protections that overlap with federal ones.

They also will grapple with bills targeting so-called sanctuary cities, restricting use of fetal tissue in research and allowing concealed firearms to be carried without permits and in school zones.

Part of the disagreement, Mikalsen said, also stems from a clash between rank-and-file lawmakers and legislative leaders such as Vos who, according to Mikalsen, want top-down control of the budget process.

“It’s really a fight about how the institution should be run,” Mikalsen said.

Walker spokesman Tom Evenson had called Vos’ comments “unacceptable.”

In the WISN interview, Vos blasted the senators — who were poised last month to block passage of the 2017-19 state budget until they struck a last-minute deal with Walker last month to ensure its passage — for what he described as taking “hostages” and circumventing the normal budget process.

Contents of the deal were not released until after the budget passed the Legislature. As part of it, Walker used his line-item veto authority to strip certain provisions out of the budget.

In so doing, the three senators did an end run around the Legislature’s budget-writing, 16-member Joint Finance Committee, members of which are appointed by legislative leadership.

Vos said in the interview that the budget might not have passed the Legislature had lawmakers known about the deal when they voted on the budget.

As part of the deal, Walker used his line-item authority to make a repeal of the state’s prevailing wage requirement set to take effect immediately, instead of a year later. He also limited the days on which school districts may hold referendum votes; removed funding for the state’s Transportation Projects Commission, a study of highway tolling and a renovation of the state Capitol basement; and stripped out an expansion of power for the state Public Finance Authority.

Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse, meanwhile, said the flap is a product of President Donald Trump and Walker creating “an unhealthy political atmosphere in this state.”

“Normalizing this kind of hyperbole has been extremely damaging to our political dialogue,” she said.

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