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Packers-Seahawks: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker backs 'realrefs'

September 25, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Bipartisanship may be dead in the 2012 election year, but a questionable call by replacement referees in the NFL has breathed new life into the corpse of political amity -- even in Wisconsin, recently the scene of a bitter battle over workers' collective bargaining rights.

After the state's Green Bay Packers had a victory snatched from their outstretched mitts by an outrage-inducing call on Monday, the current governor and one of his erstwhile opponents in the fight over collective bargaining found common ground, agreeing that it was time for the NFL to end its labor morass and bring back the real umpires.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who successfully pushed the anti-union bills through the Legislature, threw the red flag onto the political field, challenging the referees’ decision that gave the Seattle Seahawks the victory.

“After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs,” Walker tweeted early Tuesday.

Walker’s effort to strip collective bargaining rights from some of the state’s public employees is still being fought in the courts, though he survived a nasty recall election. His anti-union campaign became the centerpiece of GOP efforts in several states to ease fiscal pain by having workers pay more of their benefits and limiting unions' organizing rights.

During the Wisconsin fight, 14 Democrats fled the state for several weeks to block Walker’s legislation.

But this week, cheeseheads -- as Wisconsinites are known in some circles -- were able to separate their once sharp ideological differences from the need to think locally and act globally.

“If you were born and raised in Wisconsin, you were raised on the Packers,” said Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of Walker’s principal opponents. He was among the Democrats who fled the state during the bargaining rights battle.

On Twitter, Erpenbach urged people to telephone their complaints to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he said, adding: “Every Sunday it's Packers and pancakes, not necessarily in that order.”

That Walker was supporting the unionized referees in their fight against an employer did seem a little jarring as the day wore on and as more people pointed out the irony.  “I don't think this [has] anything to do with unions, but has everything to do with refs making bad calls,” Walker's spokesman, Cullen Werwie, stated later to the Associated Press.

The sports call seemingly transcended the usual politics in areas far beyond Wisconsin's borders. On the national level, where Republicans and Democrats disagree on everything (Middle East policy, how to cut the deficit, whether to raise taxes), there was agreement between President Obama and Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the GOP vice presidential candidate who represents a district in the presidential battleground state of Wisconsin.

Campaigning in Ohio, another battleground state, Ryan minced no words in his televised remarks.

“You guys watch that Packer game last night? I mean, give me a break,” Ryan said. “It is time to get the real refs.”

Ryan then went on in a more partisan vein, “You know what it reminds me of? President Obama and the economy. If you can't get it right, it's time to get out.”

Returning to the White House from a trip to United Nations, the president stopped in his tracks when a reporter shouted out the word “Packers!”

“I've been saying for months we've got to get our refs back,” said Obama, a noted sports fan.

In a tweet that was sent indicating his personal role, Obama said: “NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon.”

The NFL locked out the officials in June after their contract expired.

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