Politicians to NFL: Bring Back Refs

From Democrat Barack Obama to Republican Scott Walker, politicians try to score political points by making points about the Packers-Seahawks officiating debacle.

Politicians can't resist a good controversy in which their opinion will satisfy people on both sides of the political aisle. Here are stories on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, President Barack Obama and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt, all from The Associated Press.

Walker's pro-union this time

Nothing brings political enemies together in Wisconsin like the Green Bay Packers.

Following a controversial game-ending call by replacement referees that cost Green Bay a win over the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football, Wisconsin officials from across the political divide united behind the Packers.

Even Gov. Scott Walker and a Democratic state senator who were bitter opponents in the 2011 battle over Wisconsin public workers' collective bargaining rights found themselves on the same side Tuesday.

Walker, whose union-busting efforts have made him the darling of fiscal conservatives, posted a message on Twitter calling for the return of the NFL's locked-out unionized officials.

"After catching a few hours of sleep, the (hash)Packers game is still just as painful. (hash)Returntherealrefs," Walker tweeted early Tuesday.

Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who was one of 14 Democrats who fled to Illinois for three weeks last year in opposition to Walker's law banning most public unions from nearly all collective bargaining, said he saw the irony in Walker's post but in Wisconsin "we're all fans, first and foremost."

"If you were born and raised in Wisconsin, you were raised on the Packers," said Erpenbach, who urged his Twitter followers to call NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to complain. "Every Sunday it's Packers and pancakes, not necessarily in that order."

The Packers and politics have always been closely aligned in Wisconsin, where Republicans and Democrats alike have long tried to score points by tapping into the electorate's nearly universal affection for the NFL's only publicly owned team. So it's not surprising that Monday night's call against the Packers united some strange bedfellows.

Still, some hope the controversy might inspire a few people to cross the aisle when it comes to labor politics.

Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson, who also tweeted his anger over Monday night's game, said he thinks the NFL referees' labor dispute will change the minds of some people who previously were anti-union.

"People end up thinking you can get good work for cheap, you can always find a cheaper way and it's going to be just as good a result," Larson said. "I would hope that Scott Walker is just as outraged about decreased quality of teachers that we're going to get as he is with replacement refs in the NFL."

Although it was nothing like those massive pro-union protests at the Capitol, a few die-hard cheeseheads picketed outside Lambeau Field on Tuesday to voice their displeasure to the league. The game was being talked about the halls of the state Capitol, the streets of Milwaukee and all across the state.

Laurie Wroblewski, of Oak Creek, Wis., said she hopes the NFL gives the officials what they want in their contracts. She said it's hurting the games and ultimately it will affect profits.

"With the money they may lose, I mean, they could probably pay for whatever the refs are calling for," she said. "I just think it's a terrible situation and I think that if they can't come to a decision over the next few weeks, then the Super Bowl will not be anything to watch, either."

Campaigning in Cincinnati, Republican vice presidential nominee and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan joined in the call for the officials to return.

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

The NFL locked out the officials in June after their contract expired. The league has been using replacement officials, and through three weeks of the regular season there has been much criticism over the way some games are being handled.

Walker's spokesman, Cullen Werwie, tried to spin the governor's post on Tuesday, saying it wasn't meant as a pro-union political statement. Walker's tweet was being widely mocked on Twitter in light of his push last year that effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers, nurses and most other public workers. His proposal didn't affect private sector unions.

"I don't think this anything to do with unions, but has everything to do with refs making bad calls," Werwie said.

Obama: Bring ‘our refs back'

Washington — The embarrassing NFL referee saga and the disputed call that gave the Seattle Seahawks a victory over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night has reached the campaign for the White House, with President Barack Obama deeming it "terrible" and declaring it was time to get regular officiating crews back on the job.

"I've been saying for months we've got to get our refs back," Obama said as he returned to the White House from an appearance before the United Nations. In a tweet that went out under his initials, Obama said: "NFL fans on both sides of the aisle hope the refs' lockout is settled soon."

In a rare moment of agreement with Obama, presidential rival Mitt Romney and GOP running mate Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin native, also said it was time to bring back the "real refs." The NFL locked out the officials in June after their contract expired. The league has been using replacement officials, who have come under increasing criticism over the way they handled some games.

"I sure would like to see some experienced referees, with NFL experience, come back on to the NFL playing fields," Romney said in an interview with CNN.

Typically, Obama, a diehard Chicago Bears enthusiast, is not one to wish the rival Green Bay Packers well.

But besides being an avid sports fan, Obama recently has redoubled efforts to win in the Packers' home state of Wisconsin. His campaign recently started airing ads in the state and Obama held a rally Saturday in Milwaukee, his first visit to the state since February.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that Obama watched the Monday night game and "thinks there was a real problem with that call."

"He said that what happened in that game is why both sides need to come together, resolve their differences so that the regular refs can get back on the field so we can start focusing on a game that so many of us love rather than debating whether or not a game was won or lost because of a bad call," Carney said.

Obama said in a phone interview Tuesday with The Des Moines Register that he doesn't blame the replacement refs.

"They've been put in a tough situation," the president said. "But the fact is this is a fast, tough game to control. And it doesn't make sense to me for a league that's been so successful not to want to put their very best out there."

Schmitt sends letter to Goodell

Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt sent a letter to commissioner Roger Goodell's New York address, urging the league to reach a settlement with its locked-out officials for "integrity of the game and the significant financial effect that it may have upon our community."

Schmitt said the league's "integrity" is at risk by using officials who are not qualified for the job.

"One of the greatest things about the NFL is how a small community team like the Green Bay Packers can exist and succeed in the NFL despite large-market teams," he wrote. "The Packers are in a position to succeed, in part because of this community and the historical integrity of the league. Unfortunately, last night's game creates a negative perception of the NFL brand, which in turn jeopardizes the Packers' chance for success as well as the potential to negatively affect our local economy."

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