Walker executes $28M deal to save nearly 400 jobs at Kimberly-Clark plant

Dec. 14, 2018

Gov, Scott Walker, right, speaks to a worker Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, at Kimberly Clark's Cold Spring plant in Neenah, Wis. Walker executed a $28 million deal Thursday to save nearly 400 jobs at the Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant.

MADISON Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker executed a $28 million deal Thursday to save nearly 400 jobs at a Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant.

The deal means that the consumer-products giant will close a plant in Conway, Arkansas, that employs 344 people no later than 2021, Kimberly-Clark spokesman Terry Balluck. Employees at the Arkansas plant were told of the pending closure Thursday, he said.

Walker, in his final month as governor, announced the deal at the consumer products company's plant in northeastern Wisconsin, the same day that he called for bills passed during the lame-duck session. That starts the six-day clock for him to sign or veto the measures.

Walker, who was defeated in last month's election by Democrat Tony Evers, praised the deal reached after a larger incentive package originally worth up to $100 million failed to win support in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

"If there is any talk about a legacy, I want this to be my legacy," Walker said.

He's facing bipartisan pressure to veto the lame-duck bills weakening powers of Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, with opponents saying the measures are a GOP power grab and would be a stain on Walker's legacy.

One provision approved in the lame-duck session would require a legislative committee to approve the creation of enterprise zones like the one Walker approved to save the Kimberly-Clark plant.

Under the deal, Kimberly-Clark will have to retain 388 jobs through 2023 and invest at least $200 million at the plant over that time to qualify for the full $28 million. It could also earn tax credits based on how much it buys from Wisconsin companies.

"This is a pretty good Christmas going forward," Walker said at the announcement attended by plant workers. "We didn't just save your jobs for the short term, this is about a long-term commitment."

Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark originally asked for resolution by the end of September but agreed to wait to make a final decision about the plant until after the Legislature acted. Republicans failed to muster enough votes in the Senate for the original bill, which was not voted upon during the lame-duck session last week.

Opponents cast the original $100 million measure as a corporate giveaway and said the government shouldn't be picking winners and losers. But supporters said it was worth the cost to save the jobs and increased economic activity that keeping it open would generate.

After the bill died, Walker pledged to reach another deal to save the plant before he leaves office next month.

Evers renewed his call for Walker to veto the lame-duck bill that requires legislative approval for deals like this one, saying in a statement that "the governor of our state shouldn't be hamstrung when it comes to economic development."

Kimberly-Clark, which makes Kleenex tissues, Huggies diapers and other paper products, said in January that it planned to close both the Fox Crossing and smaller Neenah plants in Wisconsin as part of the company's plan to cut up to 5,500 jobs and close or sell 10 plants worldwide. Its North American consumer business is headquartered in Neenah, Wisconsin, where the company was founded in 1872. Wisconsin is home to about 3,000 Kimberly-Clark employees.

The Wisconsin plant is the only one in North America that makes Depend adult incontinence products.

Conway manufacturing plant to close by 2021

CONWAY, Ark.  Economic development officials in Arkansas say the state tried to entice Kimberly-Clark Corp. to keep its Conway plant open but couldn't compete with the incentives being offered by Wisconsin.

The company announced Thursday that it would keep open a facility in Fox Crossing, and in turn, close the Conway facility no later than 2021. The plant in Conway employs about 350 people, but officials say there will also be a ripple effect on contract workers.

Arkansas Economic Development Commission spokeswoman Brandi Hinkle says the state put together "a very aggressive package" but it fell short of what Wisconsin was willing to offer. Under the $28 million deal in Wisconsin, Kimberly-Clark will have to retain 388 jobs through 2023 and invest at least $200 million at the Wisconsin plant.

Minnesota Governor-elect Walz draws GOP criticism for skipping Trump meeting

ST. PAUL, Minn.  Minnesota Gov.-elect Tim Walz did not attend a meeting between a bipartisan group of new governors and President Donald Trump in Washington Thursday, drawing some criticism from Republicans.

The six-term Democratic congressman stayed in Minnesota this week to meet with transition staff and advisers, even as newly-elected Democratic counterparts from Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan visited the White House.

Walz has criticized Trump's handling of veterans issues, but spokeswoman Kayla Castaneda said political disagreements had nothing to do with Walz not making the trip.

Minnesota Governor-elect Tim Walz takes questions about the state's budget forecast which was released Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn.

"He's not going because he's in Minnesota conducting interviews and doing transition business," she said. "He's busy building the executive branch."

The work includes vetting at least 1,500 applicants for appointed positions in state government, including 500 applicants for 23 state commissioner posts.

Trump invited governors-elect to meet with him and members of his Cabinet to discuss workforce development, infrastructure, the opioid crisis and other topics. Thirteen newly elected governors attended Thursday's meeting, including Tony Evers, a Wisconsin Democrat, and Kristi Noem, a South Dakota Republican.

Republican leaders in the Minnesota House criticized Walz for skipping the meeting.

"Minnesota needs a strong relationship with our partners at the federal level including President Donald Trump," said Rep. Anne Neu, a Republican from North Branch and the incoming deputy House Republican leader. She said she hoped Walz would make it a priority to meet with Trump in the near future "and work to build a productive working relationship with the White House."

Kansas' incoming Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, also opted out of the White House meeting. Her staff said she stayed in Topeka to work on the state budget and her transition into office. The Kansas City Star reported .

Powered by surging turnout in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs, Minnesota Democrats held on to the governor's office and unexpectedly swept back into power in the state House during the November election. Republicans retain a one-seat majority in the state Senate.

2:25 p.m.

A group run by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says it plans legal action to block a limitation on early voting in Wisconsin signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.

The Republican governor signed it Friday after the Legislature passed it in a lame-duck session last week.

Early voting would be limited to no more than two weeks before an election under the bill Walker signed.

Holder says in a statement that's a "shameful attack on our democracy."

2:20 p.m.

Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers says he's reviewing his options on how to stop lame-duck legislation that weakens his authority.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the bills into law Friday. Evers held a brief news conference to rail against the bills, saying the legislation was created without accountability and transparency and was aimed at reversing the Nov. 6 election.

Evers said he's reviewing his options and will do everything he can to ensure the people of the state aren't overlooked or ignored. He didn't elaborate and quickly left the news conference after five minutes without answering any questions. He tried to leave through a glass door that was marked as locked as a reporter shouted questions at him. A member of his staff showed him out through a different door.

12:50 p.m.

Democratic Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers is ripping Republican incumbent Scott Walker for signing lame-duck legislation that weakens the governor's office and restricts early voting.

Walker signed the bills Friday in Green Bay. Evers issued a statement saying Walker is ignoring the will of voters who elected him. He says the people asked politicians on Election Day to solve problems, not "pick petty, political fights."

He says the people of the state expect more than what they've gotten over the last few weeks.

12:20 p.m.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has signed a sweeping package of Republican-authored lame-duck legislation that restricts early voting and weakens the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.

The measures restrict early in-person voting to two weeks before an election. The legislation gives Republicans control of the state jobs creation agency, blocks Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers from withdrawing Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.

The bills also eliminate the state Justice Department's solicitor general's office and allow legislators to intervene in state lawsuits, ensuring they can defend Republican policies if Democratic Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul won't.

Walker to remain in Wisconsin after leaving office

GREEN BAY, Wis. Gov. Scott Walker says he plans to remain in Wisconsin after leaving office in 24 days.

Walker spoke briefly about his future Friday after signing three bills into law weakening the powers of his Democratic successor Tony Evers.

The former presidential candidate says he's had a lot of opportunities in recent weeks to take jobs in Washington, but he plans to remain in Wisconsin. He did not say what those opportunities were.

Walker ran for a third term, saying he had no interest in joining Republican President Donald Trump's administration after his victory in 2016.

MADISON, Wis.  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was prepared Friday to sign a sweeping package of Republican-written legislation.

Walker announced that he intended to take action on the legislation at noon Friday, just 24 days before he leaves office, during an event at a state office building in Green Bay, about 130 miles (209 kilometers) from his Capitol office.

The Republican governor and one-time GOP presidential candidate has repeatedly signaled he supports the measures while downplaying criticism that they amount to a power grab that will stain his legacy.

Walker has been urged by Democrats and Republicans, including Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers and former Republican Gov. Scott McCallum, to reject the legislation. Walker, who was defeated by Evers for a third term, has said he's considering some partial vetoes, but he hasn't given specifics.

Democrats and liberal advocacy groups are expected to sue within days if Walker signs the bills, which was pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature during a lame-duck session last week.

Republican leaders and Walker moved forward with the proposals immediately after Evers defeated the GOP governor as part of a Democratic sweep of statewide offices in the midterm election. The push is aimed at safeguarding conservative policies put in place during Walker's eight years as governor and mirrors tactics used by Republicans in North Carolina in 2016. Republicans in Michigan are weighing similar moves .

The Wisconsin bills focus on numerous Republican priorities, including restricting early in-person voting to two weeks before an election, down from as much as nearly seven weeks in the overwhelmingly Democratic cities of Milwaukee and Madison.

The legislation shields the state's job-creation agency from Evers' control until September and limits his ability to enact administrative rules. The measures also would block Evers from withdrawing Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, one of his central campaign promises.

The legislation imposes a work requirement for BadgerCare health insurance recipients, which Walker won federal approval to do earlier this year, and prevents Evers from seeking to undo it.

It eliminates the state Department of Justice's solicitor general's office, which outgoing Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel used to launch contentious partisan litigation. Doing away with it ensures Democratic-Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul can't use the office to challenge Republican-authored laws.

The bills also allow lawmakers to intervene in lawsuits, ensuring Republicans will be able to defend their policies and laws in court if Kaul refuses to do it. Kaul also would need approval from the Legislature's budget-writing committee before he can reach any settlements, further increasing the power of that GOP-controlled panel.

The Republican-controlled Legislature introduced and passed the bills less than five days after unveiling them late on a Friday afternoon two weeks ago. Outraged Democrats accused the GOP of a power grab that undermined the results of the November election. Evers and others have argued Walker will tarnish his legacy by signing the bills, and Kaul has predicted multiple lawsuits challenging the legislation.

Republican legislative leaders countered that they were merely trying to balance the power of the executive and legislative branches. They said they wanted to ensure Evers must negotiate with them rather than issue executive orders to undo their policy achievements.

Walker's expected signing of the bills comes a day after he announced a $28 million incentive package to keep open a Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant in northeast Wisconsin. One of the lame-duck bills would prevent Evers from making such a deal, instead requiring the Legislature's budget committee to sign off.


Associated Press