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Walker appointee compares union protests to 'Holocaust'

From Ed Lavandera, CNN Correspondent
Wisconsin agriculture secretary Ben Brancel apologized Wednesday for comparing protests to the Holocaust.
Wisconsin agriculture secretary Ben Brancel apologized Wednesday for comparing protests to the Holocaust.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Wisconsin official said rookie lawmakers walked into a "Holocaust" in Madison
  • He later told reporters, "That was a bad word"

Madison, Wisconsin (CNN) -- A Wisconsin Republican official compared the protests over Gov. Scott Walker's attempts to curtail collective bargaining rights for public employees to the Holocaust on Wednesday, a remark he later conceded was "a bad word" to use.

Wisconsin Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Ben Brancel, a Walker appointee, told visiting members of the state Farm Bureau that rookie lawmakers "got stuck in the middle of the Holocaust" when pro-union demonstrators led rallies and camped out in the Capitol for days.

"Some of you might have had past relationships with your legislators, because they've been here for a while," Brancel said. "But there's a huge number who this is their first time around. They came to town with a lot of ideas and a lot of concepts they could really work on, and they got stuck in the middle of the Holocaust and the horror story that was going on in town as far as people using the building all night long and some shenanigans."

Brancel was making off-the-cuff remarks before the arrival of Walker, who spoke to the farmers Wednesday afternoon and was unaware of his appointee's comments. Brancel later told reporters, "I better go back to English school."

"That was a bad word," he said. "It should have been total confusion in the Capitol. It was not an appropriate word to use in the context of which I used it."

Brancel also issued a written apology through his office, apologizing for his "unfortunate choice of words." And Walker "hopes everyone accepts the apology that was immediately issued," Walker's office said in a separate statement.

Walker and GOP lawmakers are trying to close a $137 million budget shortfall with a plan that calls for curbs on public employee union bargaining rights and requires public workers, with the exception of police and firefighters, to cover more of their retirement plans and health care premiums. The proposal ignited fierce opposition from labor leaders and their supporters, and state Senate Democrats have skipped the state to prevent their chamber from advancing the bill.

Public employee unions agreed to financial concessions that they say will help meet the state's fiscal needs, but Walker has said the limits on public bargaining are a critical component of his plan.

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