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Wisconsin Dems flee state to freeze vote on unions, unique filibuster

Paula Duffy's picture

Democratic State Senators in Wisconsin have fled the state to delay a vote on a bill to cripple collective bargaining rights of state employees and Governor Scott Walker has called for them to return.

Without a single Democrat in the chamber to vote on the bill, a quorum is impossible assuring the vote will be suspended. But it's the way the Dems have proceeded that has garnered the headlines.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that rather than just staying home, they have reportedly crossed state lines to thwart law enforcement from searching and finding them. There is now talk of National Guard being mobilized to search and return the lawmakers to the capitol building. Because of a Republican majority in the state senate, the bill is bound to pass once it comes to a vote.

Governor Scott Walker is asking legislators to come on home and go to work. "Out of respect for the institution of the Legislature and the democratic process, I am calling on Senate Democrats to show up to work today."

Washington, DC lawmakers complain of Senate filibusters to keep legislation from coming to the floor for a vote. That is accomplished without those that want to filibuster actually coming into the Senate and getting up to speak. They are allowed, under current filibuster rules, to state their intention to filibuster without having to actually do what the old school legislators did.

The Wisconsin solution is bold and apparently, got all Dems together on the issue. There are fourteen Democrats who have taken refuge in an undisclosed location. State Senator Jon Erpenbach did a phone interview with local news station, NBC 15 in Madison. Another Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller told a media member during his own phone interview that, "I can tell you this - we're not all in one place," Miller said. "This is a watershed moment unlike any that we have experienced in our political lifetimes.

Not to be outdone, Democratic state assembly members are wearing orange tee-shirts as a show of support. This is after two days of demonstrations outside the capitol building by tens of thousands of state workers and their supporters. In Madison, schools were closed because of the lack of teachers who showed up for work.

Governor Walker has proposed closing the two-year budget gap that stands at a reported $3.6 billion with among other things, slashing wages, range of wage increases and benefit packages, without regard to the collective bargaining apparatus. Some are calling it an all out war against unionization in a state with a long history of union support.

There are other states, notably New Jersey, where governors are using public service employee benefits as the reason for budget shortfalls both current and expected in the future. The fight is being played out on cable news shows where the union chiefs have told a story about the N.J. shortfall that is being coupled with an attack on the underfunded pension fund of public union members.

According to the union folks, former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman took tens of millions from the pension fund of public employees and stopped contributing the contracted amount that is requited to go into the fund from the state side. According to them, Whitman did that in order to make good on a promise to the middle and upper income classes that she would give them tax relief. When Governor Chris Christie decries the underfunded public employees pension program, he fails to disclose that.

President Obama commented on the issue in an interview on Wednesday. He used his wage freeze for federal employees as an example of what can be done. On the issue of breaking the collective bargaining process, the president said, "some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like an assault on unions." He added that "it's important not to vilify" public workers.

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