Collective bargaining ends in Wisconsin; Senate Dems return
It was pretty clear on Wednesday night what the outcome of today’s Assembly session vote would be, considering there are 58 Republican representatives in the 95-member body. Thursday afternoon at about 3:40, the Assembly, after a scheduled two hours of debate, took a final vote and immediately adjourned until next Tuesday at 11 a.m. The bill, which removes most collective bargaining rights from state unions, passed by a margin of 53-42. All 37 Democrats voted against the measure, as did four Republicans: Dean Kaufert, Neenah; Lee Nerison, Westby; Richard Spanbauer, Oshkosh; and Travis Tranel, Cuba City. Republican Rep. Jeff Mursau of Crivitz did not cast a vote. Milwaukee County Executive candidate Jeff Stone voted yes. A complete roll can be found here. Shouts of “Shame” and “Recall” again rose from the Capitol halls and rotunda as GOP members left the chamber under heavy guard. Democrats were cheered as they exited the Assembly room. Earlier Thursday, mayhem inside the capitol was the story. Following the Wednesday Senate passage of the revised bill, the public stormed the building and occupied it overnight. Thursday morning at 9 a.m. the crowds outside were light and the rotunda was quiet. Except for a protester with a broom cleaning up, there was no activity at all. But at 10, it is not an exaggeration to say all hell broke loose. Protesters who had holed up in the Assembly chamber vestibule were asked to leave. Those who agreed were escorted out by police; those who chose to resist were carried or dragged from the room amid cries of “Shame,” and “This is what a police state looks like.” The mood grew more tense as the Assembly session, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., was delayed. The Democrat caucus was prepared, showing up at the doors 5 minutes early, only to be greeted by locked doors and dimmed lights. Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Fort Atkinson) attempted to unlock the doors, trying every key on his ring, to no avail. Unbeknownst to the Democrats, a lockdown of the building had been ordered, including the doors to the Assembly chambers.
A trio of Democrat representatives, Sandy Pasch (Whitefish Bay), Donna Seidel (Wausau) and Christine Sinicki (Milwaukee) voiced their displeasure, stating that the lockout would not stop them and that democracy is not optional in Wisconsin. David Cullen (D-Milwaukee) was livid. “This is America and we don’t do this here. This is a stain on the state of Wisconsin. If we’re open for business, this is not the best publicity.” Cullen and Rep. Elizabeth Coggs (D-Milwaukee) said they had to climb through windows of friendly senators to enter the building and get to their offices. They said the capitol lockdown for security purposes was unconstitutional and a violation of the people’s rights, including their own. Cullen said police told him the order to not let Democrats in came from the second floor, implying that the Department of Administration was calling the shots. When the doors finally opened 30 minutes later, the session remained delayed as Republicans either stayed in their offices or struggled to get into the building, presumably so that they could all enter chambers together. Following a meeting of the Republican and Democrat leadership, it was agreed that there would be two hours of debate on the conference committee bill, but no amendments per parliamentary rules, then a vote. Democrat Caucus Chair Kelda Helan Roys (Madison) told reporters following the leadership meeting that the GOP made it clear that “there is not going to be a clean process on this bill, they are not going to follow the law and they are not going to follow the rules.”
During the wait, Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived at the building, posing for pictures with Democrat representatives and the public. When Rep. Joe Parisi (D-Madison) made a motion to allow Jackson to offer a prayer to the body, it was met with an objection by Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford). After some procedural maneuvers and a vote to go into a regular session, Jackson asked the members to join hands and pray for tolerance and cooperation. When debate finally began, it focused on removing Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) on the charge that he violated the open meetings law when he allowed the conference committee meeting to occur without 24 hour notice. Barca has filed a complaint with the Dane County District Attorney as to the illegality of that meeting. Barca argued that the Speaker represents the entire body, not just the majority, and his lawlessness was reason enough to remove him from his post. But with a GOP majority, the argument was moot, and Fitzgerald retained his position. Fitzgerald, in his defense, cited the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislative Council and other non-partisan bureaus in the capitol who ruled that the actions on Wednesday night were legal. And he explained the caution of Capitol police and the Department of Administration for implementing “security procedures” of locking down the building and scanning people as they entered. “There is an email received in my office that threatens the life of me and my family. Others have received this too,” he said. “This email says they are going to put a pretty little bullet it my head.”
The Department of Justice has confirmed they are investigating threats against members of the Republican caucus, but have not released any details of the threats. Sen. Chris Larson confirmed for ThirdCoast Digest that he and several other Democratic senators had also received threats over the last three weeks, which have been reported to the Capitol police for investigation. During the Assembly session, Rep. Mark Pocan (D–Madison) revealed that he had recently received a t-shirt in his office with the words “Dead Faggot” written on it. During the remaining time, Democrats questioned whether the bill actually had the fiscal portions removed – citing an opinion by a Dane County corporation counsel that the bill allows millions to be lapsed to the general fund; changes income tax credits to income tax deductions, and decreases an appropriation to the state Earned Income Credit. Most notably, this non-fiscal bill may contain rules that modify, restrict or eliminate assistance eligibility or reduce income levels for medical assistance. If it does make those changes, the Democrats allege that the conference bill was illegally voted on by the Senate, since it did not have the necessary 3/5 quorum for fiscal votes. All 14 Democrat Senators are planning to return to their individual home districts in Wisconsin by Friday, but not to Madison. The Senate is scheduled to reconvene on April 4, allowing time for the Wisconsin 14 to plan their next move. They maintain the fight is not yet over. The White House commented on Thursday’s actions in Madison. Press secretary Jay Carney stated that the President “believes that it is wrong to use those budget problems to denigrate or vilify public sector employees. And he believes that the actions last night taken in Wisconsin violate the principles that he laid out about coming together and addressing these issues together, rather than pursuing partisan goals.” Watch for more legal challenges to be filed, look for protests to continue, and try to picture a road that will lead to resolution of the current crisis in the state of Wisconsin.