Stories From the State Capitol
Six vignettes tell the story of how the Senate passed the Right-to-Work bill.
Republican lawmakers returned to what now looks like unfinished business from the Act 10 controversy that curtailed collective bargaining by public employees in 2011. Last week, they curtailed private sector union power, passing a right-to-work bill that says no one could be forced to join a private-sector union, or be forced to pay union dues, in order to get or keep a job.
Seventeen Senate Republicans sent that bill to the Assembly, whose GOP leaders promise to put it on the desk of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who will sign it, by Friday. Six vignettes help tell the story.
*Republican Sen. Jerry Petrowski, of Marathon, said his vote against the bill was a matter of consistency and not, as Democrats may claim, a profile in courage. He was the only GOP senator to vote against it. In a statement, Petrowski said he promised to not vote for any right to work bill in his 2012 and 2014 elections, and must honor those pledges.
Petrowski, whose official biography says he is a former member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1791, added, “I am not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy. I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican, and like President Reagan, I was a union member for many years. Under the law as it stands, unions are formed by a majority vote and everyone gets to choose where they work.”
*Senate President Mary Lazich passed her first controversial test. The emotional right-to-work debate was the first test for the first woman presiding officer of the Senate, a non-partisan role. Lazich had to respectfully deal with Senate Democrats and gallery protesters, whose shouts often interrupted seven hours of debate. Lazich stayed at her new post, put her GOP partisanship aside, and didn’t lose her temper while asking officers to remove disruptive protesters and not make her clear the galleries of all observers.
*How will four Assembly Republicans who had closest elections vote?
Of the 63 Assembly Republicans, four won with 54 percent or less of the vote, and three of them were elected for the first time. This week’s expected vote on the right-to-work bill will be their first major test of the session, so freshmen may wonder if it will be a vote that defines their first term and hurts their 2016 re-elections.
Those four, and their winning margins, are: Rep. Todd Novak, of Dodgeville, 47.4 percent; Rep. Dave Heaton, of Wausau, 50.1 percent; Rep. Kathy Bernier, of Chippewa Falls, 52 percent; Rep. Romaine Quinn, of Rice Lake, 54 percent. Novak, Heaton and Quinn have been in office eight weeks. Republicans don’t need their four votes to pass the bill, however. Even without them, given a 63-36 margin of GOP control in the Assembly, passage of the bill seems inevitable.
*Troopers guarded lawmakers who won’t OK their wage contract. This story is pure irony: Platoons of state troopers were in the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday for committee and Senate actions on the right to work bill. Troopers and Capitol Police officers escorted Republican senators out of a committee meeting Tuesday, for example, and kept angry protesters away from the Senate on Wednesday.
But days earlier, the same Republican leaders rejected wage agreements negotiated by Walker aides with the troopers union two years ago, calling the pay raises of up to 17 percent “unreal” and too high. The head of the Troopers Association, however, says they have not received a pay raise since 2009, so the raises are more than justified. The association’s website says troopers start at $19.95 per hour; after eight years, $20.05, and, after 12 years, $22.45.
*No snakes, please. Having learned many lessons from the Act 10 takeover of the Capitol by protesters for several days in 2011, Capitol Police last week posted a list of 25 items not allowed into the building. Item 24 of banned items: “Animals/Snakes (Except Service Dogs)”