Democrats Have Left the Building

The Rotunda of Wisconsin's Capitol

In a follow-up to my earlier post, it appears that Wisconsin Democrats have left the state in order to deny a quorum on Governor Scott Walker’s union busting plans. Madison schools (and other cities in the state) are again closed due to a ‘sick-out’ and more people are expected to show up to the protests today.

Wisconsin Protests: State Police Pursue Democratic Lawmakers Boycotting Vote (Huffington Post)

A little peaceful rebellion can be a good thing, now and then.

Update: All of Wisconsin’s Democratic lawmakers are holed up in a Best Western in Rockford, Illinois. Wisconsin’s Sergeant at Arms cannot compel Senators to attend their session if they are outside of state lines. Former Representative David Obey says Governor Scott Walker is channeling his inner Mubarak.


About Mr. Universe

Mr. Universe is a musician/songwriter and an ex-patriot of the south. He currently lives and teaches at a University in the Pacific Northwest. He is a long distance hiker who has hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also an author and woodworker. An outspoken political voice, he takes a decidedly liberal stance in politics.
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49 Responses to Democrats Have Left the Building

  1. Jean says:

    And apparently the so-called “emergency” is all of Walker’s own making.

    As TPM points out: “Wisconsin’s new Republican governor has framed his assault on public worker’s collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times.

    The reality is radically different. Unlike true austerity measures — service rollbacks, furloughs, and other temporary measures that cause pain but save money — rolling back worker’s bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. But Walker’s doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately.

    Furthermore, this broadside comes less than a month after the state’s fiscal bureau — the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office — concluded that Wisconsin isn’t even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.”

    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/02/wisconsin-gov-walker-ginned-up-budget-shortfall-to-undercut-worker-rights.php?ref=fpb#

  2. fopplssiegeparty says:

    Thumbs up, Jean!

  3. Hey, haven’t we seen this movie before? Something about mid-decade redistricting in a big state somewhere…

  4. parksie555 says:

    Utterly pathetic. The people have spoken and these legislators refuse to listen. The next few years are going to be a rude wakeup call for public employees everywhere, especially those in public employee unions. The arrogance and complete unreality of their union officials is breathtaking.

  5. shortchain says:

    Yeah, it’s just awful that public employment looks good relative to private employment. And private employment is in the toilet because of chicanery by the big banks.

    It’s deeply ironic that the “conservative” response is to try and make public employment bad relative to private employment rather than try to do something to make private employment better by investing in infrastructure, fundamental research, public health, and education.

  6. mclever says:

    I’m with you on this shortchain.

    OK, public employees are struggling to pay their bills, keep their homes, and stay afloat in the weak economy. Private employees (especially those without college degrees) have it even worse. So, the solution is to make public service as bad (or worse) than working for a public business?

    Better would be to address the problems facing private employees — things like inadequate retirement planning, runaway healthcare costs, insufficient wages, and waning opportunities. Your diagnosis is dead on: investing in infrastructure, fundamental research, public health, and education.

    So, I’m rooting for the Wisconsin Dems to stall this legislation long enough for those Republicans to give it another think. Currently, if they can get just one Democrat back to the state house, then they can push it through. There was a rumor that those Dems were staying in my hometown last night, but I can assure you they weren’t… Not saying where they are, though!

    And, yes, I remember living in Texas when the Dems there went on hiatus to dodge a mid-cycle redistricting plan. They didn’t win, but they raised voter awareness, and it became a serious issue in the next election. Ultimately, I don’t expect the Wisconsin Dems to win this round of the battle (it only takes one to make quorum), but come the next election, you’d better believe the workers in the state are going to remember which side who was on. It’ll be up to the Dems then to make their case plain and clear to the voters.

  7. shortchain,

    It’s deeply ironic that the “conservative” response is to try and make public employment bad relative to private employment rather than try to do something to make private employment better by investing in infrastructure, fundamental research, public health, and education.

    This is nonsense. Investments in infrastructure, research, public health, and education would do nothing to change the ratio of wages between the bottom and the top of private industry. It would do nothing to shift from defined-contribution to defined-benefit. It would do nothing to increase the benefits offered by employers.

    While I support employees forming collective bargaining units, I also recognize that the government of Wisconsin, freely elected by the people of the state, has the right to pass whatever legislation they wish, subject to the constraints of higher authorities (e.g., state and national constitutions, and some federal laws). If the people of Wisconsin don’t like the results of their elections, they have the right to elect different people next time to change the laws back.

    The actions of the state senate Democrats, while entertaining theater, is not something I can in good conscience support.

  8. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    Pardon me, but where in the Constitution of Wisconsin does it say that the Democrats have to participate? Why else would there be a quorum provision in that document? As for “freely elected” — this was the first post-citizens-united election, and it’s very odd that, across this country, so many of the state legislatures ended up in the hands of the GOP. Makes you wonder.

    You say: “Investments in infrastructure, research, public health, and education would do nothing to change the ratio of wages between the bottom and the top of private industry.”

    I beg gently to differ. Public subsidies on education, public health, research, and infrastructure benefit the public disproportionately more than the wealthy, who can privately afford these benefits. Especially public education, which has always been the great means to elevate the poor out of poverty. I don’t really think this is in question.

    While it may be arguable how much it benefits the public in relation to the wealthy, as opposed to, say, a 90 percent top marginal tax rate and an inheritance tax, I don’t think it’s fair to say, as you did, that it’s “nonsense”.

  9. mclever says:

    @shortchain

    Maybe we should add in raising the minimum wage, providing public transportation (so that lack of car ≠ lack of job), and increasing subsidies for job re-training, etc…

    And to balance it on the public side, we can pay public school teachers the average of what other professionals with their level of training and experience would receive. This should have the trickle-down (because Republicans like that term) effect of drawing more qualified people to the profession of teaching, which should in turn raise the quality of education for our future generations.

  10. shortchain,

    where in the Constitution of Wisconsin does it say that the Democrats have to participate?

    Given that the governor calling for a quorum requires the presence of the members of the legislature, I’d say that they have to participate. That the law of a given state doesn’t extend beyond the boundaries of the state should not come as a surprise, but leaving a jurisdiction as a means of avoiding one’s legal responsibilities makes it neither legal nor appropriate. In that respect, it is cut from the same cloth as is offshore banking or becoming a fugitive in a country without an extradition treaty.

    Public subsidies on education, public health, research, and infrastructure benefit the public disproportionately more than the wealthy, who can privately afford these benefits.

    Completely beside the point. Fixing infrastructure does not change wages or employer-provided benefits, which is at the core of the protestations of Wisconsin state employees.

  11. mclever says:

    @Michael,

    But a bit of (peaceful) civil disobedience is long at the heart of how we as a people call attention to injustice. Eventually, the Democrats (or at least a couple of them) will show up and the vote will occur. But until then, their actions call voter attention to an egregious over-stepping of bounds by Republicans who are manufacturing a fiscal crisis and then using that as an excuse to strip rights from a specific group of citizens.

    In refusing to blithely go along with the majority, walking away is an appropriate reaction when there is such gross injustice being done.

  12. parksie555 says:

    Chain – they are not trying to make public employment look “bad” relative to private employment. They are just trying to get it close to private employment.

    According to a pro-demonstration editorial in the NY Times, Gov. Walker is asking for an increase in employee share of health insurance premiums from 6% to 12% – where the public/private sector national average is about 30%. Aditionally he wants to have public sector employees assume a portion (5.8%) of the costs associated with pension funding – they currently pay NOTHING. National average for public sector employees is around 5-6%. And he does not want union dues to be paid via payroll deduction.

    These seem like pretty reasonable requests to me.

    Does it not seem reasonable that the private sector employees of Wisconsin – who after all, pay the salaries of the public employees – have some say in public sector compensation?

  13. parksie555 says:

    Lever – To me the real injustice is these Wisconsin public sector employees that somehow feel they have a right not to share in the economic difficulties the rest of the nation is going through.

    Is asking someone to pay a small portion of their own health care and retirement costs really an injustice? Seriously?

  14. parksie555 says:

    Lever – The real injustice is these Wisconsin public sector employees think they should not take a little pain along with everybody else during difficult economic times.

    Is it really an injustice to expect someone to pay a small portion of their own healthcare and retirement costs? An injustice to have to pay about 1/20th of these costs? Seriously?

  15. shortchain says:

    Parksie,

    What is strangely missing from your list is where the governor wants to remove from public employees the right to collectively bargain. And, since that is a fundamental right accorded private employees, it is a fatal stumbling block.

    Additionally, aren’t things like what proportion of health insurance and pension contributions the employee pays more properly the subject of contract negotiations? Why does the governor want to make them matters of law and remove the ability of the state employees to collectively bargain for better conditions?

  16. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    You say: “Fixing infrastructure does not change wages or employer-provided benefits, which is at the core of the protestations of Wisconsin state employees.” — and that it’s beside the point.

    Since my comment above pointed out that, rather than do something to actually improve the lot of the entire populace, such as increase spending on the things I mentioned, rather than simply trying to stick it to the public employees, I don’t know why it’s beside the point.

  17. parksie555 says:

    Chain – they will still be able to negotiate wages. And frankly they are pretty damn greedy and stupid if they think the can negotiate any better than paying about 1/3 of the prevailing rate for healthcare contribution and the prevailing rate for pension contribution, given the current economy and political climate.

  18. shortchain says:

    Parksie,

    You say: “they will still be able to negotiate wages.” Individually? Against the state of Wisconsin? Really?

    The amount of healthcare contribution is only one part of the compensation package. You seem to want to focus on it, but you need to step back and look at the package. Here’s a clue: Wisconsin state employees are not overpaid (they average 6 percent less in pay) in comparison with private employees in Wisconsin.

  19. Number Seven says:

    I find it ironic that when we on the left mention raising taxes on the wealthy, the right replies that it is punishing success. And yet those same people want to punish the average joe when they have successfully negotiated higher wages and benefits through the use of unionization.

    All this is about is union busting, plain and simple. The right wing has been successful in destroying private employee unions and now they are going after public employee unions.

    The Public Con party can go to hell.

  20. shortchain says:

    Parksie,

    Oh, and by the way, that pay comparison didn’t take into account that the majority of the state employees are teachers. So they are more educated than the average private employee, yet are paid 6 percent less.

  21. shortchain,

    Since my comment above pointed out that, rather than do something to actually improve the lot of the entire populace, such as increase spending on the things I mentioned, rather than simply trying to stick it to the public employees, I don’t know why it’s beside the point.

    Because they’re independent variables.

  22. shortchain,

    “they will still be able to negotiate wages.” Individually? Against the state of Wisconsin? Really?

    Why wouldn’t they? Would that be illegal or something?

  23. #7,

    All this is about is union busting, plain and simple.

    Perhaps so, but that’s being done by people who were democratically elected to represent the public. That’s one of the upshots of a representative democracy.

  24. Mr. Universe says:

    Breaking with my colleagues,

    There was no projected budget shortfall. In fact there was a projected surplus. Governor Walker gave a bunch of tax breaks in the amount of $140 million when he took office. Last Friday afternoon, he introduced this bill hoping to dump that off on the backs of the working people and bust the unions. This was a covert political operation. I’m impressed that the Democratic legislators did what they did. They’re heroic, not losers.

    Scott Walker is a thief wearing a tie and is as morally bankrupt as Tom Delay after his gerrymandering in Texas. Who, coincidentally looks like he’s going to jail. I hope Wisconsin recalls him in September. This protest was a shot across the bow to the Republican party. Ignore it at your peril.

  25. Gator says:

    ShortChain said:
    “Parksie,

    You say: “they will still be able to negotiate wages.” Individually? Against the state of Wisconsin? Really?”

    *******************************************************************************

    SC you are once again commenting on something without knowing the facts. The bill wouldn’t prevent collective bargaining for wages. See below:

    “The left fires back that the cuts are just a sideshow, and that the real problem is the other provisions in the bill, which restrict collective bargaining to wages, rather than benefits, and state that pay increases cannot exceed the CPI without a public referendum.”
    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/02/showdown-in-wisconsin/71450/
    ******************************************************************************

    and from the NYT…

    “Democrats, along with the thousands of workers and protesters, oppose the bill, which would weaken unions by limiting collective bargaining for state employees and many local employees, including teachers, to base wages, and would require workers to pay more for pensions and health care. Without enough votes to stop the bill’s passage, Democratic senators apparently concluded that leaving the building would stop the vote from taking place, and by Friday morning, they were showing no signs of coming home.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/us/19wisconsin.html

  26. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    I’d like to see the proof that: “they’re independent variables.”

    They may not be highly correlated, but I’m finding it hard to believe that the opportunity for a decent public education is uncorrelated with future success in life. And we already know from studies that the incidence of bankruptcy is pretty highly correlated with a lack of good medical insurance. I’m pretty sure a good case could be made for certain kinds of infrastructure and, of course, I’ve always thought that research pays dividends to all humanity. That last one I’ll admit is closer to a “faith-based” opinion.

  27. Number Seven says:

    Two Thumbs Up, Mr. U!

    Remember folks, voting is never about the majority since the majority doesn’t even bother to vote most of the time. The most motivated side is the one that wins. Looks like the Dems in Wisconsin are getting motivated.

  28. Mr. U,

    This protest was a shot across the bow to the Republican party. Ignore it at your peril.

    Do the citizens of Wisconsin share that opinion? Or do they consider Walker to be the hero? I’m pretty ignorant of midwest politics.

  29. Gator says:

    Wisconsin: How we got hereFrom NBC’s John Bailey
    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) Budget Repair Bill, and the ongoing fight over its provisions, was prompted by a large, looming state budget deficit. Wisconsin has an immediate budget shortfall of $137 million, projected to grow to $3.6 billion by mid-2013. The lion’s share of the blame for Wisconsin’s budget woes falls on the receding economy, but other factors such as tax cuts, rising health care costs, and expiring federal aid have contributed as well.
    http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/02/18/6081693-wisconsin-how-we-got-here

    ************************************************************************************

    Don’t be fooled: Wisconsin’s budget woes are real
    Yes, Gov. Walker is playing number games, but a major fiscal reckoning is coming: It’s called Medicaid

    Democrats are all lathered up about the notion that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is using “trumped up” budget tricks to justify his attack on public sector unions. There is some truth to this. After becoming governor, Walker immediately passed a couple of tax cuts that turned what would have been a budget surplus into a $137 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year. It’s classic starve-the-beast Republican tactics — eviscerate tax revenue and then use that as an excuse to go on the warpath against Democratic priorities.

    (UPDATE: Actually, Wisconsin’s budget situation for the current fiscal year turns out to be much more complicated than my description here. See note at the end of this post.)

    But that does not mean, as Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein asserted on Friday morning, that “the Badger State was actually in pretty good shape” before Walker started playing games.

    The Badger State is not in good shape. Like many other states, it is facing a huge fiscal hole over the next two years. Wisconsin calculates its budgets on a biennial basis, and the latest estimate for the next two-year budget is for a $3.6 billion deficit. Sure, that number is considerably bigger than a $2.2 billion deficit projected by the outgoing Democratic administration, and Walker has obvious political reasons for inflating it, but independent analysts do not find the figures out of line.

    http://www.salon.com/news/budget_showdown/?story=/tech/htww/2011/02/18/wisconsins_budget_woes_are_real

  30. Gator says:

    Mr U

    As you can see from my post above, MSNBC and Salon disagree with your assessment. Pesky things, facts. What is your take on their reportage?

  31. Mr. Universe says:

    The bill wouldn’t prevent collective bargaining for wages.

    Since wages are already capped, that’s not much of a bargaining chip, is it?

  32. shortchain says:

    Omigod: “tax cuts, rising health care costs, and expiring federal aid” — better take away the rights of some citizens to collectively bargain, right away!

  33. shortchain,
    You’re changing the topic and putting words in my mouth.

    I’d like to see the proof that: “they’re independent variables.”

    The antecedent of “they” is public employee compensation (on a per-employee basis) and the amount of government services provided. Perhaps more money can be spent on facilities and infrastructure, and less on employee compensation. In the absence of additional data, one cannot conclude that the public would be worse off with that tradeoff.

  34. Mr. Universe says:

    Do the citizens of Wisconsin share that opinion? Or do they consider Walker to be the hero? I’m pretty ignorant of midwest politics.

    Suspect they’re having a good deal of buyer’s remorse about now. I was hoping our resident Midwesterner would weigh in.

  35. parksie555 says:

    U – I would say you got it backwards with:

    “This protest was a shot across the bow to the Republican party. Ignore it at your peril.”

    The legislation is a shot across the bow to the public sector unions. They will ignore it at their peril. Or in this case, not just ignore the will of the people, but actually fight against it.

    These union apparatchiks are living in the past. Trumka is a fool and a blowhard.

  36. Mr. Universe says:

    This ain’t no Tea Party Townhall that’s being waged. Once Wisconsin heard that Walker was trying to sneak this bill in this was people who felt personally assaulted and simultaneously reacted to defend themselves. Wisconsinites aren’t typically reactionary but as Russ Fiengold stated, “You don’t poke a badger in the eye”.

  37. shortchain says:

    Michael,

    I’m sorry, I misunderstood what the “they” referred to.

  38. dcpetterson says:

    On Wisconsin politics — I’m in Minnesota, which has a somewhat different culture. But in the last election we wound up with a Republican state legislature, though we now have a Democratic Gov for the first time in something like 20 years.

    You have to remember, Wisconsin has had Russ Feingold for about forever. 2010 was an aberration. Wisconsin was also the first state in the union to allow state employee to have collective bargaining rights.

    What the Wisc legislature is doing is similar to what the House is doing. Republicans know they got elected mainly a) because of Citizens United money, and b) because of the highly-motivated Teapers who voted in droves in a year that otherwise had a low turnout. They can’t count on these factors getting them anywhere in 2012, and in fact, the gains they made in 2010 could evaporate entirely in the next cycle. They are, therefore, pushing as much of their social agenda now, as quickly as possible, knowing their days may be numbered.

    The funny part, of course, is that the farther they swing rightward, the more likely it is the sensible middle and Left will be motivated to throw the bastards out in the next cycle. The Republican-controlled Minnesota legislature is equally doing some completely insane things, but fortunately, we’ve got Governor Dayton to pull some of that in and veto the crazier stuff. It’s going to be an entertaining couple of years — but the damage is going to be brutal. If the Republicans have their way, we’ll get that double-dip recession they’ve been praying for. And then 2012 is anybody’s bet.

  39. shortchain says:

    All you folks who are supporting this move to destroy the public unions — hey, have a nice race to the bottom. Would it be out of line to wish that you win? I’ll be on the other side to watch as you, or your posterity, try to struggle back up the walls of the pit.

  40. mclever says:

    Michael,

    Do the citizens of Wisconsin share that opinion? Or do they consider Walker to be the hero? I’m pretty ignorant of midwest politics.

    Based on the Facebook status updates of my friends who live in Wisconsin, they’re pretty pissed at the Republicans’ shenanigans, and at Walker in particular. Quotes include:

    “Go Senate Dems go!”
    “Walker is a douche.”
    “Run Dems, Run!! Leave the State!”
    “Gotta love that [the Dems are] taking a stand!”
    “Wish we could kick [Walker] out like California.”
    “Democracy in action! Stand up Wisconsin!”
    “the whole state is playing hooky”
    “We’re behind you!”

    As a matter of disclosure, I’ll concede that most of my WI Facebook friends are alumni from prestigious universities with advanced degrees (a county DA, a business executive, a software professional, a researcher at UW, etc…), so they are inclined to be both more politically aware and more liberal-leaning on average.

    From what I know of Wisconsin politics, there’s a healthy social-libertarian/liberal tradition in the upper midwest coupled with pragmatic conservativism, and neither has a distinct numerical advantage in the state. Wisconsin schools are among the best in the country, so the typical Wisconsinite is a decently-educated moderate, with a bit of a blue-collar bent. Upper Wisconsin is a tad more religious than downstate Illinois, but less so than Iowa. Most cheeseheads just want to enjoy their beer and watch football. (Go Pack!)

    For the past year or so, the conservatives have been pretty stirred up while the liberals were either annoyed or disinterested. But, things like this budget issue get their attention. A Republican “rule adjustment” already limited the traditional opportunity of the people to voice their “evidence” regarding pending legislation, which further pissed of some of those moderate-lefties. What the Democrats have done by dodging this vote is keep the liberals riled up. Prolonging it will make it “stick” with the voters.

    I doubt the Dems will actually win this battle in the short-term, but who knows?

  41. shortchain,
    Apology accepted.

    To the blog audience at large, I confess to ambivalence regarding unions. They’ve done some wonderful things and some dreadful things along the way. I’ve worked as a union member and as a non-union member. I’ve worked in the public and private sector. When it comes to most government employees, I have a hard time seeing that collective bargaining is a net positive for the general public.

  42. Mr. Universe says:

    There are reports that the Tea Party is mobilizing a counter protest. This could get ugly.

  43. Mr. Universe says:

    Full disclosure: I have never been a part of a union. I remember some negative stuff from the days of Jimmy Hoffa, but that’s about it.

  44. shortchain says:

    Like Michael, I am ambivalent about unions.

    Full disclosure: I was a union member for a year in my youth. Immediately before that I worked in the same capacity in a non-union shop, making 1/3 the money per hour and getting my body treated like a punching bag (people who had worked in that outfit for a long time were never the same).

    On the other hand, while I was a union member I was asked by a foreman to help him with a rush job, which turned out to be moving some pieces of construction material from one place to another. Iron material. Red iron. Hey, I didn’t know. The steelworkers found out and were extremely upset, but my union steward talked to me, found out the truth, and talked to them. The foreman (who was an ass) got his comeuppance, and I was OK. Never touched red iron again.

    After I left that job, the foreman managed to get the iron workers so angry they struck and put the company out of business. Too bad, I liked the boss, but he made a fatal mistake in hiring his brother-in-law as foreman.

    So I tend to like unions, but I’m not blind to their problems.

    Entrenched union leadership, like all entrenched leadership, can treat the organization is if it is their personal fiefdom, causing trouble for both the members of their unions and for the companies who depend on them. I’ve a friend here who has a problem with his union for exactly that reason. The union leadership wants to raise dues so they can keep their friends on the payroll.

    But the problem is entrenched union leadership, not, intrinsically, the union. Unfortunately, I know of no way to prevent organizations from developing entrenched leadership syndrome. We see it in bureaucracies, in companies, in politics — even in science. We see it in volunteer organizations and non-profits.

    I don’t see the answer as eliminating the organizations, though.

  45. Max aka Birdpilot says:

    Those on the right LOVED Citizens United because it gave a union of like minded people the right of free speech, as corporations, so they could spend unlimited amounts on candidates.

    Now they want to abolish unions of like minded people, as workers, and prevent them the free speech to collectively bargain.

    I say, if this eventually passes, fight it to the SCOTUS, using Citizens!

  46. shortchain says:

    Walker supporters, here’s your chance to show your love. Americans For Prosperity, the front organization for the Koch brothers, has put up a page where you can sign a petition in support of Walker.

  47. Monotreme says:

    From Nate Silver’s Twitter feed
    FWIW: Conservative robopollster We Ask America has a majority of WI disapproving of Gov. Walker’s budget plan. http://bit.ly/hmmUfk

    Word is, the Koch Brothers are busing in Teabaggers to, er, tea bag and counter-protest the unions. Over on Twitter, I coined the hashtag “#kochblock” to describe this strategy.

  48. Pingback: Hot Fudge Sunday February 20 | 538 Refugees

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