Just another day of political maneuvering and protest in Madison – Senate Democrats remain out of site, Assembly Republicans cut off Democrat’s microphones and Jesse Jackson mingled with the protesters gathered for their fifth day of citizen action.
Jackson addressed the crowd, both inside and outside the capitol, expressing support for the union protests and demanding that the Legislature kill the bill.
In the rotunda, Jackson and the crowd joined in singing the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”
“I’m here to show support for the people,” Jackson said. “All around the country 59 million have no health insurance, 49 million living in poverty. The workers are fighting back and will win.”
He agreed with the recent comparisons between Madison and the protests in Cairo, describing this week’s protests as “a massive non-violent, disciplined response against economic tyranny.”
Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) called the senate back into session and ordered another call to the house. With the second request to find the wayward Democrat Senators, state troopers were activated to visit the homes of the missing and bring them back to the chamber if found. Minority leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) was not at home when a trooper and Senate staffer knocked on his door.
Sen. John Erpenbach (D-Middleton) issued a press release saying he would remain in Chicago for days or weeks, until the Governor or Senate leadership is willing to take the repeal of collective bargaining off the table.
On the other side of the capitol, the Assembly was called to order and both Republican and Democrat representatives reported for work. The Democratic leaders asked for the opportunity to caucus and introduce constituents in the gallery, many who were involved in the protests. This went on for approximately 20 minutes, when suddenly Assembly Majority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald rose and called for a Republican caucus, ending the Democratic presentation in mid-sentence.
Minority Leader Peter Barca (R-Kenosha) tried to respond, but wasn’t recognized by the chair and had his microphone turned off. But that didn’t stop him.
He shouted, “I don’t need a microphone. People have been yelling for days and you don’t listen. That’s the problem.”
Barca explained that his Democrat colleagues weren’t trying to slow the process down by seeking to caucus, they just want to work on amendments to the Assembly’s version of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.
“We are not going to give up on 50 years of basic employment rights without a fight,” he said. “This will be a long, protracted debate in the Wisconsin tradition.”
Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) said he had at least six amendments of his own that he wanted debated on the Assembly floor. Multiply that by 37 other Democrat representatives and it will definitely be a long, protracted debate.
Barca also blamed the Republicans for stopping the debate on this matter, by ending the Joint Finance Committee’s public hearings with 300 people still waiting to testify and by cutting off his mic this morning.
“I was always proud that in Wisconsin we stayed until the last person had their say, and that is no longer happening.”
But the debate has stopped in the Senate, where the 17 GOP members who met on Thursday approved the third and final reading of the budget repair bill with no amendments offered from the floor. When the Democratic Senators return, the bill will still be open, but only for an up or down vote.
Among the thousands of protesters in Madison was a large contingent of Milwaukee Public School teachers and staff, who called in sick or absent leading to the cancellation of classes.
MPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton had been clear with the teachers throughout the week that he expected them to report for work or they would suffer disciplinary actions. But after hundreds called in sick last night, the district was forced to close.
MPS Spokesperson Roseann St. Aubin said his stance has not changed and the issue.
“Those who are AWOL (absent without leave) or who called in sick since the protests started in Madison do face disciplinary measures that the Superintendent says range from a docking of pay to suspensions,” she said. “Cases will be reviewed individually. Severity of disciplinary action would vary by length of the absence.”
She added that MPS teachers were not paid for today, since the district did not ask them to report to their buildings once the decision was made to close schools.