The Capitol rotunda was flooded with a sea of red, as union supporters across the state have come to protest Scott Walker’s attempt to strip state workers of the collective bargaining rights.
“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Scott Walker has got to go!” “Kill the Bill!” and “Hell No, we won’t go!” mixed with the sound of drums, cowbells and horns form a deadening roar throughout the Capitol building. Protestors have filled every level of the dome, the hallways to politicians offices, blocking the Senate and Assembly rooms.
The Senate was called to order around 11:15 this morning with 17 Republican lawmakers in attendance. Senators Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee) were in the Capitol, but did not appear. A call of the house was sent out by Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, sending the sergeant-at-arms to the Democrat Senators offices to direct them to attend the session.
“The Senators’ offices in the state Capitol have been checked, and the next step may be expanding the search outside the building. Rumor has it that the Senate Democrats have left the state to avoid being in the Senate Chamber to vote on this bill,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said he knew something was amiss when he could not reach Minority Leader Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) this morning.
“They’ve decided to not show up,” Fitzgerald said in the Senate salon. “I am disappointed and was looking forward to the debate.”
Gov. Walker said the walkout by Democratic Senators is disrespectful to the public employees and taxpayers that they represent. He addressed the public outside his office around 5 p.m. and called the Senator’s actions a “stunt.”
He may have hinted that he would be willing to negotiate on items that do not compromise the “fiscal integrity” of the bill. Does that mean he is willing to budge on collective bargaining rights? He did not directly address that, and the crowd responded to his short comments with resounding boos.
Fitzgerald said he saw Miller in the hall earlier in the week and wasn’t given any indication the Democrats would stage a walk-out. He noted that the Democrats had attended other meetings during the week, including the Joint Finance Committee hearings on Senate Bill 11.
“The Republican Senators are ready to go and we will wait to hear when the Democrats are available. The issue is we’re here and ready to debate anyone who wants to stand up. I’m not sure why they’re doing this after being a part of the process up until now. “
Miller, who hasn’t been seen at the Capitol, spoke to a reporter from CNN via phone and said the Democrat Senators were “not together, but in secure locations” outside of the Capitol.
“We are tying to do our job but the governor has not chosen to engage in realistic dialogue,” he said. “Until either the governor or a Republican Senator agrees to eliminate the collective bargaining cuts we are not coming back.”
Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) issued a press release from an undisclosed location, affirming her dedication to state employees.
“I and my Democratic colleagues remain committed to Wisconsin values, protecting workers’ rights, the poor and the Wisconsin Way. There can be an agreement to help Wisconsin’s fiscal situation that honors workers’ rights.”
The mood outside of the Senate chamber has alternated between anger, frustration, joviality and lightheartedness. Along with the chants, signs calling for Gov. Scott Walker’s recall are plentiful. There was even an impromptu chorus of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, by Twisted Sister and Queen’s “We Will Rock You” with the words changed to“Recall, Recall Walker” rising from the rotunda floor.
Young and old, students and teachers, parents and babies in strollers – more than 25,000 filled the Capitol and grounds to protest the proposed loss of bargaining rights by state employees in Walker’s budget repair bill.
The bill, officially titled Senate Bill 11, was approved by the Joint Finance Committee late Wednesday night along a straight party vote of 12-4. Amendments to the bill offered by Democratic Senators and Assembly persons to restore at least the bargaining rights to the bill, which would also require state employees to contribute 5.8 percent towards their pension plan and 12.6 percent toward their health care premiums, all failed on party-line votes.
The bill must clear the full Senate first, since it originated from that body; however the Assembly could take up the matter if it so desires. As of now, the Assembly does not plan to take up the bill until the Senate finishes its work.
Sen. Robert Jauch (D-Poplar), who was in the Capitol on Wednesday evening, said the bill and amendment took away the basic civil right of collective bargaining.
“Wisconsin is becoming a banana republic. The rush toward democracy is taking over across the world; in Wisconsin the rush to take away justice is happening,” Jauch said.
JFC Chairwoman Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) described the budget repair bill as “a way to address the labor costs without layoffs. We’re broke, we don’t have a lot of options. It’s not like we’re choosing to do this, we’re broke. I’ve heard the mantra that it’s time for the government to do its share.”
But for now, the debate has stalled while Democrats wait for a call from the governor or Fitzgerald agreeing to their demands. And the protests go on.
Previously published on thirdcoastdigest.com