Wisconsin Assembly GOP calls session early to block debate

All hell broke loose in the Assembly chamber Friday afternoon, as GOP leaders started the session to vote on Scott Walker’s budget repair bill at 4:55 p.m., approximately 5 minutes before the stated start time of 5:00. At the same time, Governor Scott Walker held a press conference, diverting most of the cameras away from the Assembly chamber.

With no Democratic members present, Republicans quickly began to vote on amendments to the Assembly’s version of the bill. But Democrats caught wind of the Republicans’ actions, ran from their caucus and quickly filled their seats. The action moved so quickly that the GOP representatives already had a motion before them for the final reading of the bill when the Democrats arrived. Had the motion been approved, no further debate would have been allowed.

Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) was livid and didn’t attempt to hide his feelings.

“This is unbelievable that you would gather before 5:00 and have illegal votes before the proceedings were to start. It is un-American and out of sync with the values of this state,” he shouted. “I know you are eager to trample on the rights of workers in this state. You might think that because you’ve been elected you can do whatever you damn well please.”

After a short break, Barca came back hotter than before. He had discovered that the Republicans had only voted on one of the amendments before them, even though three had been presented. None of the amendments were forwarded by Democrats.

“You can’t just ignore amendments on the table,” Barca screamed. “You need to vote on all of them. This is worse than a kangaroo court.”

Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) was in tears as she addressed the GOP leadership, imploring them to show respect for process, even though they had the votes to pass the bill.

“Your will will be done,” she said. “You will pass this bill. But I implore you to not do it this way. Just because you’re the majority doesn’t give you  the right to controvert our process.”

After 20 minutes of being dressed down by the Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald offered an odd mea culpa.

“I said 5, but honestly I thought you (Democrats) weren’t coming,” he said. “You are right and we’ll go back to the amendment stage of the process.”

His motion was accepted by unanimous consent, allowing Democrats to offer amendments to the bill.  But with only 38 members, to the Republicans’ 57 and one pocket Independent, none are expected to pass.

In a final move of civility, Fitzgerald then asked for an adjournment until Tuesday at 10 a.m., to allow the Assembly members to “go home and get rested for a healthy debate on the issue.”

Gov. Walker’s news conference corresponded to the start time of many local evening newscasts. In it, Walker offered no new information but reaffirmed his position that the bill had the “quiet support” of the majority of Wisconsin residents and would pass the legislature. Wisconsin Eye, the non-partisan, state news broadcast network, did stream the Assembly activity live on its website.


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