It’s been three weeks since the budget repair bill was brought up for discussion in the state senate and 14 Democratic senators headed for Illinois to give time for the public to learn what was in the bill. Unless you were living under a rock or on another planet, you’ve heard the bill would end collective bargaining rights for public employees (except in the case of wages), require pension and health insurance premium contributions by those same employees and change eligibility rules for medical assistance programs.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Wisconsin Act 10(its new name since Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill) includes additions to administrative staffing and the end of emergency funding for state prisons, a requirement that municipalities without civil service systems in place enact them within four months, the replacement of the UW Hospital and Clinic Board with a quasi-public/private authority and reduced or eliminated emergency funding to aging and disability centers, medical assistance programs, and case management programs for children in out-of-home placements.
The law does not include the provision to sell state power plants without the Public Service Commission’s oversight and it also doesn’t address the $165 million the state would have saved due to a bond restructuring. But it does make it illegal for any public employee to strike and allows the governor to fire any employee during a declared state of emergency without reason.
So, what happens next?
Walker and the Republicans say Act 10 gives local municipalities and school districts “tools” to make the necessary changes following the proposed state aid and education cuts included in his 2011-13 biennial budget. But the Democratic legislators are planning court challenges to both the law and the procedures used to pass the bill, and it’s a sure bet those challenges will eventually end up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. And they will need the courts. Today, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald emailed his caucus with the news that Senate Dems remain in contempt of the Senate and will not be allowed to vote in committees. He did not say for how long this voting moratorium would last.
On April 5 (exactly three weeks from now) voters will head to the polls and cast their ballots for Supreme Court Justice. Justice David Prosser is facing JoAnne Kloppenburg, an assistant state attorney general, for a 10-year term on the bench. This election has become the first battle to overturn the new law and win the declared war against Walker and the Republicans.
Prosser has been on the bench since 1998, appointed by Tommy Thompson and elected to a 10-year term in 2000. He is known to be a solid conservative; those on the left see Prosser’s re-election akin to giving Walker carte blanche over the state’s constitution.
Kloppenburg has served in the state Department of Justice since 1989, under four different Attorneys General. She has dealt with constitutional law, appellate law, civil litigation, environmental prosecution and administrative law while serving. Protesters and members of the Democratic Party have placed their bets on Kloppenburg’s election, hoping she will help turn the now-conservative-leaning court liberal and eventually rule against the laws and procedures put in place by the Republicans.
The stakes are high. Justices serve for 10 years in an effort to put them above the political fracases of day-t0-day governing. And in the this race, both candidates are taking advantage of public funding, eliminating the ability to raise funds from outside PACS and other sources. So the get out the vote movement is well underway, with social media sites filled with pleas to vote for Kloppenburg to stop Walker or to vote for Prosser to keep the conservative majority intact.
This is more iffy: the recall of 16 senators. Senators that have served at least one year are eligible for recall and eight of the Wisconsin 14 qualify. They are targeted by conservatives and Tea Party activists for leaving the state and stalling the vote for three weeks. The majority of protesters and union activists have set their sights on eight qualifying Republican Senators for their actions to remove collective bargaining from state employees and the possibly illegal procedures used by the senate to pass Walker’s bill.
The recall process is clear. Recall campaigns have to collect signatures totaling 1/4 of the votes cast within a specific senate district during the last gubernatorial election. In the case of Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) 20,343 signatures need to be obtained and certified before a recall election can proceed. For Democratic Sen. Robert Wirch (D-Kenosha), only 13, 537 signatures are needed to start a recall. Committees have been created for each potential recall and all are actively working on raising awareness and collecting contact information for potential signers, in the hope of turning seats to the opposing party.
Petitions for recall can be circulated for up to 60 days, and using Darling as an example, the signatures must be in by May 2. After the signatures are collected, the election board has up to 31 days for verification. If they are determined valid, Darling has 10 days to challenge the sufficiency of the petition. If that occurs, the filing of the petition can be held up for another 31 days.
When, or if, the petition is filed the election will be scheduled on the first Tuesday six weeks after the filing. Again, using Darling as an example, the earliest the vote could be held is mid-June.
And even if the recall effort is successful in obtaining an election, the probability of all 16 seats turning over is slim. But a three-seat pickup by the Democrats would accomplish the goal of stopping Walker in his tracks. However, it would not reverse what has already happened because neither the Governor or Assembly members can face recall until Jan. 3, 2012 – one year into their terms.
And there is a Part 3 to this saga, Walker’s biennial budget. He has presented it to the legislature and public hearings are being scheduled around the state. Stay tuned.