Wisconsin Takes Action

by Christian Schneider

By a vote of 53 to 42 (with four Republicans voting against, and one Independent voting for), the Wisconsin assembly has passed Gov. Scott Walker’s bill to limit the ability of public-sector unions to use collective bargaining. The bill was brought to the floor of the assembly after a surprise vote in the state senate last night, which prompted protesters to swarm the Capitol and delay the start of the assembly session today.

Before action on the bill even began, the proceedings went from zero to farce in about 30 seconds, as Democrats demanded that Jesse Jackson be allowed to give the opening prayer. The debate on the assembly floor consisted mostly of Democrats raising procedural objections to the rapid manner in which the bill was passed in the Senate on Wednesday night. Prior to the vote, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had received confirmation from three nonpartisan legislative attorneys that passage of the bill without a three-fifths quorum was within the senate rules.

That did not keep Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca from insisting that last night’s vote was “illegal” and promising legal action to overturn it. The assembly spent the first hour of debate on a motion by Barca to have Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald stripped of his leadership position. (Had this happened, the new assembly speaker would have just gone ahead and put the bill up for a vote, exposing Barca’s motion as a mere maneuver to delay the bill’s passage.)

During the nearly three hours of debate on the bill, Democrats raised several objections. They complained that the public was being “locked out” of the Capitol, and that even legislators were having trouble gaining entry. This is particularly ironic, as it is the pro-union protesters who stormed the Capitol, precipitating the lockdown that Democrats now bemoaned.

Democrats also complained that debate on the bill was being “cut short,” although there had been nearly 62 hours of debate on the bill on the assembly floor two weeks ago, and a 17-hour public hearing on the bill prior to the initial assembly vote. Democratic representative Mark Pocan said he felt like he was living in “Fitzwalkerstan” (which quickly became a trending topic on Twitter).

Demonstrating that no hyperbole was out of reach, Rep. Cory Mason claimed that “Martin Luther King was assassinated while fighting for the rights you’re trying to take away.” Rep. Elizabeth Coggs said she looks at Wisconsin “as an apartheid system.” Rep. Tamara Grigsby said that when she saw the riot police with helmets and batons, she wondered “Where are the hoses?” Grigbsy called the assembly’s passage of the bill “disgusting.” (No word on whether Grigsby feels the same about President Obama, as federal-government employees don’t have the right to bargain for salaries or benefits.) When the vote was complete, chants of “shame! shame! shame!” cascaded down from the galleries of the assembly. Democratic representatives joined in the chants as Republican representatives were quickly hustled out a back door into Speaker Fitzgerald’s office.

Governor Walker quickly lauded the assembly’s vote, saying, “Their action will save jobs, protect taxpayers, reform government, and help balance the budget.” Walker said he may sign the bill into law as early as tomorrow.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

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