Amanda Terkel at The Huffington Post:
Wisconsin’s public employee unions have agreed to cuts to their health care and pension funds, and a moderate Republican state senator has offered a compromise that would temporarily, not permanently, strip their collective-bargaining rights, but Gov. Scott Walker (R) refuses to budge on the latter issue. Now, state Senate Democrats say they’re done with Walker and seek ways to work around him.
“We had a Senate Democratic caucus last night, and we’ve pretty much given up on the governor,” said state Sen. Jim Holperin (D). “I think this is a governor who is a very stubborn individual and maybe does not understand fully the collateral consequences of his stubbornness. So we’ve decided to refocus on the people we believe may be flexible to some degree, and that’s Senate Republicans. A lot of those Senate Republicans have been around a long time, and I think understand the gravity of eliminating rights from people.”
Holperin and Wisconsin’s other Senate Democrats remain in Illinois, a move that prevents their Republican colleagues from reaching the quorum needed to move forward on budget bills like Walker’s. So far, Democrats said, Walker has ignored all their calls and requests to meet together.
Byron York at The Washington Examiner:
“They’ve painted themselves in a corner,” Wisconsin Republican state senator Randy Hopper says of his Democratic colleagues. “There’s no way for them to get out of it.”
Democratic senators last week fled Wisconsin rather than allow a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s new budget bill, with its curtailments of some public-sector unions’ right to bargain collectively. The bill surely would have passed given the Republicans’ 19 to 14 advantage in the Senate. So Democrats, deeply dependent on union money and support, ran away to avoid a vote.
Walker has stood firm in the fight, but the truth is a lot of Republicans were nervous last week when crowds of protesters showed up and Democrats headed for the hills. What if the public supported the unions? After going home to their districts over the weekend, Republicans are feeling better. Many heard from constituents telling them to hang tough, and voters were especially unhappy with Democrats for hightailing it out of state. “We think public opinion is with us on the budget issue, and we’re sure public opinion is with us on the Democrats’ not showing up for work and doing their job,” says Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state Republican Party.
In fact, for many Republican supporters, the big question is not whether the fight is worth the trouble but whether there’s some way the GOP can steamroll over the Democrats. But that’s not going to happen, at least for now. Republicans believe they are going to win without using extraordinary measures.
In Madison, the protesters are allowed to do almost anything. The police are watchful and bemused; during the foot-stomping, for example, Sgt. Brian Aubrey, who has been here for four days with capitol police, holds up his iPhone and takes a short video, then goes back to watching the crowd.
This occupation of the capitol is totally legal. During the legislative session, anyone can enter the building, from morning to midnight, without going through a security gate. In addition, police unions in Madison and Dane County oppose the governor’s bill and back the protest, even though they are exempted from the legislation’s ban on collective bargaining.
“Why do we deserve collective bargaining rights if no one else gets them?” asks Steve Heimsness, treasurer of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association, right after marching into the capitol with a “Cops for Labor” sign. “Also, if the collective bargaining rights are taken away from the other workers, it’ll happen to us. Guaranteed. I’m sure of it.”
So there’s no hurry to clean up the hundreds of small signs taped to the walls—several of them remind the crowd that “This is a PEACEFUL protest”—or the larger ones that have been taped there for days. They cover letters spelling out “We Are Wisconsin,” visible from most parts of the building, and the massive banner on the second floor asking Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to come to Madison because “we came to your rally.”
No one is telling the people who are sitting on sleeping bags, where they intend to spend the night, to go home. Sheryl Labash, who drove to Madison from Detroit on Thursday, has carved out a little section of a hallway on the second floor, where she reads the Socialist Worker’s Web site as she charges her Blackberry. Not far away, another protester is taking the time to nap, happily earplugged against the din of hundreds of screaming comrades.
The drum lines and the out-of-state sleepovers are a relatively new part of the protest. They were probably inevitable. One reason why Madison is a tricky place to start a Republican crackdown on union power is that it’s home to a sprawling university and all manner of left-wing organizations, magnets for Midwest liberal activism. The Grassroots Leadership College, based here, is using the occasion to hold Nonviolent Demonstration Trainings around the clock, sharing tips like “Don’t make sudden moves around the police” and “Write the ACLU’s phone number on your body” (for when you’re arrested and your phone is taken). Ian’s Pizza, a restaurant close to the Capitol, has been delivering an endless supply of free food paid for by donors from around the world; the leftover boxes are immediately turned into makeshift protest signs. There’s free coffee and water, and on some days free bratwurst, all from local shops.
The hardiest protesters, the ones who have been on strike—a teacher’s strike ends tomorrow—say they feel they are doing something worthwhile. Alyson Pohlman, who works for the university, walks in and out of the capitol building with one of the 12 signs she’s made over seven days of protests. If the budget repair bill passes, she calculates that she’ll make 14 percent less than she used to. But this concerns her less than the cause she is supporting, which she describes as ensuring that “the voice of the people” remains strong enough to speak out against corporate America.
A lot of the protesters talk like this. They don’t want to lose bargaining rights, but they couch that worry in a broader, more existential fear: What if they’re losing their country? It is almost impossible not to hear echoes of Tea Party protesters. (There are some common slogans: I spotted one “Mad as Hell” and one “Can You Hear Us Now?” sign.) The Tea Party worries about George Soros and ACORN; the Cheddar Revolutionaries worry about libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch, and an overall Republican strategy to “defund the left.” They cite New Yorker and New York Timesreports to make this case, and they’re scared.
There are countless signs attacking the Kochs, or Walker as a “Koch tool,” or listing which products to boycott in order to hit the Kochs’ pocketbooks. And there are detailed charts explaining that if unions are neutered politically, the biggest campaign donors in America will be “right-wing.” Mark Jansen, who drove to the protests from Indiana, walks the capitol with a yellow umbrella that came free with some Eggo waffles, and is now festooned with anti-Koch, anti-Citizens United slogans.
“Walker’s a pink, naked purse dog for the Kochs!” he says.
Jonathan Chait at TNR:
Imagine a Democratic governor proposed a plan to close a budget crisis. First he jacked up the Earned Income Tax Credit. Then he proposed a tax hike on the rich and on corporations to close the deficit. And then he packaged it with a stringent campaign finance law, a law to require corporations to obtain permission from shareholders before engaging in any kind of political activism, and other laws designed to crush the political power of corporate America. (Pro-Democratic businesses would be exempted.) It’s budget-related, because, after all, you can’t maintain higher taxes on the rich if the rich are able to bend the political system to protect their interests. Oh, and Republicans accepted the tax hikes on the rich but opposed the other provisions, but Democrats refused to negotiate them.
I suspect conservatives would interpret this not as a genuine effort to close the deficit but as an exercise in class warfare and raw politics. They’d be correct.
You know, it really was rather smart of the Republicans to let the protest/exile peter out over time. The teachers couldn’t keep canceling school, and the group at the Capitol will, more and more, be UW students/TAs and old Madison lefties with more radical slogans. The legislators-in-hiding look more and more ineffectual and more and more Chicago. I don’t think these developments are increasing political support around the state.
Meanwhile, Walker and his GOP cohort are waiting patiently — it only takes a few days — to get going working on the state’s problems.
“They can vote on anything that is nonfiscal,” said Senator Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat, from his hotel across state lines.
(There’s a Senate rule that requires a larger quorum for fiscal matters. The Republicans need one Democratic senator to return to give them that quorum.)
“They can take up their agenda; they can do whatever they choose to do.”
Mr. Erpenbach said that his caucus was determined not to return until the restrictions to collective bargaining were off the table. But he worried aloud about what legislation could emerge in the meantime.
What legislation should the Republicans put on the agenda? They have the votes to pass things with or without the Democrats, so the question might be: What do they want to do that will be especially convenient to do without Democrats around to pester them? Or: What are the things that, if done without the Democrats’ participation, will most hurt the Democrats politically? Or: What issue will prompt at least one Democrat to return, thus enabling them to get to the fiscal matters?
UPDATE: Concealed carry, voter ID, race-blind admissions in the University of Wisconsin system…