Wisconsin Democrats could stay away for weeks
Friday, February 18, 2022 6:08 PM

Related Stories

(Source: Associated Press/AP Online)By SCOTT BAUER

MADISON, Wis. - Democrats on the run in Wisconsin avoided state troopers Friday and threatened to stay in hiding for weeks, potentially paralyzing the state government in a standoff with majority Republicans over union rights for public employees.

The party's battle against balancing the state budget by cutting the pay, benefits and collective bargaining rights of public workers is the boldest action yet by Democrats to push back against last fall's GOP wave.

But the dramatic strategy that has clogged the Capitol with thousands of protesters clashes with one essential truth: Republicans told everyone months ago that unions would be one of their targets, and the GOP now has more than enough votes to pass its plans once the Legislature can convene.

The 14 Senate Democrats left the state Thursday, delaying action in that chamber on the sweeping bill. Among them was Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who said Friday that the group was prepared to be away for weeks, although he would prefer to end the stalemate sooner.

"That really, truly is up to the governor," he told The Associated Press in an interview Friday at a downtown Chicago hotel. "It's his responsibility to bring the state together. The state is not unified. It is totally torn part."

Meanwhile, protests at the state Capitol entered a fourth day and continued to grow - to an estimated 40,000 people, the largest crowd yet. Many schools were closed again after teachers called in sick, including the state's largest district, in Milwaukee.

And neither protesters, Democrats or the GOP appeared ready to make any accommodations for the other side.

Demonstrators vowed to stay as long as necessary to get concessions. New Republican Gov. Scot Walker rebuffed requests to sit down with Democrats to seek a compromise.

Erpenbach (URP'-ehn-bahk) accused Walker of trying to rush the legislation, which was publicly unveiled only a week ago.

"I'm not calling him a dictator. But this is dictatorial almost," Erpenbach said. "I don't think I've ever seen such a draconian piece of legislation come down from any governor, Democrat or Republican."

Republicans had warned since last year's campaign that they would seek major concessions from unions. But for lawmakers in the minority, "The only other option we had to slow things down was to leave."

Erpenbach said the decision to flee happened on the spur of the moment as Democrats gathered near the Capitol for a regular strategy meeting Thursday morning.

An hour later, he threw a few travel essentials - a toothbrush, razor and few changes of clothes - into a duffel bag and a backpack. He took just two or three minutes to pack, and jumped in a car for a prearranged meeting at a hotel in Rockford, Ill., just south of the Wisconsin border.

The lawmakers were concerned that police could have detained them, even though the Wisconsin Constitution prohibits the arrest of state lawmakers while the Legislature is in session, except in cases of felonies, breaches of the peace or treason.

"We knew their jurisdiction ends at the state line, and that's why we came to Illinois," Erpenbach said.

From Rockford, the legislators headed in different directions, most of them traveling to the Chicago area or to other parts of northern Illinois, Erpenbach said.

Since leaving Wisconsin, he said he had not spoken to any of his Republican counterparts.

The 14 Democrats planned to meet later Friday somewhere in Illinois to discuss strategy.

"We just need some time to sit down and talk, figure out where we are at and what we are hearing form our constituents, and what we're hearing form the Republicans," Erpenbach said.

Also Friday, the leader of the state's largest public employee union said workers were willing to make financial concessions but not to give up bargaining rights.

Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, issued a statement saying the protests would continue until Walker sits down with the unions.

In a sign that the commotion might be causing other problems for the governor, he pushed back the release of his two-year budget plan by one week, to March 1.

The governor insists the concessions he is seeking from public workers - including higher health insurance and pension contributions - are necessary to deal with the state's projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall and to avoid layoffs.

Eliminating their collective bargaining rights, except over wage increases not greater than the Consumer Price Index, is necessary in order to give the state and local governments and schools the flexibility needed to deal with upcoming cuts in state aid, Walker said.

Those arguments don't wash with Democrats who say the fight is really about political power and quashing the unions, whose members are longtime supporters of Democrats.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he spoke with Democratic Minority Leader Mark Miller by phone late Thursday and asked him to bring his caucus back to Madison, but Miller refused.

By Friday morning, Fitzgerald was tired of waiting. With the governor's approval, he asked the state patrol to go to Miller's house in a Madison suburb.

Fitzgerald said he hoped a visit from the police would send a signal about the circumstances at the Capitol. Troopers knocked on Miller's door and rang his doorbell, but no one answered.

The protests are growing so large that Capitol workers cannot safely move through the halls, Fitzgerald said, calling the situation "a powder keg." The situation was expected to ratchet up on Saturday, when conservative tea party groups planned their own rallies.

Republican support for the bill remains strong, he added. "If anything, what's going on around this building is galvanizing this caucus," Fitzgerald said.

The Wisconsin walkout was similar to a 2003 move by Texas Democrats who were outnumbered by Republicans in a battle over congressional redistricting. The group got on a bus and fled for the Oklahoma border.

Work in the Texas House was halted for a week, and GOP leaders asked state troopers to find and arrest the 52 absent lawmakers. It was the beginning of a bitter partisan confrontation that dragged on for months. Later that summer, a group of Senate Democrats fled to Albuquerque, N.M., for more than a month.

In the end, the walkouts only delayed the redistricting plan, which eventually passed and helped give the GOP more seats in Congress.

Still, organizers of the walkout say it was worth it.

"It was the toughest thing I've ever done politically," said Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, chairwoman of the Democratic caucus in the Texas Senate. "It was not something we wanted to do. It was the last thing we could do to protect minority voting rights."

Back in Madison, some Democrats from the state Assembly went to Walker's office to demand a meeting. Walker's spokesman said the governor's scheduler would get back to them.

The Assembly speaker said the chamber could vote on the bill later Friday, but it was not clear whether the GOP would attempt to proceed without Democrats, who were in a closed caucus meeting.

Minority Leader Peter Barca said he expected a "long, protracted debate" over their strategy.

Republicans hold a 57-38 majority in the Assembly, but they need 58 lawmakers present to take up the bill. That puts the lone independent, Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, in a powerful position.

Ziegelbauer said he would show up, but hoped to convince Republican leaders to first make changes to the collective bargaining parts of the bill.

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane called the walkout in Madison the boldest action Democrats have taken since midterm elections swept Republican to power in statehouses across the country.

Walker "has been so strident that the way he's engaged . has effectively given the Democrats the high ground in terms of how they're responding," Lehane said.

"What Wisconsin is going through isn't all that different from other states," he added. "But the way it's being handled is."


Associated Press writers Todd Richmond, Dinesh Ramde and Jason Smathers in Madison; Michael Tarm in Chicago; and Michael Gormley in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this story.

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.



Symbol :


Market news:

  • Washington: the 'blackest name' in America Feb 21, 2022 08:56 AM

    • George Washington's name is inseparable from America, and not only from the nation's history.
    • It identifies countless streets, buildings, mountains, bridges, monuments, cities - and people.
    • The story of how Washington became the "blackest name" begins with slavery and takes a sharp turn after the Civil War, when all blacks were allowed the dignity of a surname.
      • Trying brain pacemakers to zap psychiatric disease Feb 21, 2022 08:26 AM

        • WASHINGTON - Call them brain pacemakers, tiny implants that hold promise for fighting tough psychiatric diseases - if scientists can figure out just where in all that gray matter to put them.
        • But a push is on to expand research into how well these brain stimulators tackle the most severe cases of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette's syndrome - to know best how to use them before too many doctors and patients clamor to try.
        • Unlike with tremor patients, the psychiatric patients who respond to DBS tend to improve gradually, sometimes to their frustration.
          • Upper Midwest faces dismal commute with storm Feb 21, 2022 08:13 AM

            • MINNEAPOLIS - A winter storm that blew through the upper Midwest over the Presidents Day long weekend coated roads with ice and snow and led airlines to cancel hundreds of flights.
            • Early Monday, the National Weather Service said up to 10 inches of snow had fallen on parts of southern Michigan since the storm began Sunday afternoon.
            • A winter storm warning remained in effect in southwest Michigan, with forecasters predicting up to 3 inches more of snow and warning that high winds could cause blowing snow and drifts.
              • Congo colonel gets 20 years after rape trial Feb 21, 2022 08:06 AM

                • BARAKA, Congo - A Congolese court sentenced an army colonel to 20 years in prison Monday, convicting him of crimes against humanity in the highest-profile sexual violence case ever tried in this nation where thousands are brutally raped each year.
                • Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Lt. Col. Mutuare Daniel Kibibi, 46, who was accused of ordering his troops to attack the village of Fizi on New Year's Day where doctors later treated 62 women for rape.
                • One woman testified that Kibibi himself raped her for 40 minutes.
                  • Analysis: Discontent, but no revolt in China - yet Feb 21, 2022 07:42 AM

                    • BEIJING - For those who rule out the possibility of a Middle East-style democracy revolution in China, consider the town of Xiangshui.
                    • It left four people dead when a motorized three-wheel vehicle jammed with 20 people veered into a river.
                    • China may have successfully squelched a mysterious call for protests Sunday, but people's trust that the government will look after their interests runs shallow.

                      More news


    Recent Estimates

AnalystFirm NameSymbolEPS Estimate
davidgmllc JTX$0.32
ABN SkateNFC AMZN$0.88