In The News
Madison Update: Walker's Folly, Wis 14, recalls, police remorse
Commentary websites such as this, even with our active calendar of events, are hard-pressed to keep the interested public informed about all that is happening. But we can sure help. Scroll down to connect to events.
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
revised February 25, 2011
Events are moving fast and powerfully in the ongoing protest against the overreach of Gov. Scott Walker.
In a furious and far from final session in the Assembly Friday, Republicans cut off a marathon debate to howls from Democrats and passed the so-called budget repair bill. It not only strips public service unions of all rights to bargain, except limited ones on wages, and seeks to force unions to beg for money by removing dues from paychecks and getting yearly votes on union membership. Passage is far from settled despite GOP dominance in the legislature because the bill can't advance since all 14 Senate Democrats won't return to allow a quorum in the other chamber, effectively freezing the legislation. If one came back, it would be over, but they are all standing firm.
Walker has threatened to lay off workers right away if the Dems don't come back, but let's get real. He was working on the layoffs before they fled -- as his self- congratulatory phone call exposed -- and nothing in the repair bill prevents him from doing the layoffs anyway.
So it's another empty threat from a governor who proved, in that surreal phone call where he channeled Ronald Reagan when he thought he was talking to David Koch (see accompanying story), that he is oblivious to anything but his own navel and is "using people like poker chips," as fugitive Sen. John Erpenbach noted.
In that phone call, Walker opened himself up to possible legal action on labor laws (deceptive negotiation when union contracts were still on the table) and ethical lapses, contemplating bringing in agitators to rile the protest crowds. He deliberately excused public safety officers (not all) from his attack on bargaining rights, remembering how some police and firefighter unions supported him, but the real feelings of law enforcement employees against Walker's union attacks were soon revealed.
Now it turns out the bill includes a ton of other things the public will hate, including medical cuts and something most Tea Party supporters abhor, no-bid contracts to sell the state's aging power plants (presumably to GOP favorites seeking a bargain).
In his weirdly named fireside chat (weird because the term historically belongs to a union champion, FDR), Walker pointed up private sector unions as his future "partners" in the state's employment development, neglecting how in other states public service workers have saved millions by fighting against government waste, including such things as the no-bid contracts he now embraces.
Walker's bill also borrows from segregated financial funds as Walker pledged he would never do, yet there he is, wanting $28 million in reserves from the state's health insurance/pharmacy fund. You may recall how during the campaign, he disparaged previous Gov. Jim Doyle for such maneuvers.
It gets stranger. The concessions he sought (paying more in health and pension costs) have been agreed to by unions to the penny, removing the argument that only financial concerns were at the heart of his bill.
Walker still says he needs to target unions for the sake of other governmental units, to give them a stronger negotiating hand, but dozens of their municipal and school leaders have signed letters asking him to back off, education districts are scrambling to make deals with unions under existing rules as a better way forward, and noted Republicans in the state and nation are ducking speaking in favor of his approach to the state budget.
Several of the fugitive Democrats still cling to the belief that three brave Republican senators (all it takes) will emerge and force him to pull this bill for a better one. It's true that many in the GOP quietly disagree with Walker's tactics, but they do revel in the power the GOP has in state rule. This reporter frankly doubts there is a profile in courage in this bunch.
The clouds against Walker are growing even as he seeks the national GOP limelight. His pretense of saving local school districts money on health costs are being exposed in news stories pointing out that the WEAC (union) Health Trust he blames is already available for many school districts as part of the state health plan he touts, with comparable savings or alternatives. And many school districts
so fear the devastation Walker is about to land on them with his education cuts (to be revealed but rumored at some $900 million) that they are already sending out layoff warnings to their employees and would rather work with their staff across the bargaining table than endure this.
Polls of the public now reveal that, while the majority supports his effort to get more from the workers in pension and health payments (and many credit his gun to the head for speeding agreement away from the bargaining table) most are also against his larger assault onn bargaining rights. So more people who are not public workers are hitting the streets in loud opposition to his tactics.
It is now clear even to the state's usually conservative press that his bill is more about breaking union power and robbing public workers of basic rights to bargain than about “repairing” the budget. It is also becoming clear that only vanity and the hope of a national reputation are keeping him from accepting reality.
How to Participate
First off, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council on this website’s front page allows you to sign up for our email Action Alerts, where activities are updated faster than our front page protocols allow. But do check that calendar as well.
Fliers of activities available for download will also be featured in the Take Action section of the milwaukeelabor.org website.
And a constantly updated list of news and events in Madison and in state senate districts can be found at one union activity center, www.wiafscme.org. It even tells you where and when the busses leave.
The phones are also buzzing. Service organizers attached to the labor council and the state AFL-CIO are seeking volunteers for events, phone banking and more. For the
Milwaukee Area contact Jenissee Volpintesta (262) 364-6751 and AFSCME’s Peter Drummond (414) 333-1606. Jenissee can also be reached at email@example.com and at extension 12 of the labor council, (414) 771-7070.
Directly Help Wisconsin 14
Democracy for America and ActBlue have created an online contribution center for the Senate Democrats who have fled the state to block Walker’s bill.
It’s something of a game because the majority doesn’t want a vote just a body. If it can compel a Democrat just to be present (not vote) to establish a quorum, Walker has already revealed he will just push ahead. While the legalities are muddy, Walker has asked the state police to look for them within state borders.
That's a media stunt wasting police time (no elected official can be arrested under the constitution and the power to find them ends at state lines) -- just turn on a TV and you'd know where to find them.
Who is asking the state police to do this, and who is pressuring the Madison officers to more frequently shut down the State Capitol? If you can't guess, here are some inside guides:
The new politically appointed head of the state troopers is 68 year old Stephen Fitzgerald, who came out of retirement to seek the position from Walker's team. Yes he is father of the leaders of the state Assembly and Senate, the Fitzgerald boys, which brings to mind to Milwaukeeans Walker's firm pledge back in 2002 when he was elected county executive, to "eliminate cronyism and nepotism" in government.
Fitzgerald pere, according to media reports, is in charge of sending troopers to Democratic senators' homes even though they are visibly on TV from Illinois. Maybe upsetting their children and families will pressure them to return. How the dutiful troopers really feel about this stunt becomes far clearer in public statements through their unions. The pressure the GOP thought the police would put on the protesters dissipated when the largest police organization in the state, composed of thousands of members, urged its units to stand by the protesters and even bring their own sleeping bags to the State Capitol.
As long as the game continues, the GOP majority in the senate can only act on non-financial bills, though expect them to do as much damage as they can.
Walker also revealed to the faux David Koch that he suspected unions were funding the living expenses of the fugitives, which only revealed the limitations of his private world. Openly on the Internet, supporters have already raised more than $300,000 to support their efforts. They hardly need union money.
ActBlue explains the contributions and how they are handled at https://secure.actblue.com/page/heroesinwisconsin
I like many other reporters have been in contact with the fugitive 14, and the question they most frequently get is, “What will it take for them to come home?”
They are well aware that they are heroes to many and are being beaten up as criminals on Fox News. What would it take? Common sense, they say. And a recognition by Walker that the tide of public opinion has turned against him.
So for the 14, the current bill will have to be withdrawn. Not, they say, some sort of vague promise or feint or pretense that a few in the GOP have changed their minds. An actual irreversible commitment from people who stand up.
On the Recall Front
The GOP senators elected in 2008 are already facing recall threats, still unfolding, because of their support of Walker. The recall activists on the progressive side and the people suffering buyer’s remorse for voting Walker in will not be able to touch him or any representative or newly elected member of the state senate until next year. There’s a constitutional law that allows any elected official a year’s term before facing a recall.
But senators elected in 2008 are under attack. More than 3,000 have already pledged to sign up in a campaign against Alberta Darling at recallalbertadarling.org.
I was initially wrong about how the state constitution will work in establishing recall numbers, or so it now appears at the Government Accountability Board, which is in charge. I was right, thought in my early speculation about who is under faster threat. Never discount the Koch money or the Utah funding group that wants to recall the Democrats, but the real groundswell if Walker's bill passes, or even if it doesn't, are the closely elected Republicans of 2008, such as Darling, who just squeaked in.
The key to the recall law in this year’s case is the 2010 vote for governor (yes the vote that took place after these senators were elected). Actually, 2006, which I thought would apply, drew slightly more voters in an off-year election than 2010 (2,159,251 votes to 2,133,144 by quick estimates). Recall numbers require 25% of the total votes cast in the 2010 governor’s race as figured by senate districts. In any case, mathematicians are hard at work and the initial hard targets of attack on the GOP side are Darling (District 8), Robert Cowles (Green Bay. Dist. 2),
Randy Hopper (Fond du Lac, Dist. 18). Dan Kapanke (La Crosse, Dist. 32) and, surprising to some but indicating shifting attitudes even in River Hills, Sheila Harsdorf (Dist. 10).
State Troopers’ Lament
Walker exempted some public safety workers from his attack on bargaining rights - police officers, firefighters and state troopers – and quickly denied that it was political payback for those who supported him for governor. Yet among the few unions who did were the city of Milwaukee police, firefighters and the Wisconsin State Troopers.
And carefully included in Walker’s attack on unions were corrections officers, special agents at the state Department of Justice, DNR wardens (who have police powers and arms), university police and others.
Happy with such largesse, the Milwaukee police and firefighters (under obviously new union management) have accepted this gift from Walker without public hair-shirt about getting what fellow hard-working public servants are denied. Not so the other firefighter locals he exempted from attack nor the national union -- all are marching with the workers in Madison and criticizing Walker’s bill.
Perhaps even more remarkable was this apology posted on Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association website from state trooper Tracy Fuller, the union association’s executive board president:
I am going to make an effort to speak for myself, and every member of the Wisconsin State Patrol when I say this.
I specifically regret the endorsement of the Wisconsin Trooper’s Association for Scott Walker.
I regret the governor’s decision to’ endorse’ the troopers and inspectors of the Wisconsin State Patrol. I regret being the recipient of any of the perceived benefits provided by the governor’s anointing.
I think everyone’s job and career is just as significant as the others. Everyone's family is just as valuable as mine or any other persons, especially mine. Everyone's needs are just as valuable.
That Amazing Internet!
With humor, parody and photos, the story of the Madison protests are everywhere, and here are some fun links.
With remarkable songwriting skill reacting to events, Ken Lonnquist, a teacher, sung this on radio within an hour after he wrote it and it then became a video with photos at www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGc46S7el3U
Searching for union thugs among the crowds, one activist provided a diary of photos at www.dailykos.com/story/2011/02/19/947049/-WisconsinFeb-18,-2011-Photo-Diary
The Wisconsin 14 provided a freshly profane set of words with Third Reich images to refresh an old video parody device with guffaws at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqnOeatbDWs