Dem lawmakers flee Wisconsin to block anti-union bill
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|Fri, 02-18-2011 - 3:48pm|
Originally published February 17, 2011 at 10:05 PM | Page modified February 17, 2011 at 10:31 PM
Faced with a near-certain Republican victory that would end more than 50 years of collective bargaining for most public workers, Wisconsin Democrats on Thursday retaliated with the only weapon they had left: They fled.
By SCOTT BAUER
The Associated Press
TOM LYNN / MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
Thousands jammed into the State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on Thursday to protest Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union bill.
MADISON, Wis. — Faced with a near-certain Republican victory that would end more than 50 years of collective bargaining for most public workers, Wisconsin Democrats on Thursday retaliated with the only weapon they had left: They fled.
Fourteen Democratic lawmakers disappeared from the Capitol on Thursday, just as the Senate was about to begin debating the measure aimed at easing the state's budget crunch.
By refusing to show up for a vote, the group brought the debate to a halt and hoped to pressure Republicans to the negotiating table.
"The plan is to try and slow this down because it's an extreme piece of legislation that's tearing this state apart," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the missing Democrats.
The move drew cheers from tens of thousands of protesters — teachers, prison guards and others targeted by the proposal — who have filled the Statehouse in the past three days.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who took office last month, has made the bill a top priority. He urged the group to return and called the boycott a "stunt."
"It's more about theatrics than anything else," Walker said, predicting the group would come back in a day or two.
Walker said Democrats could offer amendments to change the bill, but he vowed not to concede on his plan to end most collective-bargaining rights.
With 19 seats, Republicans hold a majority in the 33-member Senate, but they are one vote short of the number necessary to conduct business. So Republicans need at least one Democrat to be present before any voting can take place. Once the measure is brought to the floor, it needs 17 votes to pass.
Other lawmakers who fled sent messages over Twitter and issued written statements but did not disclose their location until hours later.
Erpenbach said the group had been in Rockford, Ill., but members dispersed by late afternoon.
The reason for the disappearance was simple: Democrats vigorously oppose the bill, which would weaken unions by limiting collective bargaining for state employees and many local employees, including teachers, to base wages.
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