The spotlight in Wisconsin has been mostly on the demonstrators and the governor, Republican Scott Walker, who has been trying to get the state’s fiscal house in order by seeking more of a contribution from the state’s public service workers, and also asking them to give up collective bargaining except in matters of salary, and to vote on union membership every year.
It’s the latter parts that have created most of the furor. For them he’s been given the epithet “union-buster” and far worse. There’s no question that Walker is spearheading the drive, but he could never do so with such confidence unless he felt he had the support of the legislature.
November of 2010 was a mid-term election that featured a huge reversal in the US Congress, with the House being taken over by Republicans, and the Senate remaining in Democratic hands but barely so. This was the big news. But the fine print described an even more startling reversal on the state level in much of the country, and Wisconsin was one of the epicenters of the quake.
I described it here shortly after the election, and pointed out that Wisconsin had gone from 52[D] and 46[R] to 38[D] and 60[R] in the House, and 18[D] and 15[R] to 14[D] and 19[R] in the Senate. Expressed in terms of percentages, which makes the switch easier to see, the Wisconsin House went from 53% Democratic to 61% Republican, and the Wisconsin Senate from 54% Democrat to 57% Republican.
Recently, when the Wisconsin Democratic legislators responded to Walker’s proposals by running and hiding, they did it because they knew they didn’t have the numbers to do anything else about it but stonewall. In Wisconsin, 3/5 of Senate members are required to be present in order to pass fiscal legislation. So a disappearance seemed like a fabulous idea; perhaps the only idea..
But Governor Walker has a plan:
Though the Wisconsin constitution requires three-fifths of the senate to be present to pass fiscal legislation, a simple majority of 17 members constitutes a quorum for other bills in the 33-seat state senate. So the 19 GOP senators who remain in Madison can pass any number of bills while their Democratic colleagues are on the lam, and Republicans are a majority in the assembly, too. “They can hold off, but there is a whole legislative agenda that Republicans in the senate and assembly can start acting on that only requires simple majorities,” Walker warns.“If they want to do their jobs, and have a say, they better show up.”
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In Walker, the Democrats have a formidable adversary. But he would be able to do nothing without his fellow Republicans in the legislature.
Speaking of those fellow Republicans, the Wall Street Journal reports that some of the more moderate ones have a plan, too:
The proposal, written by Sen. Dale Schultz and first floated in the Republican caucus early last week, calls for most collective bargaining rights of public-employee unions to be eliminated—per Mr. Walker’s bill—but then reinstated in 2013, said Mr. Schultz’s chief of staff Todd Allbaugh.
Governor Walker says it won’t fly. And Democrats are insisting on removal of the collective bargaining issue altogether. The stakes appear way too high for either side to give in.