February 21st, 2011

Elections have consequences, and what’s going on in Wisconsin right now is one of them

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.

24 Responses to “Elections have consequences, and what’s going on in Wisconsin right now is one of them”

  1. Hong Says:

    I already email Schultz not to cave. It would be a disaster for fiscal or educational reform in this country if the GOP backs down. A temporary suspension of collective bargain only paroles the criminal unions. I cautioned him not to follow the failed route of Arlen Specter and other so-called moderate Republicans.

  2. Tom Says:

    My comment on this theme here Feb. 19 was to the effect WI is an opening salvo of the upcoming civil war. I now see Mr Simberg on PJMedia Feb 20 writes the same, at length and in a proper essay.

  3. Occam's Beard Says:

    This may be premature, but based on what I’ve seen so far…

    God love Scott Walker.

  4. T Says:

    A parlimentiary question:

    Must the WI senate actually have a quorum present? It’s been my experience that business is conducted as usual and votes can be voice votes, without role call votes. Only if a member calls for the role (to establish whether or not a quorum is present) is a session called for lack of a quorum.

    If this is true, then the WI senate could meet and pass the contentious bill by voice vote as long as no one present (19 Republicans) calls for the role; theoretically the senate could leave the Dems out in the cold on any legislation.

    Are there any parliamentary mavens out there who can confirm or refute this?

  5. Ira Says:

    To avoid confusion, it should be noted that to the extent a quorum is required in the Wisconsin Senate, the fraction is 3/5, not 2/3. So, only 20 out of the total of 33 senators need appear to meet the quorum requirement for those matters requiring one. If the fraction were 2/3, then 22 senators would have to be present.

  6. Parker Says:

    If telling public employees they have to pay 6% of the contributions to their pension fund (while the taxpayers chip in 94%) and 12% of their health insurance costs (while the taxpayers pay 88%) is causing such an outrageous response in Wisconsin, I think we are in deep trouble as a society as these ‘sacrifices’ are very minor. Somewhere down the line all public employees across the nation will have to be told that there will be lay offs, wage freezes, increased pension/insurance deductions, etc. I’m not sure this is the opening salvo of another civil war, but it is a very serious issue, and what happens in WI will set the tone for what happens in the rest of the states. Hold the line Wisconsin.

    As a side note, teachers who took paid sick leave and shut down schools in order to rant in the streets of Madison should be considered in breech of contract and made to repay those sick leave wages back to their individual school districts. If its possible to fire them, they should be fired. (I know, I know, that will not happen.)

  7. T Says:


    I don’t think it’s the amount/percentage of the contribution being asked of the employees, I think it’s that any concession is being asked at all. Once one has a benefit, it’s tough for anyone to agree to give it up.

    Such is the same problem with Social Security and Medicare reform. This is also why some think the Obama administration wants to continue implementation of HCR even in the face of two negative court decisions; by the time SCOTUS rules on the legislation, it will be already such a part of the system that expunging it will be nigh impossible.

  8. T Says:

    Also, sorry, just noticed it should be “roll call” at 1:36 pm above.

  9. ELC Says:

    As to quorum, if the Republicans would proceed without the Democrats, a lawsuit challenging the law would claim the required quorum was not present and, therefore, the bill was not actually enacted. (At the federal level, courts seldom delve into the details of legislative activity that way, but it’s not impossible. I suspect that doing so is more likely at the state level.) And I tend to think the Democrats in the House would raise a point of order (or whatever their rules allow) that a quorum was not present in the Senate.

    Switching topics….

    Collective bargaining rights? IANAL, and I know absolutely everybody refers to these things as collective bargaining rights. But aren’t they really collective bargaining privileges?

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  11. T Says:


    You raise an interesting point. Proceeding by voice vote essentially disguises the lack of a quorum, but in this case I suppose a case could be made that the WI senate knowingly lacked a quorum because not a single Democrat was present and it is common knowledge that there are not enrough Republicans to create a quorum.

    As for Dems in the state house raising a point of order, I don’t understand that issue. So what if they did? The state house has no input to the state senate, so how could it effect deliberations or results?

  12. Parker Says:


    I realize its ‘tough’ to pay for something that was previously ‘free’ but even WI teachers should recognize they are being required to make a very small contribution from their taxpayer funded paycheck. I find it frustrating that cutting 60 billion out of a 3+ trillion federal budget is seen by some as drastic and irresponsible. Society isn’t supposed to be mutual suicide pact.

  13. Cindy Simon Says:

    I agree w/ Occam’s Beard:
    “God love Scott Walker.”

    And I would add, “…and give him the strength to persevere!”

    What’s particularly alarming in Wisconsin is that the protests primarily are NOT the people of Wisconsin, but people whom the Unions have bussed in AND a coordinated effort by Obama’s own campaign group, “Organizing for America.”

    For the President of the U.S. to not just bless, but consort w/ Unions to achieve a Union deal detrimental to the State of Wisconsin economically. But then, isn’t that his ultimate vision: to make states dependent on expanded Federal Govt. and for said Fed’l Govt. to rule over all (needless to say, led by the Far Left wing of the Democratic Party!)

  14. T Says:


    I agree. I wasn’t disagreeing with you above, only pointing out how difficult it is for anyone to give up a benefit. In that respect, I sympathize w/ the Wisconsin teachers, but still, if belt-tightening is necessary, ther’s every reason that those paid by taxpayers should be first in line, and no reason at all that they should be exempt.

  15. Parker Says:


    I didn’t think you were disagreeing. I do understand the POV that for the WI teachers the demand that they contribute to their own benefit package might come as a shock. But as you note, taxpayer funded jobs should not be exempt from reality.

  16. Tom Says:

    You get it.
    If we don’t win, with Scott Walker et al. as another early salvo, this country is DONE.
    Obama & Co. are tyrannical.
    It will be a year of great and sudden tumults, here and abroad. A bunch of festering boils, all coming to a head in rapid succession.

  17. ELC Says:

    @ T 3:04 pm. As for Dems in the state house raising a point of order, I don’t understand that issue. So what if they did? The state house has no input to the state senate, so how could it effect deliberations or results?

    It could effect the results because both houses have to have passed the bill, with the required quorum present in each house. For instance, were I a member of some House of Representatives and the Senate sent a bill for concurrence by the House but I did not think a quorum had been present when the Senate purported to pass the bill, I would raise a point of order that the bill from the Senate had not been passed with a quorum, and therefore was not lawfully passed, so the House should not take it up. (I think, in the normal order of things, it would be presumed that a bill sent from the other house had indeed passed, and perhaps there might have to be some affidavit to that effect from the presiding officer or the secretary of that house, but this situation is not in the normal order of things.)

    @ Tom 4:08 pm. It will be a year of great and sudden tumults, here and abroad. A bunch of festering boils, all coming to a head in rapid succession. Well said. I may have to quote you. 🙂

  18. gs Says:

    Bismarck said, When the great war breaks out, it will be because of some damn fool thing in the Balkans. (No disrespect meant to the Badger State.)

    Who foresaw things coming to a head so soon, so fast, in this particular state? I didn’t.

    Stay the course, Wisconsin.

  19. texexec Says:

    White House polling must have picked up the fact that most of the citizens of WI are on the side of Walker. They are now backtracking and saying they haven’t been much involved and it’s a Wisconsin issue.

    As the winds blows…..

  20. texexec Says:

    oops…make that “as the wind blows…”

  21. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    As I understand it, the real sore point in Wisconsin is not the financial concessions — which the unions say they are willing to make — but the restrictions the legislation places on collective bargaining. The only subject still on the table for bargaining will be wages; unions will have to recertify every year; and they’ll have to collect their own dues rather than having them garnished automatically out of the employees’ paychecks. That’s what really has the unions going.

    And of course, if they really were so all-important and irreplaceable, they wouldn’t be worried at all — but for some reason they seem to be concerned that, given a choice, some employees might not vote to stay unionized year after year, and some might not pay their dues. Huh. Who’d a thunk it?

  22. T Says:


    I was thinking direct influence between the house and senate and the comment didn’t make sense. Thanks for the clarification.

  23. Otiose.... Says:

    I’ve been watching Obama and his minions attempt to portray him as some sort of new Reagan with a mix of amusement and disbelief. It’s even more funny because they really have no idea as to what Reagan believed in or what he stood for, and their positions and attitudes couldn’t be further from Reagan.

    So when Obama stepped into a union dispute in Wisconsin with such heavy handed support for continued union depredations on the taxpaying public, the symbolic contrast between the two couldn’t have been more stark.

    Reagan used to head up the actors’ union and when confronted with unreasonable union demands reacted contrary to then conventions and fired all of them. Obama confronted reacted contrary to current expectations and mobilized his Federal political machine in support of the unions to intervene in a completely state level matter.

    Reagan was making a new historical trend. Obama is standing in front of one as a reactionary.

    Sooner or later the states will bring the public unions to heal – possibly after a few of the states’ finances collapse, but it will happen. Obama had his chance to get out in front and manage this to his political benefit (damage control) because it’s likely that diminishing public unions’ powers will eat into his political strength, but he chose to stand opposed to the greater public good. Obama failed to lead and failed to rise above his political (union) base and act in the greater good of the country. For Reagan there was no choice. Probably Obama can’t even see there is a choice and that he’s making the wrong one.

  24. Twenty Eleven at Patriots for Freedom Says:

    […] It will be a year of great and sudden tumults, here and abroad. A bunch of festering boils, all comi… […]

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