Some Republicans soften tough talk
With a wary eye on Wisconsin, Republican leaders in several states are toning down the tough talk against public employee unions and, in some cases, abandoning anti-union measures altogether.
Indiana’s governor urged GOP lawmakers to give up on a “right to work” bill for fear the backlash could derail the rest of his agenda. In Ohio, senators plan to soften a bill that would have banned all collective bargaining by state workers. And in Michigan, the Republican governor says he’d rather negotiate with public employees than pick a fight.
That’s hardly enough to set labor leaders celebrating. They still face a slew of measures in dozens of states that seek to curb union rights. But union officials say they believe the sustained protests in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states are making an impact.
“It’s still too early to tell, but I think the reaction that we’re seeing from governors in other states really shows the power of workers standing together,” said Naomi Walker, director of state government relations at the AFL-CIO.
Madison, Wis. Wisconsin state troopers were dispatched Thursday to the doorsteps of some of the AWOL Democratic senators in hopes of finding at least one who would come back to allow a vote on a measure to curb the power of public-employee unions.
The stepped-up tactic ordered by the Republican head of the Senate came amid reports that at least a few of the missing senators were returning home at night to pick up clothes, food and other necessities, before rejoining their colleagues in Illinois.
Meanwhile, the state Assembly appeared close to voting on the bill after more than two days of filibustering.
Democrats agreed before dawn Thursday to limit the remaining number of amendments they offer and the time they devote to each one. More than 12 hours after the agreement was announced, Republicans voted to cut off discussion on all amendments. Democrats planned to spend several more hours railing against the measure that Gov. Scott Walker insists is necessary to ease the state’s budget woes and avoid mass layoffs.
Democrats urged Republicans to accept a compromise that would keep collective bargaining intact.
“We all know there is an impasse. There is one person who can end this impasse and that is Gov. Walker,” said Democratic Assembly Leader Peter Barca as debate reached its 53rd hour. “This state has never been more divided in the last 25 years. ... It’s the governor’s job to unify the state.”
But Republicans summarily rejected every Democratic amendment in the marathon session, which unfolded as grand political theater. Exhausted lawmakers limped around the chamber, rubbing their eyes and yawning as Wednesday dragged into Thursday.
Around midnight, Rep. Dean Kaufert, a Republican from Neenah, accused Democrats of putting on a show for the protesters. Democrats leaped up and started shouting.
“I’m sorry if democracy is a little inconvenient, and you had to stay up two nights in a row,” Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan said. “Is this inconvenient? Hell, yeah, it’s inconvenient! But we’re going to be heard!”
Democrats, who are in the minority, don’t have the votes to stop the bill once the vote occurs.
But even after the bill passes the Assembly, it cannot become law until it also passes the Senate, where action has been stymied by the Democrats’ absence. At least one of them needs to be there in order for Republicans to take up the bill since the GOP is one seat short of having a quorum.
The Senate convened at 7 a.m. Thursday just long enough to take a roll call, which allows for the sergeant at arms staff to go to missing lawmakers’ homes with police.
Troopers went to multiple homes but left after finding no one home, said Sergeant at Arms Ted Blazel.
Wisconsin law does not allow police to arrest the lawmakers, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he hoped the show of authority would pressure them to return. He would not say how many Democrats were being targeted, but said it was more than one.