Protests Continue In Wisconsin As Budget Fight Rages

fromWPR

Protests continued Friday at the Wisconsin state Capitol building, as several missing Democratic state senators hold up action on a plan to reduce union bargaining rights of government employees.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

From Egypt to Libya to Bahrain to Madison, Wisconsin - yes, Wisconsin - protest movements are refusing to quit. To be fair, there are big differences between the violence in Bahrain, for example, and the peaceful protests in Madison, Wisconsin. In that state, public employees are angry over Republican plans to cut their benefits and their collective bargaining rights.

Protesters say the Republicans are using spending cuts as a pretext for union busting. Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio reports on the stalemate in Madison.

SHAWN JOHNSON: The marble halls of the capitol might as well be the fan section of a pro wrestling match. It's an overflow crowd here with protesters holding poster board signs and yelling from the balconies. As Republican representatives leave the assembly chambers as a group, the crowd goes into a frenzy.

(Soundbite of booing)

JOHNSON: The legislators walk behind a police rope on their way to a private meeting. Next, come the Democrats.

(Soundbite of cheering)

JOHNSON: Wearing orange T-shirts that say: Support Workers' Rights. Democratic representatives walk into the crowd slapping high fives. But looks are deceiving. It's inside the legislative arena that Republicans have the upper hand. Wisconsin voters sent Democrats home in record numbers last November, leaving them pretty much powerless to do anything except what they're doing -delay.

Across the capitol in the state senate, Democrats forced a delay by not showing up. Senate Republicans today asked the governor to send a state trooper to Democratic minority leader Mark Miller's home. Miller, reached by cell phone, said he wasn't worried.

Senator MARK MILLER (Democrat, Wisconsin): Well, I'm not there.

JOHNSON: Democratic senators were spotted by numerous reporters across the border in Illinois yesterday. Miller, though, wouldn't say where they are today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. MILLER: We are at an undisclosed location.

JOHNSON: Until Miller or one of his fellow Democrats come back to the capitol, the governor's controversial plan remains stalled, though there will have to be a vote eventually. Meanwhile, protesters will try to use the continuing delay to make their voices heard.

For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison.

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