Responding to criticism that Wisconsin's Senate Democrats have "embarrassed themselves" by stalling a vote on the Republican governor's budget bill, Senate Democratic leader Mark Miller says Tuesday that leaving the state was their "only option" and that now there's an opportunity for a resolution.
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On Feb. 16, Democratic Wisconsin Sen. Mark Miller waved to protesters marching at the Capitol against Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers. Miller and his fellow Senate Democrats left the state the next day to stall a vote on the plan.
On Feb. 16, Democratic Wisconsin Sen. Mark Miller waved to protesters marching at the Capitol against Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers. Miller and his fellow Senate Democrats left the state the next day to stall a vote on the plan. Mark Hirsch/Getty Images
On Morning Edition Monday, state Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald defended Gov. Scott Walker's plan to limit collective bargaining for some public employee unions — part of a proposal to repair the state's $3.6 billion deficit. But Sen. Miller tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep on Tuesday that the governor was trying to rush the bill through, and that the Democrats' move "provided an opportunity for cooler heads to prevail."
Steve Inskeep: Is it in fact embarrassing to be talking to us from an undisclosed location [presumably outside the state]?
Sen. Mark Miller: Well, I think it was embarrassing that the governor tried to take away workers' rights in just four short days from the time he introduced the bill to the time he asked for it. The only option available to us was to deny a quorum so that this bill could have greater exposure. ...
Although that, excuse me, will raise a lot of questions with a lot of people. Is it democratic to prevent a lawfully elected Senate from voting?
I think it's in support of democracy. You can see what a tremendous response in opposition to the governor's proposal to take away workers' rights raised. So we were doing, I think, the thing that was in support of democracy.
You have pulled a lot of people out onto the streets, that is certainly true, but Republicans can say, look, they won the election, this is a lawfully elected body — why not let it move forward?
Well, if you're the majority and you have the power, you also have a responsibility to assure that what you propose is not ran through in four short working days, particularly something that strips away workers' rights.
Now, your Democratic colleagues in Wisconsin's Assembly, the other house, are apparently going to work today and offering many, many amendments. We've heard reports suggesting there may be hundreds of amendments. Why would your fellow senators not want to join that?
We had the option to deny the quorum when the bill came up before us. It came before us first, and it came before us just four days after it was introduced. It came before us on the same day that the public hearing was prematurely terminated in order to be able to rush the bill through. At the time that this came up, after only four days, leaving the capital was our only option.
Does that mean that, having the delayed the process, that you're going to be willing in some reasonable amount of time to vote on this bill even if you're going to lose the vote?
We have provided a window of opportunity for cooler heads to prevail. The state employees have offered to give the governor the economic concessions he required to — he thought he required — to be able to balance the next year's budget. And they've asked in return to be able to keep their rights as workers. So it's no longer an economic issue. And with that being the case, we have provided an opportunity for there to be a resolution.
Do you see any way that there can be a resolution other than, I mean, do you see a way forward for negotiation here, is what I'm asking.
Oh, absolutely there's a way for negotiation. And there's an offer on the table right now, which is very public, which is that the state employees have agreed to economic concessions, they want to retain their rights — the governor should accept that. Any kind of a governor that has that kind of a good deal should pick it up. ...
What I mean is, are there — forgive me, Senator — are there any Republican senators who have indicated to you in your conversations that they might be willing to swing over to your side?
We have been in discussions with the Republican legislators, but they are afraid to go against the governor at this point.
One other thing, Sen. Miller. Conservative commentators have been increasingly frank in saying that this is in fact about cutting the power of labor unions, but then they flip that argument around and they basically say this: They say that you're just defending the power of the unions because they back the Democratic Party — that those union contributions are good for the Democratic Party, and that's why you're fighting so hard. Is that true?
Absolutely not. The Democrats have always been for protecting peoples' rights, for standing up for the common man, and this is just an example. Wisconsin has the longest tradition of workman's laws in the country. We're the state where workman's compensation began, we were the first state to have unemployment insurance, we were the first state to have a public employees union, to give public employees the right to bargain.
So this has been a longstanding tradition of workers rights in Wisconsin, and I think, as elected officials, we have a responsibility not only to protect rights but to expand them.
Sen. Miller, thanks very much for speaking with us this morning.