On Wisconsin! But Which Way? Some Senate Democrats To Return

Protestors sleep in the Wisconsin State Capitol on March 10, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. i i

Protestors sleep in the Wisconsin State Capitol on March 10, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Olson/Getty Images
Protestors sleep in the Wisconsin State Capitol on March 10, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Protestors sleep in the Wisconsin State Capitol on March 10, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

When political observers considered dysfunctional state governments in recent years, Wisconsin wouldn't have been top of mind.

In 2009, for instance, National Journal listed the top six as California, Michigan, New York, Illinois, Nevada and Alaska.

But if that list were redone, a lot of strong arguments could be made for including Wisconsin.

Republican legislators executed a maneuver late Wednesday to break the boycott of the state's Senate Democrats and pass a bill to limit public-union collective bargaining rights.

Ostensibly, it was part of their efforts to rein in costs and give government managers more flexibility though labor advocates saw it as union-busting.

For their part, the Senate Democrats who, at last report, were still in Illinois, were trying to figure out if they could 1) legally challenge the GOP move and 2) go home, according to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report.

It sounded like even the Democrats weren't all on the same page, with some resolved to soon sleep in their own beds.

A Journal-Sentinel excerpt:

Madison - Befitting the chaotic and tense situation involving the budget standoff, Sen. James Holperin (D-Eagle River) said Thursday that Senate Democrats were going to return to Madison on Thursday.

That was at odds with a statement by Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) who said that decision had not yet been made pending a meeting of the Democrats later today in Illinois.

Holperin said the Democrats made the decision as a group Wednesday night to come back to Madison on Thursday. But he said not all Democrats were at that meeting.

"I'm going back. I believe many are," Holperin said in a telephone interview.

Assuming the Republican stratagem holds up legally, its difficult to see how Democrats will be able to stop legislation by leaving the state again since GOP legislators and their fellow Republican, Gov. Scott Walker, may have just made future Democratic walkouts irrelevant.

Meanwhile, Republicans must worry about those polls in Wisconsin and elsewhere that show a majority of voters supporting collective bargaining rights for public-employee unions.

While efforts by both parties to recall legislators face an uphill battle, as my NPR colleague Liz Halloran recently reported, Republicans apparently have fired up Democrats and union supporters to degrees Democratic lawmakers previously had failed to as was reported on Morning Edition.

That could spell trouble for Republicans if, not in successful recalls, then their re-election bids.

What seems true right now is that even the guarded trust needed for the two-party system to work effectively is in short supply in Wisconsin

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