By Zachary Roth / Yahoo! News
By fleeing the state last month, Wisconsin Democrats succeeded in stymieing–for now–GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial bid to end collective bargaining rights for many public-sector workers. But that doesn’t mean things are settling back to normal in the Badger State–in fact, tensions over the standoff are running higher than ever.
Last night, one Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Nick Milroy, was physically tackled by Capitol police when he tried to enter the building to retrieve some clothes after meeting with constituents outside. In response to the enormous protests from union supporters, state officials have been allowing only a limited number of people into the Capitol this week, despite a judge’s order saying it must remain open to the public. You can watch raw footage of the incident from the local ABC affiliate after the jump.
Meanwhile, Walker and his fellow Republicans have been doing whatever they can to pressure Senate Democrats to return to Madison from their self-imposed exile. If even one runaway Democrat returns, that would give Republicans the quorum they need, under Senate rules, to pass the collective bargaining bill.
Senate Republicans voted yesterday to find their Democratic colleagues in contempt, issuing an “order to detain” that instructs law enforcement to round up the absent lawmakers and forcibly bring them to the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald accused Democrats of creating a “constitutional crisis,” and declared: “We simply cannot have democracy be held hostage because the minority wants to prove a point.” Fitzgerald added that citizens who see the Democrats in the state could report them to police. Some Democratic supporters called the order unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Walker tried a different tack, saying yesterday he’d be forced to start sending layoff notices to 1,500 state workers today–saving the state an estimated $30 million–if the standoff over the bill continues. “Even today I hold out some hope that this can be resolved by the Senate coming back,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel yesterday. “But by the end of the day tomorrow, we have a legal and a moral obligation to start forewarning people.”
Democrats counter that Walker has plenty of other options. In a recent phone call with who Walker assumed was conservative financier David Koch–it was actually a blogger making a prank call–Walker mentioned that he planned to use the threat of layoffs against the Dems. “We might ratchet that up a little bit, you know,” he said.
Walker administration officials also appear to be working to discredit the mass protests, organized by unions and their supporters, that over the last few weeks have drawn outlandish comparisons to the popular uprisings that have toppled dictators in the Middle East. The state said that damage to the marble inside and outside the Capitol building where protesters have been camping out would cost an estimated $7.5 million to repair. Some observers questioned the reliability of that estimate.
In addition to ending collective-bargaining rights for most state workers, the bill at issue also would force most of them to pay more for benefits. Democrats say they’re willing to accept the benefits changes, but have drawn a line in the sand on collective bargaining, which labor unions view as a fundamental right.
Polls show that most Wisconsinites want public-sector workers to pay more–but also support their right to bargain collectively. And a majority of voters now disapprove of Walker’s performance as governor, according to one recent survey. Democrats are even talking about launching recall campaigns to oust some of the Senate Republicans.
To Watch a Video Report About This Subject, Click The Link Below: