For the better part of a month, fourteen Democratic state senators denied Republicans the quorum they sought to pass Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's anti-labor legislation-and, in so doing, provided the time for the development of a mass movement that last Saturday drew more than 100,000 union supporters to the Capitol. The Democratic senators have returned and the legislation has passed.
But Republican poll numbers have collapsed. And they are furious.
Walker and his legislative consigliere, state Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, have now moved to deny the dissenting Democrats the right to participate in the legislative process.
On Monday afternoon, Fitzgerald, who has publicly admitted that he and other Republicans advanced the anti-labor legislation in order to strengten the position of the GOP in 2012 elections, sent a letter to senators that read: "Dear Members: With the return of the Senate Democrats this weekend, questions have arisen regarding Democrat members' participation in Senate standing committee public hearings and executive sessions. Please note that all 14 Democrat senators are still in contempt of the Senate. Therefore, when taking roll call votes on amendments and bills during executive sessions, Senate Democrats' votes will not be reflected in the Records of Committee Proceedings or the Senate Journal. They are free to attend hearings, listen to testimony, debate legislation, introduce amendments, and cast votes to signal their support/opposition, but those votes will not count, and will not be recorded."
In other words, the fourteen Democrats who refused to go along with legislative moves that have sparked multiple lawsuits and raised serious constitutional questions will now be denied their ability to represent 2.2. million Wisconsinites who live in their districts.
This was the latest authoritarian move by Fitzgerald, who last week spoke of having the Democrats arrested and openly discussed expelling them from the Senate as punishment for their dissents. The majority leader's over-the-top actions have led one senior legislator, state Representative Mark Pocan, D-Madison, to begin referring to the Wisconsin as a "third world junta" state that he calls "Fitzwalkerstan."
While that line gets a laugh, the assaults on representative democracy are serious.
"Senator Scott Fitzgerald isn't content with illegally passing a bill which takes away the rights of 175,000 working Wisconsinites and now has expanded his attacks to disenfranchise the voices of 2.2 million more Wisconsin residents and taxpayers," declared Scot Ross, the executive director of the One Wisconsin Now advocacy group, who referred to Fitzgerald's latest move as a "tantrum."
"Considering how the Republicans plan to slash $900 million from our public schools, cut healthcare for 1 million Wisconsinites, raise prescription drug costs for countless seniors, raise taxes on the working poor by $51 million while at the same time handing $200 million in tax breaks for the wealthy and corporate special interests," said Ross. "Senator Fitzgerald might better spend his time convincing his fractured caucus that Governor Walker isn't sacrificing their majority in pursuit of higher office."
State Senator Fred Risser, a Madison Democrat who is the senior member of the legislature, was aghast at what Fitzgerald had done.
"Who does Senator Fitzgerald think he is? Just because his brother is the speaker of the Assembly and his best friend is the governor of Wisconsin does not give him the power to decide who can and cannot vote in the State Senate," said Risser, whose Senate service began before Fitzgerald was born. "His statement that Senate Democrats can no longer vote in committee is the height of arrogance. In my tenure in the legislature, I have never seen any attempt to deny duly elected legislators their right to vote."
The Nation, Tues Mar 15 2011
Byline: John Nichols