Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about things happening in Wisconsin these days, with Gov. Scott Walker proposing changes to balance our budget. I’ve talked about this in other posts, and will again in the future, but for now, I simply want to address the behavior of the Wisconsin state senate Democrats.
Let’s first look at a few facts. Last November, the voters of Wisconsin spoke loudly. We voted into office a Republican governor, a Republican majority in the state senate and a Republican majority in the state assembly. Both branches of our legislature had previously been controlled by Democrats, with a Democratic governor.
In the Assembly, we now have 60 Republicans, 38 Democrats and 1 Independent. In the Senate, we now have 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats.
The senate was due to vote on Gov. Walker’s budget repair bill on Thursday, February 17. In order to vote on a bill where money is involved, 20 of the 33 senators must be present. The Democrats, not liking the bill, figured out that if none of them showed up, the remaining senators would not have the quorum required to vote. So they decided not to show up. But, fearing that the Wisconsin State Patrol would come and find them and force them to go to work in Madison, they decided to cross state lines. So, they are now hiding out at undisclosed hotels in Illinois.
These are the senators who have been hiding for 10 days:
Tim Carpenter, District 3, Milwaukee
Spencer Cogs, District 6, Milwaukee
Tim Cullen, District 15, Janesville
Jon Erpenbach, District 27, Middleton
Dave Hansen, District 30, Green Bay
Jim Holperin, District 12, Conover
Robert Jauch, District 25, Poplar
Chris Larson, District 7, Milwaukee
Julie Lassa, District 24, Stevens Point
Mark Miller, District 16, Monona
Fred Risser, District 26, Madison
Lena Taylor, District 4, Milwaukee
Kathleen Vinhout, District 31, Alma
Robert Wirch, District 22, Pleasan Prairie
Surpisingly, many Wisconsinites support what these senators are doing, calling them brave and creative. At a recent forum at St. Norbert College, a local elected official justified their actions saying that while it’s not right for them to leave the state, had they not left, the legislation would have passed.
I have never heard of this type of government. In the United States and here in Wisconsin, we elect officials who then go to work and govern. Those officials make policy and pass legislation for their constituents. It’s called a republic. It’s the only form of government that we’ve known in the short 234 years of our existence.
But Wisconsin senate Democrats have now invented something new. If you’re a senator and you go to the capitol and you don’t like what you hear, don’t vote against it. Instead, just leave the state so that no one can vote.
For the sake of consideration, let’s assume that this is truly what they believe. Let’s assume that they believe that leaving the jurisdiction is valid protocol in the evolution of legislation. What should this really look like? How can we follow this procedure most efficiently?
Well, we could start by having our state government make a deal with a hotel across the border, I suppose in Illinois because it’s not far from Madison. The hotel can offer an “out of state elected official rate.” In turn, we can urge Wisconsin innkeepers along the border to offer such rates to our neighbors (sounds like it would be good for business and job creation). We could also arrange for efficient and economical transporation across the border and then back again when they’re ready to return. I’m sure we can come up with a number of other related services that could be pre-arranged to save money.
And if we’re going to do this here in Wisconsin, then of course we should also do it in Washington. Why wouldn’t we? If our senators and represenatives don’t like a bill that’s on the floor, they can just go to Canada and wait there. We can reserve a block of rooms at a hotel in Toronto (I hear it’s nice there). Maybe we could get a deal that includes transportation and continental breakfast.
My point is that there’s no need to hide out in secret. There’s no need to refuse to disclose your location like the Wisconsin senators are doing. If we truly believe that this is right and proper, then let’s just build it into our rules and make all the necessary arrangements.
And don’t forget about those classes we had in elementary school. Remember when we learned how a bill becomes a law? Well, we need to change our text books to reflect these new American procedures.
Listen, the best way to understand a contentious issue is to try to understand the people on the other side. And I just don’t understand how all of this can be okay in the United States of America. I don’t understand the thinking of the senators named above. But this is obviously how they feel. And if they are genuine in their beliefs, then I expect them to propose changes similar to what I’ve outlined above.
Of course they’ll have to come back to Wisconsin to do that.