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Obama joins Wisconsin's budget battle, opposing Republican anti-union bill

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Thousands of public employees and their supporters gathered in Wisconsin to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget cuts. (Feb. 17)

In Wisconsin, state Democratic senators staged a protest of their own Thursday, refusing to show up at the Capitol for an 11 a.m. quorum call - delaying a vote that would have almost certainly seen the spending cuts pass.

It was unclear where the missing legislators had gone, and several news outlets were reporting that they had left the state.

"I don't know exactly where they are, but as I understand it, they're somewhere in Illinois," said Mike Browne, spokesman for Mark Miller, the state Senate's Democratic leader.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller told CNN that they were "in a secure location outside the Capitol."

Republicans hold a 19 to 14 edge in the Senate. They need 20 senators present for a quorum, which is why one of the Democrats has to show up before they can hold the vote.

Democratic legislators in Texas employed a similar tactic in 2003 to try to stop a controversial redistricting plan that gave Republicans more seats in Congress. It passed a couple of months later.

The organized protest at the state Capitol drew an estimated 25,000 people, and long after the quorum call, thousands remained on the grounds, from children in strollers to old ladies in wheelchairs.

Inside the Capitol, the scene late Thursday night was part rock concert, part World Cup match, part high school pep rally and part massive slumber party.

The smell of sweat and pizza drifted through the building's marbled halls. A drum circle formed inside the massive rotunda, and scores of university students danced jubilantly to the rhythm. There were clanging cowbells and twanging guitars, trumpets and vuvuzelas.

Outside, another throng had gathered to cheer and chant before the television cameras, and to break constantly into the crowd's favorite anthem: "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" And everywhere were signs, each with its own dose of disdain for Walker's budget bill: "Scotty, Scotty, flush your bill down the potty." "Walker's Plantation, open for business." "You will never break our union."

Many of the protesters, including Laurie Bauer, 51, had been on hand since Tuesday, with no plans to leave until the issue is resolved.

"It's one thing about the money. We'd be willing to negotiate the money," said Bauer, a library media specialist at Parker High School in Janesville. But "he's trying to take away our human rights. . . . I don't want my kids living in a state like that."


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