Wisconsin budget protests continue as absent Democrats maintain boycott

Compiled by Ian Saleh
Washington Post Staff
Friday, February 18, 2011; 4:01 PM

President Obama stepped into the Wisconsin budget battle on Thursday. As Brady Dennis and Peter Wallsten reported:

President Obama thrust himself and his political operation this week into Wisconsin's broiling budget battle, mobilizing opposition Thursday to a Republican bill that would curb public-worker benefits and planning similar protests in other state capitals.

Obama accused Scott Walker, the state's new Republican governor, of unleashing an "assault" on unions in pushing emergency legislation that would change future collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers.

The president's political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to get thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals.

Their efforts began to spread, as thousands of labor supporters turned out for a hearing in Columbus, Ohio, to protest a measure from Gov. John Kasich (R) that would cut collective-bargaining rights.

Video: Public worker protests spread from Wisconsin to Ohio

Governor Scott Walker even dispatched police to find an absent Democratic state senator. As AP explained:

The Wisconsin State Patrol was dispatched Friday to find a Democratic state senator who fled the Capitol to delay the near-certain passage of a bill to end a half-century of collective bargaining rights for public workers, a measure that's attracted thousands of protesters for four days.

With Democrats saying they won't return before Saturday, it was unclear when the Senate would be able to begin debating Gov. Scott Walker's measure meant to ease the state's budget woes. Democrats who disappeared Thursday at first kept their whereabouts secret, then started to emerge to give interviews and fan the protests.

Senate Republicans convened briefly Friday morning to renew a call to find the Democrats, then recessed. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told reporters he has asked the governor to send two state troopers to Senate Democratic Minority Leader Mark Miller's suburban Madison home. He said he believes Miller may be there - he did not elaborate on why he thought that - and Walker agreed to dispatch the officers.

Video: Wisconsin governor on protests and cuts

Democratic state senators are pledging not to return until Saturday. As Melissa Bell reported:

State Sen. Robert Jauch, speaking via cellphone Friday to Washington Post reporter Peter Wallsten, declined to say where he and his fellow Democrats were hiding out. "We're in the Land of Lincoln," he said. Jauch said the group "stopped by" the Best Western in Rockford, Ill., on Thursday but spent the night at a different hotel. A woman at the hotel's front desk said Friday that the group had not been there since Thursday.

With Democrats saying they won't return before Saturday, it was unclear when the Senate would be able to begin debating Gov. Scott Walker's measure meant to ease the state's budget woes.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D) spoke to TV station WKOW in Madison on Thursday and said that he and other Democrats were in Illinois and that they would not return to Wisconsin until Walker met with union leaders.

More from The Washington Post

Ezra Klein: Unions aren't to blame for Wisconsin's budget

Stromberg: Wisconsin's governor is not Hitler

Dionne: Governor Scott Walker's overreach

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