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Wis. governor predicts Democrats will return to debate union rights

Demonstrators at the Capitol building in Madison are protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker's legislation to cut public employees' benefits and eliminate most of their collective bargaining rights.

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By James Kelleher
Sunday, February 20, 2011; 9:38 PM

MADISON, WIS. - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose bid to reduce public employees' collective-bargaining power has triggered public protests, said Sunday that he expects Democrats who oppose his plan to return to the state and debate the issue this week.

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Thousands of people demonstrated in Madison, the state capitol, Sunday to begin a second week of protests against the Republican governor's plan, which opponents say would break the back of the state's public employee unions. Supporters of the proposal say it is needed to control state debt and spending.

Wisconsin, where the first demonstrations were staged Feb. 6 outside the governor's residence, has become the flash point for a nationwide struggle over efforts to roll back pay, benefits and bargaining rights for government workers. If the majority Republicans prevail, other states could be emboldened to take on the powerful unions.

Fourteen Democratic state senators, who have left Wisconsin to deny the legislature a quorum needed to consider the proposal, have "failed to do their jobs," Walker said on "Fox News Sunday."

"My hope is that cooler minds will prevail and by some time earlier this coming week they'll show up for their job," he said. "Democracy is not about hiding out in another state. It's about showing up here in the capital and making the case there, and for us, we're willing to take this as long as it takes."

One of the Democratic senators has said they are prepared to be away for weeks.

The Wisconsin State Assembly is due to take up the proposals Tuesday. Republicans have a large enough majority to reach a quorum without the Democrats.

Protesters banged drums inside the state Capitol building Sunday and shouted, "We're not going away!"

While crowds had dwindled from Saturday, when officials estimated that 55,000 demonstrators had gathered, a major showing was expected Monday, when the Wisconsin Education Association Council, representing about 98,000 public education employees, is set to hold a rally.

Those backing the proposal were planning a nationwide demonstration Tuesday, said Ned Ryun, the head of American Majority, which sponsored a rally Saturday attended by about 5,000 supporters of the conservative tea party movement.

"What happens in Wisconsin will set the tone for the rest of the nation," he said.

- Reuters


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