Police stop short of evicting demonstrators from Wisconsin capitol

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.
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 28, 2011; 3:00 AM

MADISON, Wis. -- Police on Sunday shelved plans to evict demonstrators who had been camped inside the state capitol here, as the impassioned standoff over Gov. Scott Walker's effort to reduce the pay and curb the collective-bargaining rights of public workers continued with no end in sight.

Walker (R) repeated his threat to initiate thousands of layoffs if his plan is not enacted soon. Meanwhile, Democratic legislators who fled Wisconsin in a desperate move to prevent a vote on the measure vowed to stay away until the governor agrees to back off his demand to restrict union rights.

"We're trying to find a way back by reaching out to the administration and seeking compromise. But the governor refuses to talk," state Sen. Robert Jauch said in a telephone interview. Jauch is among 14 Democrats who decamped to undisclosed locations in Illinois. "There is no time clock for our return," he added. "We thought we would be back before now. But we also thought reasonable people would be able to reach a compromise."

As a large crowd of demonstrators remained outside, police cleared others from inside the historic capitol. The building has been the scene of a series of union-led protests against Walker's bill since it was introduced two weeks ago. Demonstrators have been clogging the building's halls, papering its marble walls with anti-Walker placards and leading rallies in its rotunda.

Many protesters have been spending nights in the building, something capitol police said they want to end to allow the building to be cleaned in anticipation of returning to full operation Monday. Still, a couple thousand demonstrators remained inside long after the police told them to leave.

Despite the ongoing demonstrations, Walker promised to stand firm.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, the governor again called for the Senate Democrats who fled Wisconsin to return and allow his bill to be passed. If they don't come back, he said, thousands of state and local government workers eventually could lose their jobs.

"If we do not get these changes and the Senate Democrats do not come back, we're going to be forced to make up the savings in layoffs and that, to me, is unacceptable," Walker said.

Walker's plan is aimed at closing a $137 million budget shortfall by cutting state employes' pension and health-care benefits and severely restricting their right to bargain collectively. Union leaders -- who have offered concessions that they say would close the gap -- call Walker's plan an attack on organized labor, which is a crucial source of money and foot soldiers for Democratic candidates.

The fight has prompted solidarity protests nationwide, as well as similar legislation in several other states.

Walker has said that he wants to limit collective bargaining to give local governments the flexibility to manage reductions in state aid that are all but certain, given Wisconsin's projected $3.6 billion shortfall over the next two years. To him, cutting benefits rather than laying off workers would be a better option. He has pointed out that federal workers do not bargain collectively for their wages or benefits.

Democratic lawmakers also have left Indiana to block votes on GOP-led measures that restrict worker rights. Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) called on his state's Democrats to return. "When they come back to work, we will talk about their concerns, he said.

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