Wisconsin protests: Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Democrats prepare to start negotiations

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.
Compiled by Justin Bank
Washington Post staff
Monday, March 7, 2011; 4:37 PM

The battle between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Democratic opponents in the state legislature over collective bargaining rights for government workers appears to be reaching a crescendo:

The State Senate Democrats who left Wisconsin to block a vote on a bill that would severely curb collective bargaining for most public employees are planning to return soon, one of the lawmakers said Monday.

State Sen. Robert Jauch said the 14 Democrats are convinced that passing the measure would severely damage their Republican opponents.

The fight over the bill proposed by Gov. Scott Walker (R) has drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators to the state capitol in Madison to oppose the budget measure. Large majorities in state and national polls have also shown support for the protesters. Those developments have given the Democratic senators confidence to end their more than two-week exile, Jauch said. No date has been set for their return.

"We should be returning soon in order to provide an opportunity for a vote and to hold the Republicans responsible for their actions," Jauch said. "It will be a chance to see whether the Republicans are on the side of the people who oppose this or on the side of a governor who is out of touch with the people."

Ezra Klein looked at the standoff and explains why the endgame is near:

The Wall Street Journal has a report that quotes extensively from the state's Senate Democrats and suggests they're feeling the pressure to come home. "I think we have to realize that there's only so much we can do as a group to make a stand," said Sen. Bob Jauch. Talking Points Memo, however, notes that some of those same Senate Democrats are denying that report. "Unfortunately, the WSJ fished for the quote they wanted, skipping this key step in logic: we won't come back until worker's rights are preserved," Sen. Chris Larson said in a statement.

Poll after poll shows that Gov. Scott Walker's position is increasingly unpopular and Wisconsin's voters want to see a compromise. But Walker seems to be holding out. And the state's Senate Democrats can't stay away forever. In this way, their efforts have been a very traditional filibuster: Not the 60-vote pocket veto we're used to, where the minority simply refuses to allow a majority vote, but the talk-a-thons of lore, in which a determined minority feel so strongly about their opposition to a bill that they mount a physically exhausting and politically dangerous stand against it, bringing all the other business currently facing the chamber to a halt in a desperate attempt to win the public over to their side. You can't do that forever, and you can't do it to often -- but then, nor should you be able to. The election went how it went, and after you make your case and appeal to the public and try and shame the majority, you either have the votes or you don't.

Wisconsin's Democrats have been filibustering with their feet, and it's not clear how much longer they can keep it up. That's how it's supposed to be: thwarting the will of the elected majority is supposed to be difficult, not routine. What the Democrats have is the next election, not to mention the recall effort they've launched against a handful of Senate Republicans. "It's really up to the public to be engaged in carrying the torch on this issue," Jauch told the Journal. And shouldn't it be? The Democrats have shown the voters exactly what it is that they voted for in Walker. His effort to quietly gut collective bargaining in Wisconsin has been a huge failure. Democrats have turned up the volume in the Capitol to "deafening." But at some point, the state will have to move on. The question between now and then is whether the voters can persuade some of the Republicans to come to the middle, and if the Republicans refuse their entreaties, what sort of retribution the voters will visit on them for their stubbornness.

No matter when the standoff ends, there figures to be plenty of fallout down the line. Greg Sargent reports on a ethics investigation that Wisconsin Democrats are calling for in the wake of Gov. Walker's crank call with a fake David Koch:

Governor Scott Walker's conduct on the prank call with the David Koch imposter has largely receded from the national media spotlight, but if Wisconsin Democrats have their way, it will be the subject of an investigation by Wisconsin's enforcer of campaign finance and ethics statutes.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party is set to file a complaint today to the state Government Accountability Board that alleges Walker repeatedly violated Wisconsin statutes by appearing to request support from Koch in shoring up vulnerable Republicans and by indicating that he would use the threat of layoffs as a political tool.

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