As state Assembly Democrats tried to delay a vote on Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill early Friday morning, Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, committed an act that one Democrat accurately described as ""a stain on democracy.""
With 15 Democrats waiting their turn to speak, Kramer called for a vote to move the bill to the Senate, and within seconds he accomplished just that. The budget repair bill passed the Assembly 51-17, as Kramer started and ended voting so quickly more than a quarter of the state representatives did not have a chance to vote.
By calling the vote, which violated Assembly rules, Kramer undermined not only the credibility of the legislation, but also threatened the legitimacy of this state's political process. As such, Kramer must resign from his position as speaker pro tempore.
At the point in the process when Kramer called the vote, all Assembly members should have been allowed to speak up to two times about the bill. Instead of following the rules, however, he cut off debate with 15 representatives queued up to speak.
Kramer committed an unacceptable abuse of power Friday morning. Even if he received pressure from Republican leadership to call the vote before debate was finished, Kramer should have known that doing so broke Assembly rules. By going through with the vote, Kramer showed he is not fit for his role as speaker.
Still, his action was not the first instance of Republicans ignoring the Assembly's rules in the fight over the budget bill.
When Republicans first attempted to move the bill to a third reading Feb. 18, the stage at which it can no longer be amended, they did so in a vote that occurred before Democrats were told the Assembly would convene. Democrats eventually struck the vote from the record, but it was a sign of what was to come.
In one of the impassioned speeches Democrats gave Feb. 18, state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, summed up a fundamental problem with the way Republicans have approached the process of passing the budget repair bill.
""If you want to jam through a bill, you've got to sit through the messy process that is democracy,"" Hintz said.
That problem—that desire to circumvent democracy—was on full display during Friday's vote.
If Wisconsin Republicans truly respected this state's political process, they would follow it in every instance. Whether you are voting on a controversial piece of legislation such as the budget repair bill or congratulating the Green Bay Packers on winning the Super Bowl, you must play by the rules.
Granted, those rules have been broken by both sides. In a civil debate, party members should not be fleeing across state lines to avoid a vote just like they should not cut off debate to rush one.
But over the past two weeks, it has become clear that Republicans are more than willing to work outside the constraints of Wisconsin's democracy to get their way. It is a problem that does not begin with Bill Kramer, and one that will not end with the budget repair bill.
Instead, the way Kramer acted Friday morning is symptomatic of a Republican legislature that has shown brazen disregard for the political process. Kramer must take responsibility for his actions and resign, and members of both parties must return to a civil debate that follows the laws they were elected to uphold.