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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 22, 2024

Dems: Come back and keep fighting

It's been a week since the 14 Democratic state Senators fled Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of different protesters have marched at the Capitol but one thing remains unchanged: Gov. Scott Walker refuses to negotiate on his budget repair bill.

Republicans argue the premise of the bill is not a political ploy to bust unions, who historically have been major contributors to Democratic election campaigns. They say it's about balancing the budget. Walker's bill increases public employee contributions to health care and pensions, while eliminating collective bargaining rights outside of salary increases tied to the consumer price index. The bill also prohibits employers from charging union dues, so union members won't be required to pay them.

Walker claims local governments won't be able to balance their budgets if they have to deal with a lengthy collective bargaining process. However, local leaders like Mayor Dave Cieslewicz have held emergency sessions to extend city union contracts where they drafted a letter to Walker urging him to rethink the bill's collective bargaining provision.

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Removing collective bargaining isn't about the budget deficit. It's not about local governments. It's a political power play meant to weaken future union election influence. 

Union leaders have nonetheless publicly agreed to the governor's concessions with the exception of losing collective bargaining rights. Yet Walker's intransigent attitude will have nothing to do with competing arguments. 

Now threats are coming from both sides. Unions across the state are warning of a strike.  And the governor says there will be 1,500 layoffs by June 30, unless the Democratic senators return to pass his bill, which includes refinancing millions in state debt. In the meantime, Republican senators are moving forward with other bills that only require a simple majority to vote on. They're also planning to withhold direct-deposit payments from the Democrats in an effort to force them to return to the senate floor. 

So far, the Democratic senators haven't flinched. That's admirable. They fled as a last resort to prevent a vote that would have destroyed fifty years of fighting for Wisconsin labor rights. That too is worthy of commending. 

But now it's time to come back to Wisconsin. That's not meant to diminish their accomplishments. By evacuating the state, at the very least they've extended the debate on a bill that would have otherwise been rammed through without public input. 

Moreover, their actions have mobilized public employees across the nation. The national media is fascinated by Wisconsin, and elected officials around the country are rethinking their policies because of the enormous backlash in Madison. 

Republican Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Centers, proposed a sunset clause on the collective bargaining provision. Even law enforcement officials regret their endorsement of Walker. Wisconsin legislators worried about re-election will likely think twice before agreeing to everything the governor proposes.

From day one, the ball has been in Walker's court, but he's refusing to play. He's asking the Senate Democrats to do their job and return home but he would be wise to take a dose of his own medicine. It's his job as governor to negotiate with all of his colleagues in the legislature—individuals who represent the taxpayers of Wisconsin. 

Unfortunately, the senators don't have much incentive to return. They simply don't have the votes needed to influence any legislation in the senate. But the governor will announce his budget next Tuesday, and there will be plenty of opportunity to debate his proposals. Wisconsin needs the voices of Democratic senators to speak strongly for them.

Retaining collective bargaining rights is just the first of many battles. There will be cuts in education and health care. Voter ID and other social legislation will be placed on the table. The Democrats proved their toughness, and now they have the attention of the nation and the support of citizens throughout Wisconsin. A return to the senate won't mark defeat. It will show they're ready to fight again. 

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