A three-week stalemate that saw angry protests, the flight of Democratic state senators to a neighboring state and even a take-down tackle of one lawmaker by police came to an end Thursday as the Wisconsin Assembly gave final passage to a bill stripping public workers of key collective bargaining rights.
Democracy is often a messy thing -- and that has been on display in Madison on an almost dally basis, leading up to Thursday's conclusive 53-42 vote. Last week, Democratic legislator Nick Milroy, whom authorities did not recognize, was wrestled to the ground by police as he tried to enter the closed Capitol.
"Yeah, it was a living and breathing democracy," acknowledged Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who is fighting a similar bill in Columbus.
Events in Wisconsin have demonstrated that elections have consequences -- and also that state government can often touch people's lives in a more direct and personal way than the federal government in far-off Washington. For weeks, thousands of citizens on both sides of the labor rights issue flooded the Statehouse in an effort to hold lawmakers accountable.
Already, Wisconsin Democrats have filed recall petitions aimed at eight GOP senators who supported Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to curtail collective bargaining rights and require larger public employee contributions to pension plans and health care plans. Walker is expected to quickly sign the approved bill into law.
The hard feelings came to a head Wednesday night when the Wisconsin Senate, in a parliamentary maneuver, removed budget provisions from the bargaining bill so it could be passed with fewer than the 20-member quorum required for spending measures. Fourteen Senate Democrats left the state last month and camped out in Illinois to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to act on the "Budget Repair" bill.
With protesters shouting "You are cowards" and "Shame," the slimmed-down bill passed 18-1, with not a single Democratic senator in the chamber. It was taken up Thursday by the State Assembly, which had to concur with the Senate changes. But final passage was delayed by another noisy protest as police removed dozens of pro-labor demonstrators, the New York Times and the Associated Press reported.
Ryan, who joined a recent demonstration in Columbus against the collective bargaining bill pending in Ohio, followed the events in Wisconsin with a hopeful eye. "We are living with the consequences of an election where a lot of people didn't vote and a handful of people probably voted for the other guy," he said, suggesting that some Democratic voters switched sides in the Republican wave last November.
Events in Ohio and Wisconsin, he said, have "energized and mobilized what I think is a sleeping giant -- and that is the American work force." Ryan believes the political pendulum is about to swing again toward his party, but Democrats "need to get back to these bread and butter issues."
"We may lose this battle," he said of the pro-union side, "but we may ultimately win the war."
Watch the scene in Wisconsin Senate Wednesday night, courtesy of the MacIver Institute and YouTube.
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