The brave, selfless action of the Senate Democrats, exercising the only power they have by refusing a runaway, radical Republican Senate a quorum, was the best news of this long, gloomy week. It was a brilliant move, the equivalent of a tactic used every day by Republicans in Washington – a filibuster by bus.
I wish I could have seen the face on Scott Walker when one of the Fitzgerald boys slunk into his office to give him the news. Naturally, they went with the first impulse of power-mad thugs everywhere – calling for the police to arrest the wayward Dems and drag them in handcuffs to the Senate chamber. Of course, it helped to have the Fitzgeralds’ father running the State Patrol to send out the orders. It didn’t matter that the Democrats were already out of the state by the time the APB went out – no self-respecting trooper was going to pay it any mind, anyway.
Around the Courthouse this week, many of those most affected by the union-busting treachery of Walker and the lock-stepping Republicans had already resigned themselves to a 8% cut in their take-home pay and an end to all their hard-bargained job protections and work rules. As I have discussed before, Walker’s claims that those in the classified service have sufficient job protections are a joke because the broad language of the statutes and its enforcement through the management-friendly Personnel Commission are not nearly as effective as the same protections under a union-enforced contract. But the assistant district attorneys and the public defender staff attorneys I work with everyday are not even in the classified service – they would have nothing to protect them under the bill’s draconian measures. But, on Thursday afternoon, they and the hundreds of thousands of other public employees in the state breathed a sigh of relief knowing that someone had stuck a stick in the spokes, however temporarily, of the radical Republican steamroller.
Meanwhile, over at the mostly-vacant Journal Sentinel building, the Kings of State Street continued their week of utter cluelessness. Continuing in its news pages to repeat Walker spin about the bill being about the budget rather than the undisguised union-busting everyone else has recognized since at least Monday, the paper tried and failed to keep up with unfolding events in Madison. The hapless PolitiFact team churned out two “rulings” a day, finding – as always – Democrats saying totally legitimate things with their Pants-on-Fire (Walker certainly did threaten to call out the Guard if things didn’t quite go his way) and Walker and other Republicans telling far more obvious lies that were only False.
On the editorial page, the paper had a strong message of support for Walker and his partisan tactics. Saying that Walker had “picked the right fight” and was moving toward “fiscal integrity”, the editorial board largely ignored the union-busting elephant in the room. The paper also loaded-up on supportive op-eds from what passes as the right-wing intelligentsia in town, reaching out to voices as undiverse as Rick Esenberg, Christian Schneider, Alberta Darling and their own ridiculous Patrick McIlheran (twice), without hardly any voice in opposition (Pimentel doesn’t count – boy, does he ever not count).
So it comes as no surprise that the Journal Sentinel would scold rather than celebrate the Senate Democrats’ Bus Filibuster and the sick-out of various teachers across the state. Calling the Dems’ action belittling terms like “tantrum”, “prank” and “snit”, the editorial mimics the familiar talk-radio talking-points of their corporate brothers at WTMJ and other right-wing media outlets. “Both Senate Democrats and teachers should get over their snits and get back to work,” sniffs the newspaper in a snit of its own, apparently unable to stomach the exercise of the only power the Democrats in the legislature have.
Although the Journal Sentinel has never harshly criticized the Republicans for their unprecedented use of the Permanent Filibuster in Washington and never miss an opportunity to berate President Obama for not being sufficiently bipartisan, the paper refuses to hold the radical Republicans in its own state to any standard whatsoever. The paper has never implored the new Republican leaders in Madison to use their new unchecked power in the spirit of compromise or consensus, or to reach across the aisle try to work together to solve the state’s serious problems. They have nothing to say about the governor whose focus is supposedly all about “jobs, jobs, jobs” creating an extremely divisive diversion from that agenda by stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights and deliberately destroying their unions. They have no criticism for the fact that Walker had absolutely no conversations with any union or Democratic leader about the supposed gravity of the state’s “crisis” and his proposed solutions before dropping the nuclear bomb he dropped on public employees a week ago.
Well, they have to talk now, don’t they? How long the Senate Democrats remain in exile is entirely dependent on the Republicans and whether they come to the table (or, at least, the cell phone) and talk and compromise about the details of their radical agenda. In the meantime, the radical Republicans can do no more harm. And the Senate Democrats are the heroes of the hour.