Earlier this week, I e mailed my Democratic Senator on the Lam, Kathleen Vinehout with the following messasge:
Thank you so much for your courageous stand on the so-called budget crisis. Anyone who does some reading knows what is going on in Madison - it is union busting, plain and simple. Walker is the stooge of the Koch Brothers and other greedy big money interests who want to entirely crush the middle class.
It is most important that you continue to do your job and stay secluded out of state. Let me know if and when we should start raising expense money for all of you to continue the fight and we will get it done through Face Book.
Every night my spouse and I watch MSNBC to get an honest appraisal of what is happening. Thank God for the Ed Schultz Show. And thank God for all of you! Stand fast! You are the last hope of a great Wisconsin tradition.
Fall Creek, WI 54742
Today I received An answer from her. Here is what she had to say:
From an Undisclosed Location by Kathleen Vinehout
"Get back to work," the man told me. He listened to the radio all afternoon and was convinced I needed to be in Madison to do my job, At the same time, my constituents pleaded with me to fight for workers rights.
Leaving Madison was the only way my colleagues and I could stop a bill that would fundamentally change Wisconsin. We needed time for the people's voice to be heard.
On February 11th the Governor introduced a bill to make sweeping changes in the state's Medicaid system; chip away at the civil service system and do away with public workers rights.
The bill is fast tracked; the only committee hearing was the following Tuesday. Public testimony was halted with still hundreds waiting to testify. The bill passed out of committee at 12 AM Thursday morning and was scheduled for a final senate vote the same day.
Invoking a Wisconsin constitution provision, I and my senate Democratic colleagues decided to move our base of operations to Illinois. By crossing state lines we were outside the reach of the majority party who would have compelled us to vote. We did not take this decision lightly. We chose our only option to slow the process and work toward honest negotiations.
The Governor ways the proposed law is necessary to balance the budget. Last Friday state and local employee union leaders agreed to all financial aspects of the bill. Still the Governor claims he must eliminate public employee unions to resolve the budget deficit.
Two years ago Wisconsin faced a $6.6 billion budget hole. We filled the deficit with balanced approach to spending and taxes that protected vital services and infrastructure. We cut spending by more than $3 million - the deepest cut in Wisconsin history. We closed tax loopholes and made other tax changes to bring an additional $1.6 billion to the state coffers. We cut government programs by $2 billion making nearly every aspect of government do more with less. Now the state faces a deficit of less than half that amount.
According to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau the state isn't even required to pass a "budget repair" bill. But if the Governor wants to get the state's fiscal house in order by the end of this fiscal year, he could call for passing parts of the bill dealing only with fiscal matters.
There is absolutely no need to destroy Wisconsin's traditions of civil service, clean government, quality public schools and peaceful labor relations. The Governor called on public employees to pay more for their health care and pensions. In good faith, public employee union leaders agreed to those financial concessions. Now it is time for Governor Walker to negotiate in good faith.
My Democratic colleagues and I respectfully asked the governor to negotiate. We reminded him a large coalition of religious leaders asked that he sit down with leaders. But the Governor refuses to sit down with labor leaders, refuses to acknowledge the concessions made by those leaders and refuses to negotiate at all.
My office phone has rung continuously for over a week. The calls run 10 to 1 opposed to the bill. I received more contact from constituents on this bill than all other issues in the past four years combined. Cities, counties and school boards are passing resolutions asking that parts of the bill eliminating public worker rights be removed. Many local officials expressed dismay over the way the bill usurps local control. Some mayors who complained unions gained too much power say the governor's bill is too extreme.
Even though I write from an undisclosed location in Illinois, I continue to talk with constituents, local government officials and local media. I work with my staff to respond to 1000's of constituents who write or called about this bill. And I continue to represent the people of our senate district.
People ask me when we will return to Madison. Right now the ball is in the Governor's court. He has the power to end the strife simply by calling all sides to the table.
Something he so far has refused to do.
And today I received another e mail from Kathleen:
"Smaller Government Equals One Man Rule?"
"Can't they just sit down and work it out?" the woman from Buffalo County asked me. She heard about the Governor's plan to balance the budget by eliminating bargaining for public employees. The employees wanted to meet with the Governor who refused saying he had nothing to discuss.
Two years ago we faced a $6.6 billion budget hold. We filled the deficit with a balanced approach to spending and taxes that protected vital services and infrastructure. And now the state faces a deficit of only half that amount.
Last Friday, Governor Walker announced his "budget repair" plan which sparked mass rallies across the state and left citizens wondering what happened to Wisconsin's tradition of peacefully resolving disputes.
What began as a widely expected plan to have teachers and all public employees pay more for health insurance and retirement grew into a power grab unprecedented in Wisconsin's history. The Governor, who campaigned on smaller government, is creating a massive centralization of power by eliminating the board overseeing the UW Hospital System, removing authority from local towns, cities, villages and school districts and turning state employees into political appointments - ending a system created by Governor Bob LaFollette in 1905.
Under the guise of repairing the budget, the Governor converts civil service jobs to political appointments. With vague language he allows conversion of every management job into a political appointment.
The Governor doesn't out right repeal the civil service code but he accomplishes that effect. Take the changes he makes to political appointments, combine that with a provision giving political appointees power to terminate an employee who misses any three days of work of engages in organizing activity after the governor declares a state of emergency, you create political patronage. This is reminiscent of another time and place; certainly not Wisconsin.
It appears the Governor expects a state of emergency. He announced he met with the National Guard and placed them on alert. Supervisors at the department of corrections were asked to forward the "post orders" to he national guard. Rumors at Wisconsin prisons are that the governor intends to use any altercation with the state correction employees as an excuse to send the Guard in to run the prisons and later privatize the entire state corrections system.
This proposal is on the fast track. The bill is expected to have a public hearing on Tuesday and come before the full Senate and Assembly on Thursday.
These actions follow a month of fast-tracked questionable bills such as exempting a single developer from all wetlands rules; requiring two-thirds majority for tax increases (negating a basic tenant of Democracy - majority rules) and giving the Governor new regulatory authority over previously independent agencies like the UW system, legislature, and the Government Accountability Board. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the latter action the "defanging" of the state's watchdog.
And there is a proposal to change Wisconsin's voting laws by passing the strictest photo voter ID bill in the nation estimated to disenfranchise thousands of voters.
The state's challenging fiscal condition should not be used as a justification or the Governor's actions. According to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau the state is not even required to pass a "budge repair" bill. If the Governor wants to get the state's fiscal house in order by the end of this fiscal year, there is absolutely no need to destroy Wisconsin's traditions of civil service, clean government, quality public schools and peaceful labor negotiations. Instead, he should face his adversaries and work out the differences.
I fielded calls and emails from more than two thousand citizens in the last few days. Everyone I talked with expected to contribute to helping the state weather the storm. But most say the suffering should be a shared sacrifice and not fall too hard on any one family. Many of the Governor's supporters expressed deep concern about the Governor's actions. I spoke with a woman from Tomah who is a Republican and voted for Walker. She said, "I know we need change. But this is too extreme."
I couldn't agree more.