"This isn't about balancing the budget. This is about a political war," said Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee, Wis.
February 2011 will be long remembered as a time when democracy was on the march in the Middle East, North Africa and the heartland of the USA.
Democratic legislators in Wisconsin left their posts to stop their Republican governor from trying to balance the budget on the backs of working people and gutting their economic rights.
Republicans were just one person shy of the number of votes needed for a quorum in order for the Wisconsin State Senate to hold a vote on legislation that would take away the rights of public workers to bargain for their wages and benefits.
So what did Democratic legislators do? They exited and as of now, these courageous lawmakers are holed up in a motel across the state line in Rockford, Illinois — where they have pledged to stay until the governor decides he's ready to negotiate.
Gov. Scott Walker lowered all the armaments on his executive battleship and fired: "Their actions … are disrespectful to the hundreds of thousands of public employees (who did work)" Walker said, "and the millions of taxpayers they represent."
Well, he got it right that public workers represent millions of taxpayers, because most taxpayers are working folk. As for the disrespect, Gov. Walker should try to show some respect to these workers by just meeting with them to accept their offer to reduce their benefits and contribute more of their wages to help balance the state's budget. But Walker is defiant. He won't take "yes" for an answer.
He refuses to talk to the workers or the Democrats willing to negotiate on their behalf. But that hasn't stopped Walker from talking to others.
Ian Murphy, an editor for an online liberal newspaper, Buffalo Beast, placed a call to the governor pretending to be billionaire David Koch (pronounced Coke) of the famous Koch brothers, who has bankrolled GOP efforts to defeat Democrats and, and bankrolled Gov. Walker in the last election to the tune of $43,000.
On the call, Walker bragged about taking a firm stand to break unions. It is clear that Gov. Walker was engaging in political payback to his wealthy contributors as he (at least thought he was) talking to Mr. Koch.
According to news reports, Walker didn't hesitate in informing the prank caller that the "anti-union movement" would catch fire across the country and that he was in touch with governors in Ohio and Nevada.
The imposter posing as Mr. Koch was heard to be in agreement with the governor. He's recorded as saying, "You're the first domino."
"Yep, this is our moment," Walker responded.
Gov. Walker, on this call, revealed his true intentions: To crush working people and their right to have their voices heard in the workplace. Along with his allies in the state legislature, he is holding the state's budget hostage in the very same manner that congressional Republicans last year held unemployment benefits hostage. Only they did it to extend tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, which was tantamount to creating a budgetary gap, due to the loss of much needed revenues to the federal treasury.
It's too bad that governors like Walker, Ohio's John Kasich and Florida's Rick Scott are using their state's fiscal crises to promote their narrow agenda to destroy public-sector unions under the guise they are not paying their fair share to help close the budget gap. Public workers and their unions are not responsible for the country's economic woes. Public employees are not retiring lavishly, with the average pension at $22,000.
Walker is working to kill the voting power of his opponents by limiting the bargaining power of public unions that support them. Don't forget that the middle class was largely created in this country because of the rise of collective bargaining. The anger in this injustice has touched a nerve in Wisconsinites as thousands of irate workers jammed the State capitol chanting "freedom, democracy, unions!"
Collective bargaining is the core of union rights. Without it, unions exist merely as social clubs. "I think what Gov. Walker is trying to do amounts to political thuggery," former Rep. David Obey told Talking Points Memo.
There appears to be a deliberate, conscious campaign in America to create a power shift from the middle class to the wealthy. This comes at a time when the middle class is struggling and too many people in Wisconsin and across the country are falling behind. It's why the governor's agenda is morally and economically wrong.
Wisconsin is now ground zero in a far-reaching campaign to scale back on the rights of hard-working Americans to protect all the gains that have been made in the workplace.
Someone should remind the governor that this is about balancing the state budget and not about breaking the backs of nurses, teachers, firefighters and other working families in his state and elsewhere.