(Update: By a vote of 52-43, the Wisconsin state Assembly late Thursday afternoon passed Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill that strips collective bargaining rights for state employees. The final legislation will now be sent to Walker for signature. ) The polls showed that a majority of Americans and the residents of his own state disagreed with him, so Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took a different route late Wednesday night: he set in motion a set of technical procedural moves that rammed through an unpopular bill silencing the rights of the American worker.
In what’s being called “the nuclear option” Walker and the state’s Senate Republicans stripped the financial components of the governor’s unpopular budget repair bill. That allowed them to vote on the measure without the presence of the 14 Senate Democrats who had fled to Illinois to prevent its passage.
“This is an affront to teachers, nurses, students, firefighters, construction workers and other everyday people who stood up and spoke out,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said on Wednesday night. ”The response will be unified and the collective voice of millions of working Americans from all across this nation will only grow louder.”
Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council was horrified by the move, calling it “an extreme power grab” and “an unconscionable maneuver.”
“This is heart wrenching and unconscionable – and we won’t back down,” Bell said. “For weeks our members have pushed forward with aggressive advocacy to have their voices heard about the need to protect their rights.
But Bell was defiant.
“I know this isn’t over,” she said. “We are outraged, hurt and betrayed – but he will not break us.”
Van Roekel and Bell were joined in disbelief by Mark Miller, the leader of the Senate Democrats.
“In 30 minutes, 18 state Senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin,” Miller said.
The move underscored the argument made since this standoff began more than three weeks ago that none of the provisions in Walker’s bill that attacked workers’ rights had anything to do with the budget.
It was a sad development in an ideological war waged by Walker and his fellow Republicans to eviscerate 50 years of labor peace, bipartisanship, and Wisconsin’s democratic process
“I hope a large majority of Wisconsin voters, voters of the whole country, even Republican voters, see the filth in all this and it leaves a foul taste in their mouths for many election cycles to come,” wrote Washington state’s John Henderson.
Wisconsin health education teacher Brad Lutes was incredibly disheartened by the vote Wednesday night.
“We can’t be defeated. There’s not really an alternative,” Lutes, whose wife is also a teacher, said. “You can take away my collective bargaining rights. You can take away my pension and some of my health care, but the one thing you can’t take away from me is my vote. I think that’s how a large majority of Wisconsites and Americans feel right now.”
Video: WEAC President Mary Bell and Marty Beil of AFSCME 24 React