March 10 UPDATE: Wisconsin General Assembly passed Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill” this afternoon, silencing the rights of workers in that state. The General Assembly voted 53-42 for the measure. The vote came as thousands of protesters continued to swarm the statehouse grounds, speaking out against the measure.
By Cynthia McCabe
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 will help ram through an unpopular bill silencing the voice of state workers.
In an abuse of power, Walker and the state’s Senate Republicans stripped out 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.
“Its legality is dubious,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said. “Its intent is mean spirited. It is perhaps the most grievous example of how democratic decision making should not take place. The Governor and his legislative minions should be ashamed of what they’ve done.
“In imposing their will on Wisconsites, Governor Walker and Senate Republicans attacked middle class families, from students to seniors, in their state,” said Van Roekel. “This is an affront to teachers, nurses, students, firefighters, construction workers and other everyday people who stood up, spoke out, and learned how much their voice mattered to their elected leaders. 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, by passing a bill that 74 percent of Wisconsinites oppose is beyond reprehensible and possibly criminal.
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, an NEA member 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.”
Join NEA’s fight now, by signing up as a volunteer on EducationVotes. We need you in the fight for the American educator and worker!