Something truly incredible is happening in Wisconsin. Yesterday the protests against Governor Scott Walker’s bid to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights grew to about 13,000 before it was all done. The one public hearing on the bill lasted 17 hours, and Democrats picked it up again to continue to receive public comments. The Madison School District closed all schools because of what amounts to a wildcat strike by local teachers.
I just got word of the latest numbers. THIRTY THOUSAND people are out at the state capitol today (Here’s a pic). Phone calls are pouring in to legislative offices. Students are walking out of class in support of their teachers. State Sen. Robert Rauch (D) called it “the rebirth of the progressive movement in Wisconsin.” And the Republicans are starting to get nervous.
Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he did not know where Republicans stood on the proposal that drew more than 13,000 protesters to the Capitol on Tuesday.
When asked about the position of Republicans, Kapanke said he didn’t know the answer.
Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that there will be changes to the bill, but he didn’t know yet what they were.
Specifically, when asked where Republicans stood on the bill, Kapanke said, “That’s a really good question. I don’t know.” Republican lawmakers met behind closed doors today.
It was only a day ago that Republicans confidently predicted they had the votes in the Senate and Assembly to pass the bill. But that confidence has waned. Governor Walker has a news conference scheduled for later today.
There’s a recognition here that Wisconsin’s Republicans have stepped out further on the ledge than anyone else in rolling back labor rights, and that whether or not they’re successful will guide other battles in other states. This is the birthplace of AFSCME, the first state to guarantee public employee labor rights in 1959.
If labor manages to block the bill, Walker has threatened furloughs for up to 6,000 public workers to make up for the cost. But labor would be in a much stronger position to fight that if they can stop Walker here. For the first time today, Walker said he was open to making changes to the bill, though he added that he wouldn’t “fundamentally undermine the principles.” There’s talk of a recall if Walker pushes through with this.
Listen to these young people staying in the Rotunda:
“I just think it’s really crappy,” said Alison Port, a 19-year-old freshman from Wauwatosa as she clutched her laptop and her Green Bay Packers blanket. “Let’s take all the rights away. If he starts here, where’s he going to stop? What else is he going to throw at us? It’s only going to get more extreme.” [...]
“So many people are against this,” UW-Madison senior Kylie Christianson said early Wednesday as she sat in the Capitol rotunda on her blanket, putting the finishing touches on a protest sign. “His job is to help us, not to hurt us.”
More when I have it.