Wisconsin Updates: Dems Return; 100,000 Rally in Madison; Tunnel Leads from Powerful Bank to State Capitol

Wisconsin Republicans pushed through a measure stripping state public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Here are the latest developments from Madison.


Last week represented a blow to Wisconsin workers and Democratic state leaders, as the state's Republicans rammed a measure through the Senate stripping collective bargaining rights from most public workers in the state. Since then, the 14 Democratic Senators who fled the state to block Governor Scott Walker's union-busting legislation have returned to the state amid cheers of "Thank you! Thank you!" from protesters. This weekend saw upwards of 100,000 such protesters gathering at the capitol building in Madison -- one of the biggest crowds yet.

AlterNet has the latest updates and analysis:

Original:Although the "Wisconsin 14" hadn't returned by last Wednesday, Republicans were able to push through the measure anyway by separating the collective bargaining provision from the other elements of Governor Scott Walker's "budget repair bill." (This, after claiming for months that killing public workers' right to negotiate was all about reining in the state's debt.) The measure passed 18-1, with Republican Sen. Dale Schultz voting against. Critics say the rushed legislative session -- with only one Democrat in attendance -- may have violated the state's open meetings law. Democratic Senators from the street (the "fourteen") are beginning to trickle back home and start the next round of the fight.

Update: The 14 Democratic Senators who fled the state to block Governor Scott Walker's union-busting legislation have returned to Wisconsin. The Washington Post reports: 

“It’s great to be back in Wisconsin,” said state Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay, one of the 14 lawmakers who returned home after three weeks of self-imposed exile in Illinois.

A cheering crowd bundled up against temperatures in the 30s and stood on the grounds of the state Capitol to ring cowbells and chant “Thank you! Thank you!” to the lawmakers they dubbed the “Fab 14.” State police estimated that 68,000 people had gathered by the start of the rally.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Hansen choked up as he talked of the stresses of life on the lam and of missing home and family.

“So people think this is a picnic for us — they’re wrong,” he said. “We did it for the right reasons. We stood up for our working men and women in the state.”

He said it was difficult to keep all 14 senators united as pressure grew to return to Wisconsin.

“We’re an independent group, but we held it together,” Hansen said, noting that the decision to flee the state helped draw national attention and spur a countrywide debate about collective-bargaining rights.

Update:The Center for Media and Democracy's Mary Bottari's latest article shares a shocking tidbit:

The sedate, old fashioned M&I Bank on the Capitol Square has gained some notoriety in recent weeks. Oddly, a tunnel in the M&I parking garage links to the capitol basement. Dubbed the "rat hole" to the Walker palace, the tunnel was used by Governor Scott Walker to ferry lobbyists into the capitol building to hear his budget address during a time when the capitol was in a virtual lock down in defiance of a court order and after Sherriffs has quit the building refusing to be a "palace guard."

Update: Wow:

Up to 100,000 people protested at the Wisconsin state Capitol on Saturday against a new law curbing the union rights of public workers.

Update:How Republicans have been making their getaway:

"Amid unprecedented protests, Republican lawmakers have at times been escorted by officers out of the Capitol through a tunnel - and in one case this week were given their own bus to get away from demonstrators.

Shortly after abruptly voting to sharply curtail collective bargaining for public employees, senators boarded a Madison city bus and Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs stationed himself near the driver to tell him where to go, according to video from the bus released Friday.

They boarded the bus after they were taken through a tunnel under W. Main St. that leads to the Risser Justice Center.

Protesters quickly surrounded the bus, banged on it and briefly followed it as it drove away from the Capitol.

Upate:The New York Timessuggests that Obama will have a much easier path to winning the state of Wisconsin in 2012 after political events in Wisconsin.

Update:Center for Media and Democracy has posted a listing of tomorrow's events in Wiscsonsin, with the day ending with a Jim Hightower rally.

Update: Back in their home state, Wisconsin Democrats are down but most definitely not out, "show[ing] signs of being energized by the setback" last week. Recall efforts are continuing to make headway (a campaign launched by United Wisconsin has garnered 149,000 of the 540,000 it will need to launch a recall). "They may have won the battle, but I guarantee you they've lost the war," legislator Mark Pocan told the crowd of protesters this weekend.

Update: Among myriad other problems with Gov. Walker's "budget repair" bill, the legislation may also be in violation of the Clean Water Act, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.

Update: The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

School boards and local governments across Wisconsin are rushing to reach agreements with unions before a new law takes effect that will remove their ability to collectively bargain over nearly all issues other than minimal salary increases.

Secretary of State Doug La Follette said Monday he decided to delay publication of the law until the latest day possible, March 25, to give those local governments as much time as possible to reach agreements. The law doesn't take effect until the day after La Follette publishes it.

Of course, Gov. Walker wanted the law published ASAP -- by today, in fact. But La Follette said "he didn't see any emergency that warranted him doing that."


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