Fort's Jorgensen, Dems Outraged Over Early Vote Attempt
By Ryan Whisner, Regional Editor
MADISON - State Rep. Andy Jorgensen and his Assembly colleagues were outraged by the actions of the Republican leadership Friday evening during an aborted attempt to vote on Governor Scott Walker's controversial budget-repair bill.
"This is not the Wisconsin way," he said. "We are of open government; we are of clean government. We do our best to have everything done in front of the people. This kind of behavior cannot stand."
Jorgensen acknowledged Saturday he recognized that the Republicans have the votes to pass this bill. "Under our rules and our Constitutions, the minority party still represents people from all over Wisconsin," he said. "Even though you have the votes, our process says 'yes, you've got to sit through it.'"
Walker introduced his budget adjustment package Friday, Feb. 11, to fill a $137-million shortfall. State employees have been vocal opponents because the proposal would strip nearly all of their collective-bargaining rights.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers were expecting Walker's bill to move quickly through the Legislature. Republicans control the Assembly 60-38-1 and the Senate, 19-14. Senate Democrats fled the state Thursday, preventing a vote in the Senate due to lack of a quorum.
They repeatedly have refused to return until Walker agrees to some concessions.
In the first of many instances of what Jorgensen deemed to be unprecedented actions being undertaken by the Assembly Republicans, the majority party shut down the opportunity for legislators to introduce visitors to the Assembly Friday morning.
"This has never been done before to anybody's knowledge," he said. "People were unable to be acknowledged for making the trip to Madison."
Traditionally, Capitol visitors who sign in have the opportunity to be recognized by their respective representative at the start of the session. After that proceeding was cut off, each party went into caucus.
"There are so many things we have to do as the minority party," Jorgensen said, noting that one of those is to try to make amendments toward fixing the bill. "This takes time."
He referenced the federal healthcare bill as an example. Critics of the bill had decried that measure being "rammed and jammed" through Congress. The entire process took 18 months.
Jorgensen pointed out that the governor was seeking the budget-repair bill to be voted on and become law within six days.
"This bill is moving so fast, whether you agree with what's in here or not," he said. "The process is meant to slow it down so everything is done right and every voice is heard."
After hours spent in caucus, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald announced he would gavel session in Friday at 5 p.m. Jorgensen said this, too, was an unprecedented move, as no one knew of another time that the minority party was told by the majority party that it was done caucusing.
"This has never been done before, as far as we can tell," Jorgensen said.
Simultaneous to the session called by Fitzgerald, the governor was holding a press conference and a rally led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson was being held outside the Capitol.
Before the 5 p.m. Assembly session starting time, the Assembly Democrats in caucus heard the roll being taken from the Assembly chamber floor via the intercom system. Jorgensen said he and his colleagues quickly made their way to the Assembly chamber.
By the time the Assembly Democrats arrived, two amendments to the bill already had passed.
"The rules were knocked out of the way and they were going to do it their way with or without us," he said.
According to the 37th District Democrat, staffers of the Republican Assemblypersons could be seen motioning to their respective employers that the Democrats were en route.
Minority Leader Peter Barca , D-Kenosha, attempted to stop the proceedings and finally did. Voice votes, which are not recorded on an individual basis, were asked to be rescinded on the two amendments.
"It is not the way it is supposed to be. We have 'yes' and 'no' buttons on our desk for a reason. That is also to make sure you know how someone voted, so it's on record," Jorgensen said.
He said that state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, objected to rescinding of the votes. Eventually, Fitzgerald rescinded the votes and adjourned the session until Tuesday, citing the safety of the legislators.
Jorgensen noted that the majority leader indicated to Democratic members that he did not think they were going to show up to the session, in an apparent veiled reference to the 14 Senate Democrats who left Madison Thursday.
"He thought we were not going to come and do our jobs," he said.
However, Jorgensen said, Fitzgerald said, his actions suggested otherwise. There was no immediate halting of proceedings as the Democrats arrived in chambers.
Jorgensen said that additional amendments previously brought forth by the Democrats reportedly were ignored by the Assembly Republicans, who were in the process of moving toward a vote on the bill when the session was disrupted.
"On so many levels, what happened was just so surreal," he said. "I just never thought anyone would act this way and take the majority power and use it in this fashion. Whether or not you agree with this legislation, I would hope you agree we have rules for a reason.
"I hope we get on a different course as we move forward," he added.
Meanwhile, protestors maintained a presence throughout the weekend, despite the poor weather conditions Sunday.
"I don't think this would have ever happened had the governor sat down with all parties involved and shared his ideas, but also heard their concerns," Jorgensen said.
He said that step in the process never occurred and the governor still will not do it.
Even after union heads offered to make concessions on state employees' contributions for healthcare coverage and pension benefits in exchange for retaining collective-bargaining rights, Walker announced he would not come to the table. Jorgensen added that Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, later said the bill was "not negotiable."
"He (Gov. Walker) is swatting their hand away as they reach out to him," Jorgensen said. "That is truly a mistake, especially when you are talking about sweeping legislation that takes away the rights of the workers. Government is here to protect your rights it shouldn't be in the business of taking them away."
The Jefferson County-area representative pointed out that in his opinion, this is not just a union issue.
"What it is about is the right to have a place at the table to move ahead, talk about not only wages, safety in the workplace, efficiencies that can be made in the workplace and just a good relationship in the workplace," he said, referring to collective bargaining.
By his own definition, Jorgensen said, collective bargain4ing is a way for a workplace to have a communication with management, or in our case, the state, on concerns of safety, benefits, wages and efficiencies and working together to solve those challenges.
"It is not a system that the workers are able to decide what they want and just get it," he said. "It's a healthy right that we have based on the freedoms we have in the United States."
Jorgensen said the governor is clinging to a wish to take these rights taken away from the people.
He pointed out that states that do not allow collective bargaining are in no better financial shape than Wisconsin.
"There is no evidence that this is what you have to do in fixing your state's economy," Jorgensen said.
Meanwhile, crowds continue to fill the Capitol square in Madison on a daily basis.
Police estimated more than 65,000 Saturday as the bill's protesters were opposed by a Tea Party rally that drew an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people. The protests remained peaceful and there were no arrests.
"Like you, I believe this peaceful protest will - and must - continue," Jorgensen said. "If you are joining me in Madison, please be safe and respectful to all who gather ... and continue to show the world what democracy looks like."