Friday, February 18, 2011

Escape from Democracy

State Senators in Wisconsin have fled democracy…literally.

They got in their cars, boarded planes, and, who knows, maybe even swam across Lake Michigan in hopes of derailing legislation that is offensive to Wisconsin’s government workers and their union. These Senators (every Democrats and two Republicans) know that if a vote were held the bill would pass despite their objection, and without any other means of stopping the vote, they skipped town.

The proposed legislation would require government workers to cover more of their health care premiums and pension contributions (still only 12.6% and 5.8%, respectively, of the total costs - a much smaller share than most private sector employees), would require collective bargaining units to conduct annual votes to maintain certification (if the union is strong they have nothing to worry about, right?), and eliminates the right of unions to have dues deducted from worker paychecks (dues collection should be the union's responsibility, not the taxpayers – Netflix doesn’t rely on my employer collect its subscription fees).  We'll save the entire public-sector collective bargining debate - the ultimate conflict of interest story - for another column.

In response, the Wisconsin government workers and their friends have stormed the Capitol in protest. Apparently having Wisconsin taxpayers fund 87.4% of the unions health care insurance bill, and 94.2% of the union pensions is so reprehensible that they are willing to sacrifice their children's education in order to highlight their plight (many of the protesters are teachers who called in sick - forcing districts to close schools). These protesters have every right to assemble; just as I have every right to call them out for their incredibly selfish and irresponsible denial of budget realities – not just the current temper tantrum that has caused schools to be cancelled, but for the long term effect of their demands on their children and grandchildren who will ultimately bear the costs of excessive union contracts.

In order to placate their most lucrative campaign donors, I mean, the union protesters, every Democrat Senator and two Republican Senators are staging their own sympathy strike by skipping town and preventing a vote by effectively shutting down the Wisconsin Senate.

Some have called this "strike" a courageous act or even democracy in action.  It's not.  It's a childish attempt by the loud, media-friendly and politically-powerful minority to short circuit a democratic vote. As a prominent former US Senator from Illinois once said, “Elections have consequences, and I won.” I absolutely agree. The proponents of this legislation were elected by the people of Wisconsin and have the right, in fact, the duty, to propose and vote on any legislation they deem appropriate. Senators are elected to legislate, not to skip town when a difficult or un-winnable vote is put to the floor.

Wisconsin laws gives the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms the means to round up the AWOL Senators and I hope he exercises that power, hiring Dog the Bounty Hunter if needed (talk about must see TV), to build a quorum and have the vote. If the majority of people in Wisconsin don’t like the result, they can vote out the State Senators who voted for the bill.

After all, elections have consequences.


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