Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has raised the prospect of expelling Democratic senators from their seats, effectively disenfranchising more than 2 million Wisconsinites, in order to pass Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to strip public employees and teachers of most collective bargaining rights and consolidate power in a manner that would allow the governor to deny low-income Wisconsinites access to healthcare and begin selling off public properties in no-bid deals with campaign contributors.
Republicans in the Senate voted 19-0 Thursday to hold the Democrats in “contempt of the Senate”—a new charge developed this week by Fitzgerald and his aides—for refusing to rejoin the body, and provide a quorum, until Walker and Republican legislative leaders agree to permit genuine hearings on the governor’s so-called budget repair bill, to follow traditional legislative rules and engage in honest negotiation regarding the proposal that has inspired mass opposition.
After the measure passed, Fitzgerald told reporters that, whether the Democrats return or not, Republicans plan to consider discipline for them, such as reprimands, censuring or expelling them from the Senate.
It would be all but impossible to expel the Democrats if all members were present, as a two-thirds vote is required to remove a member of the Senate.
But, after a last week’s restructuring of rules and practices in the state Assembly, culminating in a seventeen-second vote in which most Democratic representatives were not able to participate, the Capitol is abuzz with rumors that the Republicans will try to “fire” the Democrats. And conservative talk radio hosts have been advocating for draconian moves to disenfranchise the Democrats.
Chances are that any attempt to expel sitting senators who are remaining in regular contact with constituents—and who have made it clear that they are involved in a policy and practice dispute, as opposed to an illegitimate absence from the Capitol—would fail a legal test.
But the threats coming from Fitzgerald have grown steadily more dramatic, not to mention anti-democratic.
With Walker making daily calls to Republican legislators with an eye toward keeping Republicans in line—amid reports that some GOP members are wavering—it is clear that the Republicans are now desperate to pass the bill.
Outside, the crowds of Wisconsinites have a different view. Their chant remains: “Kill the Bill.”