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Views from around the state: Budget repair bill

Walker turns blind eye to Assembly shenanigans

After the state Assembly pulled several all-night legislative sessions last April, a prominent Wisconsin politician decried the practice. He proposed that the Legislature be prohibited from voting after 10 p.m. or before 9 a.m. so the public would have a better chance of following the process and providing elected officials with input on pending bills.

“I have two teenagers and I tell them that nothing good happens after midnight,” the politician said. “That’s even more true in politics. The people of Wisconsin deserve to know what their elected leaders are voting on.”

It was a good suggestion then, and it’s a good suggestion now. Even — or perhaps especially — when they’re dealing with critical issues, legislators should take time to listen to their constituents — not to mention take time to sleep.

Unfortunately, the man who made the suggestion, Gov. Scott Walker — then a candidate for the office he now holds — had no complaints when the Assembly acted on a major piece of legislation just after 1 a.m. Friday. Of course, because legislators were voting in favor of Walker’s controversial budget repair bill — which would virtually eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public employees in Wisconsin — the governor was unlikely to lodge a procedural complaint.

The 1 a.m. vote demonstrates that even under new leadership, the Legislature has retained its old, bad habits. Instead of taking a break and coming back later in the day, the Assembly’s Republican leaders rushed through a vote on Walker’s bill. After 61 hours of debate, the vote was sudden: Lawmakers had fewer than 20 seconds to register their votes on the bill before the gavel dropped. Most minority Democrats, who had proposed more than 100 amendments to the bill, weren’t even in the chamber when the vote was taken, and they erupted in anger as their GOP counterparts filed out following the snap 51-17 vote (28 lawmakers — 25 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent — didn’t get a chance to vote).

In the confusion it wasn’t clear if Republicans had even followed Assembly rules in calling for the vote. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported: “Democrats said they … had not heard Republicans invoke and carry out the rarely used rule to end the debate before voting on the bill. That rule requires a motion seconded by 15 members and then a roll call vote. Assembly Chief Clerk Patrick Fuller said afterward he was not sure whether that had occurred, saying he had heard the order to start a vote on the final passage of the bill and had done so.”

The rush to vote came a week after another disturbing incident in the Assembly, when Republicans — in apparent violation of state open meetings laws — began voting on amendments to the bill before their session was scheduled to start. No Democrats were in the chamber when the voting began just before 5 p.m. Feb. 18, and they angrily objected to the proceedings when they began to enter the room and realized what was happening. The votes later were rescinded.

Legislators have no business voting in the middle of the night – or of breaking the rules to get their way. It’s a pity that’s the way things work now in Madison.

The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire

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Call shows Walker not about to budge

Gov. Scott Walker did himself no favors when he fell for a prank phone call on Tuesday from a blogger passing himself off as conservative businessman David Koch.

Walker revealed he has no intention of negotiating in his fight to take away most of their bargaining rights from public employees.

That’s no surprise. It also should be no surprise after you read a transcript of the call that Walker appears to be giddy over his hammer-like power play against the unions. He seems rather enamored with the attention he has been receiving from the national press.

Whether you agree or not, Walker is absolutely resolute that he needs to break the union.

While the Madison police chief and others say they are troubled by some of Walker’s statements regarding the consideration of planting troublemakers among the protesters and his discussion about using layoffs as a threat, there was no smoking gun in the transcript.

If anything, Walker’s frank conversation shows just how deep his heels are planted into the Capitol granite. He’s simply not budging.

Some are upset that Walker found the time to talk in the midst of the Capitol chaos to speak with someone he thought was a major financial contributor, but we find the whole dupe disturbing.

Should Walker have known better or should staff members have done a better job vetting the caller? Of course they should have.

Even though Walker has been fairly accessible to the media so far — much more than his predecessor — reporters aren’t able to call the governor’s office and get an extended interview.

The Walker dupe was posted on the website Buffalo Beast under the headline “Koch Whore” by site editor Ian Murphy. Murphy, who posed as Koch, made a couple of phone calls to Walker’s office before speaking with the governor.

Murphy asked leading questions, dropped expletives, made derogatory comments about members of the media and egged Walker on. That’s something you might expect on some cheap TV show but not from a purported journalist.

Kevin Smith, chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee, rightfully condemned Murphy’s actions.

“This tactic and the deception used to gain this information violate the highest levels of journalism ethics,” Smith said. “To lie to a source about your identity and then to bait that source into making comments that are inflammatory is inexcusable and has no place in journalism.”

Smith is spot on.

Here’s another example of the quality of Murphy and his website. He has a post that attacks another blog editor he obviously doesn’t like and includes a purported interview with her that starts with his call interrupting her engaging in oral sex. That’s cheap and sordid — not journalism.

Some may argue that the end justifies the means — that it really doesn’t matter whether Murphy lied and used deception because he got Walker to talk. That does not make Murphy a journalist. He’s someone with an agenda using his website as a voice.

Sadly we’ve heard some of Murphy’s techniques — particularly baiting sources into making comments — used by a local radio station.

But rest assured, those techniques would not be used by any of this newspaper’s journalists. Being honest, fair and professional is still how we gather information.

It’s sad but true that caveat emptor has never been more important. Consider the source.

La Crosse Tribune

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Budget repair bill compromise can be found

The one word that best describes what has transpired this month in Wisconsin is surreal.

At the end of January, if someone had told you the Green Bay Packers would win the Super Bowl, Gov. Scott Walker would become the lead story on media outlets around the country for two weeks and 14 Senate Democrats would escape to Illinois of all places, you would have told that person to find a good therapist.

As we prepare to say goodbye to February, we can’t even guess what March will bring.

The Packers’ Super Bowl victory on Feb. 6 lifted the spirits of everyone in Wisconsin. That wave of enthusiasm and goodwill came crashing down two weeks ago when Gov. Walker introduced his controversial budget repair bill. A few days later when Democrats in the Senate realized there was no logical way to stop the bill because Walker and the majority planned to push it through, they left the building. Like Elvis, they have not returned.

Without going into great detail about the budget repair bill, which has its merits, suffice it to say Walker has refused to waver from his position.

Walker’s bill calls for public sector union employees to help pay for their retirement and health insurance. That concession was not an easy pill to swallow for union leaders, but after tens of thousands of protesters descended on the State Capitol and the 14 Senate Democrats made camp across the border, the unions gave in and said they would agree to those monetary concessions.

The sticking point has been collective bargaining rights. Instead of celebrating the fact that public unions have stated they are ready to move on the financial issues and help balance the state budget, Walker appears focused on winning by knockout instead of waiting for the judges’ decision.

Two weeks ago we editorialized about the budget repair bill, and agreed with Walker — that it is high time state employees begin paying their fair share toward health insurance and related benefits.

And we acknowledged that Walker’s move to strip public unions of key collective bargaining rights was a drastic step. In retrospect, it appears Gov. Walker has asked for too much too soon.

The governor has his foot on the neck of public sector employee unions, which some would argue is a 180-degree turn from where Wisconsin has been for the past couple decades.

But we think it is time for Walker and Republicans to compromise and find a solution that allows the unions to retain their collective bargaining rights while agreeing to significant financial sacrifices. The budget can be balanced, but there is no need to kill unions in the process.

And it’s time for the Senate Democrats to return to their assigned seats at the State Capitol. They have made their point, they took drastic measures to counter the drastic changes contained in Walker’s budget repair bill, but they can’t hide in Illinois forever. The state’s fiscal solvency and billions of dollars are at stake.

Of course the only way the Senate Democrats are going to return is if Walker and the majority leaders extend an open hand and agree to amend the budget repair bill to allow collective bargaining rights for public unions.

There needs to be genuine debate and compromise about this bill, not a rush to force enormous change on a public that has been polarized by the upheaval in Madison.

Compromise is never easy, but it is foolish to expect one side to cave in when you are in the middle of an historic political stalemate.

The Sheboygan Press

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