Home / Government / Emails show steps considered to punish Democrats (UPDATE)

Emails show steps considered to punish Democrats (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Everything from taking away computers to denying a year of service in the state retirement system was considered to punish the 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois for three weeks to block passage of a bill taking away union bargaining rights, newly released emails show.

Members of Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s staff bounced ideas off one another and the Legislature’s attorneys for days about how to pressure the Democrats to return and penalize them, according to records released Wednesday by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The watchdog group obtained the emails from Fitzgerald’s office under Wisconsin’s open records law.

The emails show that Fitzgerald’s staff members were as worried about the public relations campaign as they were actually figuring out a way to get the Democrats to come back.

“I would just be somewhat cautious in whatever we do so that it doesn’t end up creating sympathy for the Dems,” Tad Ottman, a Fitzgerald aide, wrote to his chief of staff John Hogan on Feb. 20. “The more directly we can tie whatever action we take to what they are doing the better it will be.”

Democrats left the state on Feb. 17 to deny quorum in the Senate and block passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s bill that took away all collective bargaining rights, except over salary, for Wisconsin’s public employees.

Their departure helped fuel protests in opposition to the bill that grew to more than 75,000 people. Senate Republicans finally used a maneuver to pass the bill without the Democrats present on March 9, a move now being challenged in court. Democrats returned after the bill passed.

Senate Republicans approved a number of sanctions during their absence, most notably voting to find the missing Democrats in contempt and ordering police to compel them to return. The emails show that Fitzgerald’s staff knew the state constitution barred them from actually arresting the senators other than for committing a crime or acts of treason.

“It now seems that monetary penalties and removal of privileges may be our only recourse,” Fitzgerald legislative aide Rob Richard wrote on Feb. 20, citing the constitutional prohibition on arrest.

The Senate voted on March 3 to find the Democrats in contempt and ordered the sergeant at arms to use police force to compel the senators to return. Fitzgerald said at the time that while the action was technically not an arrest, under Senate rules police could force absent members to return.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has filed a complaint with the state Government Accountability Board, arguing that Fitzgerald should be sanctioned for earlier sending state patrol officers out to look for the missing senators.

The group said the emails show that Fitzgerald knew the senators could not be arrested when he sent the troopers out.

A spokeswoman for Fitzgerald did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fitzgerald said after the bill passed that the Senate would no longer seek to impose any of the penalties it approved, including $100 a day fines, taking away parking spaces and restricting access to Capitol copying machines.

The emails show there was a lot of discussion with legislative attorneys about how to legally impose fines on the missing senators and other steps that could be taken against them and their staff.

“I say we not only make it hurt for them, we have to make it hurt for their staff as well,” Richard wrote on Feb. 20.
One idea Ottman suggested in a Feb. 20 email was cutting the size of each Democratic senator’s staff by one person “since one person from each of their office is failing to show up for work (the Senator).”

That idea and several others, like reducing or taking away per diem payments and denying a year’s service in the retirement system, were not pursued. Richard pointed out in the same Feb. 20 email that taking away a year of retirement service would likely engender a court fight.

The emails also show there were discussions about what would happen if the Democrats returned unexpectedly.

Fitzgerald’s chief of staff Hogan asked the Senate chief clerk in a Feb. 21 email what would happen if a Democrats showed up in the Capitol but not on the floor of the Senate.

“Then I assume we compel them back to the chamber via Ted/Trooper/TV cameras,” Hogan wrote, referring to sergeant at arms Ted Blazell. “We should just be ready with a precedure in case it happens.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


  1. “Emails show steps considered to punish Democrats”…Oh, those horrible, awful, mean republicans…
    YES! Punish them!! Of course, they should be punished! The harsher the better. Who does this?! Just up and leave your job for 3 weeks in order to hold things up? In the real world, you’re fired the first day after a stunt like this, but you want to make heroes and martyrs out of them?!
    It’s very disturbing to see sympathy trying to be generated for these 14 job-shurking spoiled-children, throwing a temper tantrum and going AWOL. I ask again…Who does this? Beyond that, what normal-thinking person would do this and not expect some level of severe punishment would follow?
    Elections matter, and whether you find yourself in the majority, or the minority…Show up and do your job! You don’t think a bunch of republicans, under Doyle wouldn’t have liked to just up and leave at times? You show up, debate your case, and cast your vote…That’s your job.

    I can’t even imagine the recourse against republicans if they pulled a stunt like this.

  2. So what do the Democrat’s e-mails show with regard to their strategy with the union bosses and the DNC? Who told them to run? Who told them to stay away after they said they had deals to come back? Who footed the bill for them to live under assumed names without a credit card trail.

    The coverage on this is a freaking joke. Total one sided BS.

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