Newly elected Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has moved expeditiously to propose legislation to close the state’s $3.6 billion budget deficit. But that legislation languishes in the state legislature because the Democrat minority in the state Senate has fled Wisconsin, depriving the Senate of a quorum to conduct business.
Wisconsin held an election in November, and the voters granted the Republicans a 19-14 Senate majority. But under the state Senate rules, a quorum of 20 is needed to conduct business. By refusing to even participate in Senate proceedings, the 14 AWOL Senate Democrats are imperiously rejecting the democratically expressed will of the people.
Anti-democracy demonstrators who have mobbed the state capitol to impair the state legislature’s proceedings chant, also imperiously, “This is what democracy looks like.” The chant is imperious because it implies that the state and local government workers comprising the demonstrators embody superior democratic legitimacy over the vote of the people of the state.
What those state and local government workers are doing in the state capitol in Wisconsin is not what democracy looks like. It is what mob rule looks like.
What democracy looks like is what the Wisconsin Tea Party should now do to the 14 AWOL Democrat state legislators. The Wisconsin Constitution explicitly grants voters the power to recall and remove from office those anti-democracy Democratic state senators. The state Constitution provides,
“The qualified electors of the state, of any congressional, judicial, or legislative district, or of any county may petition for the recall of any incumbent elective officer after the first year of the term for which the incumbent was elected, by filing a petition with the filing officer with whom the nomination petition to the office in the primary is filed, demanding the recall of the incumbent."
Of the 14 missing Democrat state senators, at least half would be subject to immediate recall this year, maybe more. While efforts to recall U.S. senators under such state law provisions have been subject to legal controversy, there is no controversy about the authority of voters to recall state senators under such provisions.
State and local government workers are mobbing the capitol in Wisconsin because Scott’s budget deficit fix would require them to pay 5.8% of their pension costs, and 12.6% of their health insurance costs. In both cases, that’s still only about two-thirds of what private-sector workers pay, for those who even have employer provided health insurance. It is these private-sector workers who must pay the taxes to keep the wages and benefits of public-sector government workers in the style to which they have become accustomed.
Nationwide, state and local government workers are paid on average 45% more than private-sector workers, with an average hourly wage of $26.25, and $13.56 in hourly costs for benefits, for total hourly costs of $39.81, or $80,000 per year on average. This is true in Wisconsin as well. Indeed, the Manhattan Institute’s E.J. McMahon reports that for public school teachers in Milwaukee, the cost of family health coverage is $26,844, for which the teachers currently pay nothing.
Clearly, that Scott is asking to balance the state’s budget is quite reasonable. Indeed, it is long overdue. For those anti-democracy Democrat state senators who refuse to even allow a vote on the measure by failing to show up and do their duty, the Wisconsin Tea Party should begin the process of recall for the senators who are eligible for it under state law now. Voters, whether liberal or conservative, should not abide anti-democratic state senators who shut down the legislature altogether by refusing even to show up to work to do their duty.
Peter Ferrara is general counsel of the American Civil Rights Union, and a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute. He served in the White House Office of Policy Development under President Ronald Reagan, and as Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States under the first President Bush.