OTR Interviews

AWOL Wis. Democrat Speaks Out, Hopeful Union Protesters Will Be Heard

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 21, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Right now in Wisconsin, everyone wants to know if the 14 Democratic state senators will return to the capitol for the budget vote. Joining us from an undisclosed location minutes ago is Wisconsin Democratic State Senator Lena Taylor.


VAN SUSTEREN: State Senator, nice to see you.

STATE SEN. LENA TAYLOR, D-WIS.: Very nice to see you, too, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, I know you're at an undisclosed location, so I'm curious. Are you homesick yet?

TAYLOR: You know, I was only concerned about my little one, who's 11. And I had to go and see him and give him a little love and let him give me a little love. But outside of that, I have to do what I have to do so that the people of Wisconsin can have an opportunity to be heard and that this bill is not rammed so rapidly that they have no idea what's going on.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, this certainly is a high-stakes game of political chicken, and the governor of your state has said that he is not interested in any compromises that have been floated around. So it doesn't look like there's a whole lot of bargaining going on between the two sides. Is that a fair statement?

TAYLOR: Well, you know, I'm a woman of faith, so I don't step out on what I see, I step out on, you know, believing that God can do things. And so I'm hoping that over a quarter of a million people who have come and said to our governor that they don't agree with the way that he's gone and how rapidly he introduced this on a Friday and he wanted it done in less than five days. So I want to believe that he's going to be concerned about the constituents of his state and give them an opportunity to be heard.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you spoken with the other 13? Are you all sort of hanging tough, or are you worried that someone might get a little weak and return home?

TAYLOR: Not at all. As a matter of fact, we have spoken. And I've also spoken with some of my Republican colleagues. And I'm hoping that even in the Republican caucus that there will be individuals who will continue to stand up and talk about that this governor has overreached. And frankly, he's gotten the concessions that he's needed.

This is not about his budget. He's received the concessions that he wanted. He received them before he put out his "budget repair" bill by the teachers' union and he received it after by the correction officers and the municipality and the local workers. And you know, that I think says it all. If you have what you need to address the budget issues, then you need to come to the bargaining table and give people their rights. You didn't tell people you were going to take their rights when you campaigned.

VAN SUSTEREN: So is this -- is this really, at least from your viewpoint, and correct me if I'm wrong -- about the issue of collective bargaining? Is that where it sort of boiled down to, whether you're for it or against it for state employees?

TAYLOR: It really does boil down to whether or not you want workers to be able to have a right to be at the table to talk about the working conditions. So for example, teachers in my community in particular have about 30, 40 kids in their classrooms. So without collective bargaining, that number can go up to 50, 60 children in the classroom. And the quality of education is already something that is challenged. We lead in the nation for children in 4th grade who look like me who have the worst reading scores. So there's no question that we can't allow class sizes to increase.

And that is the kind of thing, Greta, to be very frank with you, that teachers are able to do through collective bargaining. It's how we got weekends and eight-hour work days.

VAN SUSTEREN: But that also does have a cost, so it really does bring you back to bargaining because if you -- you know, if you make the classroom smaller and you have to hire more teachers -- I mean -- I mean, it's -- so it's not just to say that he got everything he wanted with sort of the budget negotiations. I mean, the work conditions does have an economic impact, does it not?

TAYLOR: Well, there's no question. We (INAUDIBLE) private industry as well as public industry with the issue of work conditions. And so there's no question that we've also saved lives through the kind of effort that Wisconsin did 50 to 100 years ago, to say that work conditions are an important piece.

Even in Egypt, you have individuals now rallying for work conditions and for wages. And so those are important issues. And we don't want to go back 50 to 100 years because this governor is trying to fast track a bill, deny people the ability to be heard, which is what happened on the Finance Committee, and frankly, continue to deny individuals his ability to do his job, which is -- he asked to negotiate with them, these contracts. He's refusing to do it. And now he's trying to move forward and take their rights and not allow them to be heard and not come to the table. That's unacceptable.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, one quick last question. When you make the reference to Egypt, you aren't saying that the conditions that the Wisconsin teachers are teaching under with this new -- new bill or without it is remotely like Egypt, or are you?

TAYLOR: No, what I'm saying in particular, Greta, is that in Egypt, if you look, after they overthrew their ruler, they had some specific rallies and protests, and one of the ones that they had was on workers' rights. How ironic is that, right?

And if you look, even on my Twitter page, there's been an opportunity for you see a sign from individuals in Egypt that says "Egypt supports Wisconsin workers." This is really about making sure that individuals have the right to come to the table and talk about our future. Teachers are one example, but this is way beyond teachers. It's social workers, it's professors, teachers' assistants. This affects correction officers, law enforcement and firefighters. Those that endorsed him are not in the bill. But this is way beyond teachers. And it's not really about trying to demonize our teachers. They are the individuals who will make sure that we have a strong economy so that employers can have individuals who are prepared to work.

VAN SUSTEREN: State Senator, thank you very much. And I have a sneaking suspicion this is a story that's not going away, so I hope you'll come back and join us, as it continues to unravel -- or ravel, however you look at it. Thank you.

TAYLOR: I look forward to coming back.