Everyone knew the budget repair bill would be passed by the Republicans the Wisconsin Assembly last night, sometime in the early morning hours. Shortly after 1:00 a.m. this morning, it looked as if it would take about two hours for the remaining Democrats to be heard. Then this happened.
Debate had gone on for 60 hours and 15 Democrats were still waiting to speak when the vote started around 1 a.m. Friday. Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, opened the roll and closed it within seconds.Would hearing the remaining Democrats have changed the result? Would they have changed anyone's mind? Of course not. That's not the point.
Democrats looked around, bewildered. Only 13 of the 38 Democratic members managed to vote in time.
Republicans immediately marched out of the chamber in single file. The Democrats rushed at them, pumping their fists and shouting "Shame!" and "Cowards!"
The Republicans walked past them without responding.
Democrats left the chamber stunned. The protesters greeted them with a thundering chant of "Thank you!" Some Democrats teared up. Others hugged.
"What a terrible, terrible day for Wisconsin," said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. "I am incensed. I am shocked."
Free speech is our most important right in a democracy. Debate in our legislative assemblies is a symbolic recognition of our shared commitment to this democratic principle. Listening to people you disagree with is an essential component of the civility it takes to fight issues out with words rather than guns. This breach of legislative decorum was so shocking that four Republicans voted against it. A couple more did not vote.
Why did the Republican majority commit this act of political thuggery? To show that they could. It accomplished nothing except to further crank up rising tempers. In Wisconsin, February 25 will be a day that will shall in infamy. Shame!