Wisconsin Democrats Abuse the Quorum Call

By 02/22/2011

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Today– George Washington’s Birthday–we are seeing Wisconsin politics at its worst. A state long known for policy innovation—social security, welfare reform, school vouchers, and much more—is now witnessing a seldom-seen but dreadful abuse of basic democratic practice—the abuse of the legislative quorum call.

Quorum calls have long protected the rights of minorities and for that reason they are fundamental to a functioning democracy.  If the leaders of a legislative chamber can quickly and quietly call for a vote to pass an unpopular bill  when most members are absent, or when members of the opposition are unavailable, democracies can be turned into tyrannies over night.

But minorities, to protect their own rights, must not abuse a power created for their own protection.  When the Democratic Senators in Wisconsin  drove to Illinois to avoid the quorum call, and thereby prevent the majority of the Senate from working its will, they initiated a fundamental threat to the core values of American democracy. Now there are rumors that the practice will spread to Indiana and beyond.

This is no small matter.  Minority rights within the context of majority rule is at the very heart of American democracy.  So it is disconcerting to see the President of the United States express his support for the unions and Democrats in Wisconsin without any condemnation whatsoever of an abuse of a basic democratic practice.  President Obama, a former community organizer, may approve of peaceful street demonstrations, but he has a serious presidential responsibility to uphold those basic rules and procedures integral to the functioning of a democracy.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, has just asked me to contribute to their organization in order to show my support  for the Democrats in Wisconsin.  “Gov. Walker and the Republicans tried to cram a budget through the state Senate, a budget that obliterates the rights of public workers and undermines the safety net relied upon by Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens,” the letter said.

The Governor, however, cannot cram anything through the legislature, for he must respect the role of law, which requires that his proposals be approved by a majority in each legislative chamber.  It is the Democratic minority that has violated the rule of law.

When public sector unionists succeed in getting the support of a major political party even to the point where that party will violate the law, it is a sign their power has exceeded all reasonable bounds.

George Washington, out of respect for basic democratic practice, urged the officers of the Continental Army not to take extra-legal action vis a vis Congress when they suffered not a modest increase in the contribution to a benefit plan but serious financial deprivations after they had risked their lives on behalf of the nation.   Revolving in his grave, our first president has every right to be truly alarmed.

– Paul E. Peterson

Comment on this article
  • Nathan says:

    How in the world does a quorum call protect minority rights if the minority is not supposed to USE it? You’re right, quorum calls are intended to protect a minority, and a minority is making sure that the majority does not remove their real and legitimate rights to bargain collectively. There is no abuse here — there is only use, and the governor would do well to listen to the voice of the people.

  • Jill says:

    What about Filibustering? This is a shameless account of what is going on. I’m not excusing the democrats in WI but republicans made an art of filibustering this past year when dealing with health reform. Not the same thing of course but very similar results. Peterson knows this of course.

  • Liam says:

    Hey Paul – Really interested in your response to Jill. I’ve been waiting for your post on Republican filibusters, secret holds, etc. in the U.S. Senate with bated breath. Mitch McConnell deserves your attention, too. He’s earned it.

    BUT my guess is that it’s not really the tactics you oppose, but the position in support of collective bargaining that Wisconsin Democrats have taken that really gets your goat. Am I wrong?

  • […] E. Peterson: A state long known for policy innovation—social security, welfare reform, school vouchers, and much more—is now […]

  • Lana says:

    This article is a bunch of propaganda and one big fat opinion rather than an actual piece of useful information that contributes a fair picture of the true conditions in Wisconsin. At least I can leave a comment on this article. So many of the propaganda articles like this one don’t allow for comments making it hard to get a fair response from the public. With that said, your article is utter promotion on behalf of the Republican Party.

  • Paul E. Peterson says:

    Jill – A filibuster in the Senate is in accordance with Senate procedures and is used regularly by Senators from both sides of the aisle. Refusal to show up for many days for a quorum call, bringing democratic government to halt, is against the law.

  • Paul E. Peterson says:

    Lana – There is useful information in my blog post. Many people do not realize the legislative abandonment of duty is being orchestrated in Washington.
    I notice you made no effort to defend the abuse of the quorum call that is taking place.

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