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Tuesday February 22 2011

I’m having a busy first half of the week, so instead of answers to all your problems and questions and entertainment needs, a question: why are Democrat politicians leaving the state of Wisconsin just now?  What rule is it that makes such behaviour rational, when they are trying to stop something happening?  In regular world, if you want to stop something, you stick around and then try to get in its way, e.g. by voting against it.  But not in Wisconsin, now.

This is one of those questions that was all explained about a fortnight ago, to everyone interested except me, and now, everyone assumes that everyone understands what is going on.  But, I don’t.

Comments please.

LATER (Wed 23rd): Just to say, many thanks for all these comments.  I asked, and was answered.  I now understand all this a great deal better.

Brian, IIUC, the reason they are doing it is that there is a very real chance that they will not have enough votes to defeat the bill. By not attending they make the actual vote impossible to take place. No vote, no bill. But it is explained in the article you linked to, so I must have misunderstood your question?

Posted by Alisa on 22 February 2011

They say that it will prevent a vote, but do they say why?  I mean, normally, not voting would just mean you would lose a vote by a bigger margin.

And why leaving the state? What on earth is the difference between that and just not showing up?

I’ve never heard of anything like this before in any other circumstances.  I suspect Americans just regard it as sort of normal.  But to me it looks utterly fantastic that leaving the state means that you can prevent a law being passed, even if there’s a majority for it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 22 February 2011

Many organisations (including the Wisconsin state legislature) have a quorum requirement. A vote doesn’t count unless a certain portion of the membership is present.

The Wisconsin police have the legal right to arrest the legislators and physically force them to attend votes, as under Wisconsin law they are obliged to vote if summoned to do so. However, the Wisconsin police do not have the power to do this outside the state of Wisconsin. A legal mechanism to arrest legislators and extradite them to another state so that they can be forced to vote does not exist.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 22 February 2011

A sensible law would simply state that the office of a legislator who did not attend votes when summoned without a good reason should be declared vacant, I think, in the sense that most people who refuse to turn up at work will find themselves shortly unemployed. However it doesn’t apparently.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 22 February 2011

They left the state to avoid the state police arresting them and forcing them to appear.  I think, by leaving the state, they make it very unlikely the Republicans can achieve the quorum necessary to hold the vote.

This is not normal; it’s dirty tricks democrats tend to get up to whenever you don’t let them have their way.  Now, if the Republicans were worth anything they’d just say fine- and have the governor end all public schools in Wisconsin by fiat or something.  He can afford to be pretty bold because if they aren’t voting for this one thing, well they can’t come in and vote to impeach him either, right?  Republicans are not worth anything, so we will all keep lurching down the damn progressive lane until the final crack-up boom happens.

Posted by August on 22 February 2011

I think it illustrates a constitutional flaw: something like this should not be able to happen. On the other hand, all constitutions have flaws.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 22 February 2011

I agree that persistent non-attendance for key votes, without serious excuse (like severe illness, etc), should result in said legislator being forced to resign their seat.

This is extraordinary. It shows to what extent the US is in some ways far less of a model of democracy than some of its more starry-eyed advocates, both left and right, like to claim.

Personally, I say hunt the buggers down and put them in the stocks, for the entertainment of the public.

Posted by Tom B on 23 February 2011

Wisconsin Constitution Article VIII:

Vote on fiscal bills; quorum. SECTION 8. On the passage in either house of the legislature of any law which imposes, continues or renews a tax, or creates a debt or charge, or makes, continues or renews an appropriation of public or trust money, or releases, discharges or commutes a claim or demand of the state, the question shall be taken by yeas and nays, which shall be duly entered on the journal; and three−fifths of all the members elected to such house shall in all such cases be required to constitute a quorum therein.

Official annotation:

Section 70.11 (8m), Stats. 1967, imposed a tax on property not previously taxed, and since no roll call votes appear on the legislative journals, it was not validly passed. State ex rel. General Motors Corp. v. Oak Creek, 49 Wis. 2d 299, 182 N.W.2d 481. Past decisions of the court consistently tend to limit the definition of what is a fiscal law and not every bill with a minimal fiscal effect requires a recorded vote. 60 Atty. Gen. 245. The taking of yea and nay votes and the entry on the journals of the senate and assembly can be complied with by recording the total aye vote together with a listing of the names of those legislators who voted no, were absent or not voting or were paired on the question. Art. V, sec. 10; Art. VIII, sec. 8; Art. XII, sec. 1 discussed. 63 Atty. Gen. 346.

Governor Walker is making sure all of his ducks are lined up for a court challenge and has determined that action on this legislation needs to meet the higher standard required by this section.  Ordinarily a simple majority is quorum for what is often referred to as non fiscal matters.

Posted by Midwesterner on 23 February 2011

A few more potentially applicable bits from Art IV, of the Wisconsin constitution

Oath of office. SECTION 28. Members of the legislature, and all officers, executive and judicial, except such inferior officers as may be by law exempted, shall before they enter upon the duties of their respective offices, take and subscribe an oath or affirmation to support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Wisconsin, and faithfully to discharge the duties of their respective offices to the best of their ability.

Organization of legislature; quorum; compulsory attendance. SECTION 7. Each house shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members; and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may compel the attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide.

Rules; contempts; expulsion. SECTION 8. Each house may determine the rules of its own proceedings, punish for contempt and disorderly behavior, and with the concurrence of two− thirds of all the members elected, expel a member; but no member shall be expelled a second time for the same cause.

Official annotation to Section 8:

Courts have no jurisdiction to review legislative rules of proceeding, which are those rules having “to do with the process the legislature uses to propose or pass legislation or how it determines the qualifications of its members.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel v. DOA, 2009 WI 79, 319 Wis. 2d 439, 768 N.W.2d 700, 07−1160. The legislature cannot sentence a person to confinement for contempt without notice and without giving an opportunity to respond to the charge. Groppi v. Leslie, 404 U.S. 496.

But for now, I’m also not sure that Walker and the Republican legislators are entirely upset with the Democrats behavior.  The entire situation is flushing a lot of political obligations out into the open and the taxpayers are learning more about who has been running the state.

Posted by Midwesterner on 23 February 2011

The pretty Jennifer Wasshername on FOX just asked a Democrat Indiana State Representative creature: “What’s next, congressman - are you never coming back?” Hold that thought! I’m actually thinking that having them all collected in IL (of all places), is rather, er, convenient.

Posted by Alisa on 23 February 2011

Just to repeat it, thanks for all these comments.  Most informative.

Plus, I particularly agree with Midwesterner’s comment to the effect that this may really be hurting the Dems.  I mean, it sure is dramatic, isn’t it?  And, once you’ve been told what the hell is going on, relatively simple to understand.  I should imagine this is the kind of thing that millions who normally give politics a miss are now talking about.

If I was a Repub I might almost want to be provoking this kind of thing everywhere.  And as Alisa notes, it has already started happening also in Indiana.

The Dems risk becoming, in millions of eyes normally baffled by the complexities of politics, the part of: screw the future of the USA, we want our money, no matter what.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 23 February 2011

Not good.

Posted by Alisa on 24 February 2011


Posted by Tatyana on 25 February 2011

Indeed. Of course, now we will be looking at a court challenge - stay tuned.

Posted by Alisa on 25 February 2011
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