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The Nation

February 23, 2011

Wis. Democrats filibuster to halt anti-union bill

MADISON, Wis. — Democrats kept the Wisconsin Assembly up overnight with a droning filibuster in another desperate attempt to block the Republican governor's bold plan to strip public sector workers of nearly all of their bargaining rights.

The debate marked the first movement in days in what has become a high-stakes game of political chicken between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker. The governor says the bill is needed to help solve the state's looming budget deficit, but Democrats see it as an all-out assault on unions, their staunchest campaign ally.

Republicans control both the Assembly and Senate, but Democratic senators have blocked a vote in their chamber by fleeing to Illinois. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of demonstrators have descended on the state Capitol in monumental protests that entered their ninth day Wednesday.

The Assembly began debate around noon Tuesday, with lawmakers coming to the floor under heavy guard as protesters in the rotunda cheered and banged on buckets and bongo drums. Democrats began introducing dozens of amendments that would, among other things, restore public employees' right to strike. They also gave drawn-out, rambling speeches criticizing the bill. A vote didn't appear likely until well into Wednesday, perhaps later.

"Can you hear that?" Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, screamed into her microphone. "Can you hear the cheers? Can you hear the chants? Can you hear the voices of the people who elected you? How can you not hear that?"

Republicans sat mostly in silence as the debate dragged into the wee hours, though tempers flared when two Democrats lashed out at Republican lawmakers and aides for laughing at them during the debate.

"This is not a game! We're dealing with people's lives! This isn't funny!" Rep. Andy Jorgensen shouted in the chamber, his face red. "I haven't laughed in a long time, especially not on a day like this!"

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