Wisconsin Dems Hide in 'Hard ... to Find' Place; Governor Rips 'Theatrics'

Governor calls MIA lawmakers "disrespectful."

ByABC News
February 16, 2011, 12:49 PM

Feb. 17, 2011 -- With Wisconsin Senate minority leader saying Democrats are hiding "in a place that is hard for them to find" in order to postpone a vote on slashing union rights, Wisconsin's Republican governor is demanding Democrats end their "theatrics" and "show up for work."

"Show up!" Gov. Scott Walker, a Tea Party-backed Republican, told the absent Democrats at a news conference this evening. "Debate the bill! Offer amendments. Have a healthy debate. But, you don't have that debate if you hang out down in Rockford or Dubuque."

The Wisconsin Senate's 14 Democrats did not report to work today for a possible vote that threatened to curb unions and public worker pensions. Without their votes, the 33-member chamber with a 19-14 Republican majority was left one person short of the 20 members required for the Senate to open business.

It was believed the Democrats had fled Wisconsin for a neighboring state, a move Walker called "disrespectful."

Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, a Democrat, told ABC News that "it's the governor who has been disrespectful of the workers to try and pass this legislation in ... basically six days.

"That is not a Democratic way to operate at all," he said. "This kind of major legislation needs to have full consideration and not be something that is railroaded through the legislature just because you have a majority."

His colleague, Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, would only say that all 14 legislators were together and in "a very cold place."

Erpenbach told ABC News that Walker left them "no option" and that the group left around 9 a.m. today.

"I went home, kissed my wife and kids and got in my car, drove off," he said.

His comments came after Walker released a written statement blasting the Democrats for hightailing out of the capital.

"Their actions by leaving the state and hiding from voting are disrespectful to the hundreds of thousands of public employees who showed up to work today and the millions of taxpayers they represent," Walker said.

Erpenbach accused Walker of "throwing a bomb out there and waiting to see what happens."

"We won't come back until the governor agrees to sit down and meet with people who don't see eye-to-eye with him and discuss better ways of helping the people of Wisconsin," Erpenbach said.

"Senate Democrats took action today to allow time for the involved parties to work together to balance the budget," Miller said in a written statement after his ABC News interview. "We believe, out of respect for our public institutions, the people of Wisconsin and our long tradition of working together, our fiscal challenges can be met without taking away worker's rights."

But Walker suggested this evening that Democrats have had a whole campaign season to consider his positions on union rights and would have further opportunity to debate the matter in the state senate if they return.

"We introduced a measure, last week -- a measure that I ran on during the campaign, a measure I talked about in November in the transition, a measure I talked about in December when we fought off the employee contracts, an idea I talked about in the inauguration, an idea I talked about in the State of the State," Walker told reporters. "If anyone doesn't know what's coming, they've been asleep for the past two years.

"We certainly [are] looking at all legal options out there," Walker said. "But I have faith, after they do their stunt for a day or two, more about theatrics than anything else, that they'll come back and realize, again, they're elected to do a job."

Police were sent to look for the wayward lawmakers, the Associated Press reported.

Miller denied they had been approached by police.

"We were not arrested, just recalled by the folks sent out to locate us," he told ABC News. "This is not the sort of thing you are arrested for."