Defiant Wisconsin Democrats Say Running Away Is Democracy, Too

14 state senators have fled the state to block a vote on gov's budget proposal.

February 20, 2011, 9:13 AM

Feb. 20, 2011— -- The Democratic Wisconsin state senators camped out across the border in Illinois fired back at Gov. Scott Walker today, saying their action to block a vote on his budget proposal is an effort to protect democracy.

Walker, whose budget bill sparked six straight days of protests at the capitol in Madison, today criticized the 14 Democrats, whose absence has prevented the state Senate from achieving the quorum necessary for a vote on the proposal.

"If you want to participate in democracy, you've got to be in the arena, and the arena is right here in Madison, Wisconsin," Walker said on "Fox News Sunday."

"Democracy is not about hiding out in another state," he said. "It's about showing up here in the capital and making the case there."

State Sen. Julie Lassa, who is six months pregnant, said the governor is wrong about her and the others holed up in an Illinois hotel.

"For all of us who left the state, we believe we're standing up for democracy," Nissa told ABC News' Barbara Pinto.

Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of demonstrators protesting Walker's proposal, which would cut benefits for public employees and drastically reduce unions' collective bargaining powers, have paralyzed the state capitol and the protesters said they aren't going anywhere.

"I know that the people here are not going home people are going to be here until he is gone," protester Miles Kristan said.

Walker, though, was just as firm today in his resolve.

"We're willing to take this as long as it takes, because, in the end, we're doing the right thing," he said. "We're doing the right thing for Wisconsin."

He said the Democratic state senators who fled the state have "failed to do their jobs," and he expects them to concede this week.

"My hope is that cooler minds will prevail and by some time earlier this coming week they'll show up for their job," Walker said.

Instead, some 70,000 demonstrators showed up at the Capitol Saturday and a similar number today. Though most of them opposed Walker's budget proposal, which critics say is an effort at union busting, there were many backers of the bill as well this weekend.

In addition to the demonstration in Madison, a smaller pro-union rally also was held today in Green Bay, outside Packers Stadium.

Some tea party groups said Saturday they are forming exploratory committees to recall two of the Democrats who fled the state Thursday to protest the vote on the bill.

The tea party group Northwood Patriots said it would meet today to discuss the recall of state Senator Jim Holperin, while a separate group in Kenosha, called the Robert Wirch Exploratory Committee said it is looking into recalling state Senator Robert Wirch.

According to Madison's The Capital Times, a recall effort would require the exploratory committees to collect 15,000 to 20,000 petition signatures.

Walker told reporters Friday that he would not "allow protesters to drown out the voice of the taxpayers," adding that he had received 19,000 supportive e-mails this week and that a "quiet majority" of the state's residents are behind his plan.

Walker, who unveiled the budget bill last Saturday, has been calling upon the Democrats to return and end their "theatrics."

"The bottom line is we're broke," the governor said. "We can't negotiate for something we don't have the ability to give on."

Walker, faced with a $3.6 billion deficit, denied he is trying to bust the unions.

Wisconsin has a $137 million shortfall this year and $3.6 billion over the next two years.

Other governors facing similar budget crises are watching Wisconsin carefully. More than 40 states are facing a combined projected shortfall of $125 billion for the fiscal year of 2012. The hardest hit are California, facing a $25.5 billion gap, Texas at $13 billion, Illinois at $15 billion, New York at $9 billion and New Jersey at $10.5 billion.

ABC News' Chris Bury and Olivia Katrandjian contributed to this report.

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