A Look Inside the Assembly Chamber

Ok, so this post may be geared towards the more nerdy Robert’s Rules lovers of my readership, but I hope many of you can find it interesting, since it shows what’s actually going on in the Assembly session while we have all been outside protesting. Take this as a lesson to those ever wanting to be in elected office. Know your Parliamentary Procedure, and use it properly. There will always be someone on the other side of an issue that DOES know it, and will use this knowledge against you.

On Friday, at 4:56 pm, the Assembly Republicans began voting on Governor Walker’s Emergency Budget Repair Bill. They passed the first amendment, a Republican one, and were about to vote on the first Democratic amendment. The problem was, that the Assembly was not to be in session until 5pm, and the Democrats were just entering the room out of their caucus. Now, Robert’s Rules and the Rules of the Assembly dictate that you can not start a meeting before the posted meeting time, and the sponsor of each amendment is allowed to introduce the amendment before debate begins on it. Enter Minority Leader Peter Barca, (D-Kenosha) who, after being ignored on a point of privilege (meaning that all debate ends and the speaker is allowed to ask a question before continuing) yells into a noisy Assembly Chamber:

Mr Speaker, on a point of personal privilege……..I don’t know what the problem is, but I DEMAND you recognize me.

And so begins the madness. (The entire video can be found here under Assembly Floor Session part 4 and a full transcript I wrote out of the Democrat speakers’ speeches can be found here)

After finally being recognized, Rep. Barca chastised the Republicans for breaking their own rules. In a very passionate, angry speech, Barca laid out what he felt was wrong with the proceedings:

Obviously in 6 days you want to trample on the very values of this state. And I cannot tell you how vigorously we object to that. But it is unbelievable to me, absolutely UN. BE. LIEVE. A. BLE, that you would first of all be here before 5 o’clock and take an illegal vote before even the time the proceedings were supposed to start. Unbelievable. Unprecedented. Un-American. Not in keeping with the values of this state. You should be ashamed of yourselves, each and every one of you. And especially for you, Mr. Speaker, who should know the rules of this body.

After moving to strike the last vote, which occurred before the start time of 5 o’clock, Rep. Barca went on to say:

You might think that because you were elected to the legislature, you can do whatever you damn well please! But you can’t! We have rules! And whether you like it or not, you gotta follow the rules. Amendment 2, Amendment 3, you gotta take up those amendments, you gotta vote em down. You can’t just say ‘we’re not gonna take em up.’ What is wrong with you? Honest to God, this is worse than a kangaroo court. This is absolutely beyond the pale. Beyond the pale! You ignore amendments that are before you?…. Now if any of you have a shred of decency in you, a shred of decency, you will not allow these people up here [motions towards Republican leadership] to allow you to ignore these rules.

Next, Rep. Gordon Hinz (D-Oshkosh) was recognized to speak. Rep. Hinz spoke about the process of how the week had gone (his speech can be found here) My favorite part of the speech:

So we heard that we may or may not get an emergency bill, we may get a repair bill, I found out from the radio, from a Washington DC interest group. What does that have to do with Wisconsin? And then, its 144 pages. And then, we get briefed on Monday and I’m told we’re going to vote on it on Thursday. Or Friday. And then when we ask for public hearings, well, and the public wants to speak out, you cut em off. This isn’t how we do things to each other, it’s not how things get introduced, and it’s just simply not what we do to the public. If you want to jam through a bill, you gotta sit through the messy process that is democracy (emphasis mine). When we sit there in 4th grade, and we learn about Wisconsin government, and we learn about U.S. government, we learn how amazing it was that they came together. But we also learned that it was bloody, that people had to fight for it, and that they wanted to make it hard to do big things. You’re supposed to be a deliberative body. You’re supposed to have discussions. And you’re supposed to be transparent, because the public matters in all of this input…I am elected, I get it, I’m in the minority, you’re right, there’s only a bunch of us. But if you wanna know why there are 35,000 people here, look at yourself in the mirror. And how about a little respect, at least for your colleagues!

Cory Mason (D-Racine) reiterated:

First, you want to take away peoples’ democracy in the workplace. Then, you take away peoples’ democracy, and their right to speak at a hearing on a bill. Then, you take away the minority’s ability to dissent and have a voice. You’re in the majority, but being in the majority doesn’t mean you get to take away peoples’ freedom…You’re in the majority, you get to set the agenda, but we still have the right to dissent. And you cannot silence our right to dissent as long as we draw breath. We have rights. We have rights in this country, and they will be abided by.

Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) then spoke. She explained how it was when she was elected and in the majority, and the responsibility that position holds. She said:

I, I want you to understand, now that you’re the majority. You have the votes. I mean, you have, you have the overwhelming majority of the votes. Your will will be done. You are in control. You make the laws. You passed the rules, you passed the rules. These are your rules. You passed the laws. Your will can be done. It is your will to pass this bill, you will pass it, you have the votes. But I ask you, I implore you, you do not have the ability to controvert our process…Now, it appears an illegal action was taken. Action started happening before the time that we were even scheduled to be in this body. We had members that were asking to be recognized, they were not recognized. This morning, that happened again. That is outrageous, and it is not worthy of us. Its not worthy of any one of you…

She then asked for exactly what the authors of this blog have been writing about, responsible governance, and mutual respect:

None of us wants to see this institution, and this state, take that direction. This is the United States of America. We will disagree passionately; we will raise our voices; we will protest; we will be peaceful; but by God, by God we will give each other a basic level of respect and human dignity when we disagree. You can win on this, but do not win this way. Do not win this way, I beg of you, reconsider, you will win the vote, strike the previous action. Let’s do this the right way. You can still do the wrong thing, but please, please look in your hearts, let’s do it the right way.

At 5:24, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) admits:

You know what? You guys are right. You’re right. We’re gonna go back to the amendable stage of this bill. That’s what we’re gonna do. Cuz you’re right. So we have a job to do, you have a job to do, I know your job right now in the minority is to delay. I honestly didn’t think you were gonna show up.

He then moved to adjourn until Tuesday at 10 am, when he will allow both sides to introduce amendments, and they will again begin to vote on the bill.

People in charge of legislative bodies, know the rules, and follow them. That is responsible governance. Those who disagree with a bill, know your rights. You are afforded the ability to dissent. No matter what side of this you fall on, you have to agree that at the very least, everyone deserves a basic level of respect. Hopefully we see this better practiced in the next couple of weeks.


4 responses to “A Look Inside the Assembly Chamber

  • Tyler

    Very interesting. sometimes standing up for the process is all you can do, but when you do it this well, people should take notice.

  • Lisa

    And your thoughts on the Democratic senators refusing to show up and do their jobs so that votes can be taken and issues can be settled? …Oh, wait, I guess it’s only important/significant/wrong when Republicans don’t play by the rules. By screaming “foul” at the top of their lungs (which in my opinion is disrespectful), Democrats think they don’t have to follow procedure or legislative rules. They shot themselves in the foot with that one, though, because the REAL, taxpaying, non-Union affiliated silent majority will win out.

    • M.H.

      Lisa, the Dems in the Senate ARE doing their job as the minority, God bless them; they are using a procedural move–withholding quorum–to delay a vote, perhaps as a negotiating tool in hopes of achieving compromise to a brutal bill that threatens to destroy the fundamental human right to have an equal say in determining the conditions of employment. What
      Walker wants to do is truly evil and is a crime against human rights. I hope he eventually ends up sharing a prison cell with Scott Jensen when Walker is eventually convicted for corruption for unethical appointments he’s already made in such a short time.

      Don’t you dare give us your smarmy “Oh wait, I guess it’s only important” line to complain about the state senators, or did you also condemn Republican US Senators for using the threat of a different procedural tool to block so many things from coming to a vote in the U.S. Senate when the Democrats had a large majority but didn’t get to pass their legislation? If you agreed with the U.S. Senate Republicans using procedural means to delay or kill votes, you have no ethical standing whatsoever to condemn what the Wisconsin state senators are doing to use a procedural tactic to delay a vote.

      • Lisa

        As a matter of fact, I condemn anyone of any party who gets paid and refuses to show up for work…including the Republican US Senate…which pretty much puts a nail in the hypothetical coffin of your argument. and plesase, a crime against humanity? How about REAL crimes against humanity that are being ignored all over the world? Should we blame Walker for those too? Or maybe we should look at what “rights” are really being taken away from state workers. Are they being beaten at work? Are they being refused breaks? Are they being abused in any way? NO. Are they being given the freedom to opt out of belonging to and paying for unions they might not agree with and they feel might not represent them? Ya got me there! Are they having to take pay cuts and kick in for some benefits that they’ve enjoyed having (provided to them by taxpayers) for years but can no longer be provided to them because of a bad economy and previous decisions by members of both parties in past WI legislature and governorships? Ooops, guilty as charged. Try to have an open mind and look at things without having union bullies influence you. It’s refreshing!

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