Today– George Washington’s Birthday–we are seeing Wisconsin politics at its worst. A state long known for policy innovation—social security, welfare reform, school vouchers, and much more—is now witnessing a seldom-seen but dreadful abuse of basic democratic practice—the abuse of the legislative quorum call.
Quorum calls have long protected the rights of minorities and for that reason they are fundamental to a functioning democracy. If the leaders of a legislative chamber can quickly and quietly call for a vote to pass an unpopular bill when most members are absent, or when members of the opposition are unavailable, democracies can be turned into tyrannies over night.
But minorities, to protect their own rights, must not abuse a power created for their own protection. When the Democratic Senators in Wisconsin drove to Illinois to avoid the quorum call, and thereby prevent the majority of the Senate from working its will, they initiated a fundamental threat to the core values of American democracy. Now there are rumors that the practice will spread to Indiana and beyond.
This is no small matter. Minority rights within the context of majority rule is at the very heart of American democracy. So it is disconcerting to see the President of the United States express his support for the unions and Democrats in Wisconsin without any condemnation whatsoever of an abuse of a basic democratic practice. President Obama, a former community organizer, may approve of peaceful street demonstrations, but he has a serious presidential responsibility to uphold those basic rules and procedures integral to the functioning of a democracy.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, has just asked me to contribute to their organization in order to show my support for the Democrats in Wisconsin. “Gov. Walker and the Republicans tried to cram a budget through the state Senate, a budget that obliterates the rights of public workers and undermines the safety net relied upon by Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens,” the letter said.
The Governor, however, cannot cram anything through the legislature, for he must respect the role of law, which requires that his proposals be approved by a majority in each legislative chamber. It is the Democratic minority that has violated the rule of law.
When public sector unionists succeed in getting the support of a major political party even to the point where that party will violate the law, it is a sign their power has exceeded all reasonable bounds.
George Washington, out of respect for basic democratic practice, urged the officers of the Continental Army not to take extra-legal action vis a vis Congress when they suffered not a modest increase in the contribution to a benefit plan but serious financial deprivations after they had risked their lives on behalf of the nation. Revolving in his grave, our first president has every right to be truly alarmed.
– Paul E. Peterson