Secretary of State Doug La Follette: His Finest Hour; Our exclusive interview
Background: As the March 10 post indicates the Republican controlled Wisconsin Senate and Assembly passed Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation to strip collective bargaining rights from the state’s public employees. On Saturday, more than a hundred thousand people jammed the Capital Square in Madison to protest the measure as well as massive budget cuts for education and other public services. Wisconsin Secretary of State, Doug La Follette, a Democrat, is now at the center of the battle.
Doug La Follette: When I was a young faculty member at University of Wisconsin-Parkside (Kenosha, WI) one of my colleagues was a chemistry professor by the name of Doug La Follette. We continue to be friends. Doug is an ardent environmentalist and the co-founder of the Wisconsin Environmental Decade (now Clean Wisconsin). For 32 of the last 36 years, La Follette has been Wisconsin Secretary of State. See Wikipedia’s bio of La Follette.
As Secretary of State, it’s La Follette’s job to publish legislation within ten business days of being signed by the governor. Last week La Follette received a letter from Gov. Walker asking him to publish the anti-collective bargaining law immediately.
La Follette, however, announced that he will take the full ten business days and not publish the law until March 25. The delay is essential because the law only takes effect once published. The ten days will allow dozens of communities statewide to negotiate contracts with public employee unions for the coming year. Without the contracts local governments and workers are left in the dark. For his stand, La Follette has endured massive pressure from Republican office holders and their allies – including hundreds of “sign it now” letters and emails, some very nasty.
Phone interview: On Saturday, I was lucky to catch Secretary La Follette in his 10th story office overlooking Capitol Square and where more than 100,000 protestors were demonstrating against the GOP’s agenda. I called again Monday to get the latest. See Picture Gallery by Becci Roberts, a protester from Amherst, WI.
Ekos2: Doug, You are sure in the middle of it; how are you feeling?
DL: Mostly I’m very sad; in my many years as an elected official I’ve never seen anything as bad as this; they (Republicans) have in a single night taken away the collective bargaining rights that public workers have held for more than 60 years.
Ekos2: Can you tell us why you’re delaying publication of the law restricting collective bargaining?
DL: I’ve been getting phone calls from dozens of mayors of cities and towns and from members of school boards. They are telling me that they need more time to reach agreements with public employee unions before they are forbidden to do so once the bill becomes law.
The usual practice of my office is ten business days and I owe them that. We checked our records; out of 406 bills published the last two years, only 18 were rushed through for emergency purposes. In this case, there is no emergency. On the other hand passage before local governments have had time to work things out would produce confusion and chaos for months to come.
Ekos2: What are your other concerns?
DL: Well, for one the Governor and his Republican allies have proposed a nearly $1 billion cut in aid to schools in his two-year budget plan and he also wants to limit the ability of schools and local governments to pay for the cuts through local property tax increases.
Ekos2: Sounds like a big blow to the state’s education.
DL: Absolutely. Teachers have already made big concessions. However, a cut so big will require more – teacher layoffs, increased class sizes and the elimination of essential programs from arts to athletics. I don’t see how this is good for school kids. Kids from area high schools have already joined the protests and I expect to see parents to weigh in a big way. If Walker thinks all of this is good, he is putting his ideology over the real needs of our people.
Ekos2: So what happens next?
DL: As I said, I will have to sign on the 25th, unless I’m ordered by a court not to do so. And that could happen. There are a number of legal challenges to the bill. For example Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk (Democrat) will argue against enactment in Dane County Court this coming Wednesday.
Ekos2: I also understand that that the opponents of the bill are launching a number of recall actions.
DL: Right. Big efforts are underway to recall the 8 Republican state Senators who engineered the closed door process that enabled the anti-union bill to pass. The challenge is to get 30,000 – 40,000 signatures in each district. Given the energy level of public employees, students and supporters, I think they have a real chance to succeed. Since the governor just took office, a recall of him first becomes possible next January and there you need 500,000 signatures.
Ekos2: Thanks, Doug; we congratulate you on your courageous stand and hope that the people of Wisconsin will turn things around in a big way!
What you can do: Send a letter to the editor (local paper) or op-ed supporting Secretary of State Doug La Follette. Especially if your from Wisconsin.
Support the recall of GOP union busters: http://www.actblue.com/page/wiscrecall (MoveOn.org an ActBlue. Nearly $1 million raised in a few days! Add to the total.
See Great OP-ED by Nicholas Kristof, “Pay Teachers More,” Quote: “From the debates in Wisconsin and elsewhere about public sector unions, you might get the impression that we’re going bust because teachers are overpaid. That’s a pernicious fallacy. A basic educational challenge is not that teachers are raking it in, but that they are underpaid.” NY Times (March 12, 2011). We agree!
 The new law would not affect collective bargaining agreements that are already in place, which is fueling the decision by unions to reach deals as quickly as possible.
 Dane contends there was not adequate public notice at a legislative committee meeting where an amended version of the budget-repair bill was passed on Wednesday. The suit also alleges that the state Senate did not have enough members on hand to legally vote on the bill later that same day.