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On Wisconsin: This time, Democrats are the obstructionists

February 18, 2011 |  1:04 pm

Wisconsin It seems like only yesterday -– wait, actually, it was Friday  -– that The Times editorial page was decrying Republican lawmakers in California for collecting a paycheck while failing to do their jobs, refusing to negotiate on solutions to the state’s budget problems and instead simply letting Democrats handle the business of governance. But at least California Republicans are showing up for work. You can't say the same for Democrats in Wisconsin.

Turmoil that some have likened  to the Egyptian democracy movement has broken out in the Badger State, where Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative Republican who was elected after promising hefty cuts to state spending, kept his word by introducing a bill that would strip public employee unions of most of their collective bargaining rights. In response,  unions have organized massive protests at the state capitol, schools have been shuttered for days as teachers called in sick, and President Obama has called the bill "an assault on unions."

That’s democracy and free speech in action, but the tactics of Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin represent something else. On Thursday, Democratic members of the state Senate disappeared. Knowing they had no chance of stopping the Republican majority from passing the measure, they decided to halt all Senate business by denying a quorum.

Liberals have had nothing good to say in recent years about the naked obstructionism exhibited by Republican minorities in Congress and the California Legislature, but the tactic is just as reprehensible when practiced by Democrats.

What’s happening in Wisconsin is concrete evidence that elections matter. Walker and his conservative cohorts are doing precisely what the people of Wisconsin elected them to do. If they succeed and voters don’t like the consequences -– if schools can no longer recruit teachers because of uncompetitive compensation, or other public services deteriorate -– they can elect new leaders the next time around who can undo the changes. But this system breaks down when one party declines to participate or employs stunts to shut down the government.

Obstructionism is the enemy of progress. Even when it's performed by progressives.

-- Dan Turner

* Photo: Teachers and iron workers protest in Madison, Wis. Credit: Andy Manis / Associated Press

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