By SCOTT BAUER
Massive protests in Wisconsin
Everything from taking away computers to denying a year of service in the state retirement system was considered to punish the 14 Wisconsin Democrats who fled to Illinois for three weeks to block passage of a bill taking away union bargaining rights, newly released emails show.
Members ofRepublican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s staff bounced ideas off one another and the Legislature’s attorneys for days about how to penalize the Senate Democrats for leaving and pressure them to return, according to records released Wednesday byCitizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The watchdog group obtained the emails from Fitzgerald’s office under Wisconsin’s open records law.
The emails show Fitzgerald’s staff members were as worried about the public relations campaign as they were actually figuring out a way to get the Democrats to come back.
“I would just be somewhat cautious in whatever we do so that it doesn’t end up creating sympathy for the Dems,” Tad Ottman, a Fitzgerald aide, wrote to his chief of staff John Hogan on Feb. 20.
Senate Republicans approved a number of sanctions during their absence, most notably voting to find the missing Democrats in contempt and ordering police to compel them to return. The emails show that Fitzgerald’s staff knew the state constitution barred them from actually arresting the senators other than for committing a crime or acts of treason.
“It now seems that monetary penalties and removal of privileges may be our only recourse,” Fitzgerald legislative aide Rob Richard wrote on Feb. 20, citing the constitutional prohibition on arrest.
The Senate voted on March 3 to find the Democrats in contempt and ordered the sergeant at arms to use police force to compel the senators to return. Fitzgerald said at the time that while the action was technically not an arrest, under Senate rules police could force absent members to return.
Fitzgerald said Wednesday that troopers were only sent to assist the Senate sergeant at arms, who was looking for the Democrats, and never were expected to be asked to make an arrest.
If the troopers were sent out to find the troopers and the troopers took them into custody would that not constitute an arrest???? Or could it be construed as kidnapping as I am sure the senators would have been forced to do something against their will.
“I say we not only make it hurt for them, we have to make it hurt for their staff as well,” Richard wrote on Feb. 20.
One idea Ottman suggested in a Feb. 20 email was cutting the size of each Democratic senator’s staff by one person “since one person from each of their office is failing to show up for work (the Senator).”
That idea and several others, like reducing or taking away per diem payments and denying a year’s service in the retirement system, were not pursued. Richard pointed out in the same Feb. 20 email that taking away a year of retirement service likely would engender a court fight.
The emails also show there were discussions about what would happen if the Democrats returned unexpectedly. Fitzgerald’s chief of staff Hogan asked the Senate chief clerk in a Feb. 21 email what would happen if a Democrats showed up in the Capitol but not on the floor of the Senate.
“Then I assume we compel them back to the chamber via Ted/Trooper/TV cameras,” Hogan wrote, referring to sergeant at arms Ted Blazell. “We should just be ready with a procedure in case it happens.”
Compel them as in kidnaping or forcing them to do something against their will????