Lawmaker: Gov's plan has torn Wisconsin apart

Opponents to Governor Scott Walker's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers protest in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Madison, Wis., Feb. 18, 2011.
AP Photo/Andy Manis

Protests are continuing at the State Capitol in Madison against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposal to eliminate public employee unions' right to collective bargaining, as well as increase employee health care premiums.

In an effort to postpone a vote in the State Senate, 14 Democratic senators fled the state.

State Senator Jon Erpenbach - one of the Democratic lawmakers - told "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" that the Republican governor's proposal "has torn the state of Wisconsin apart."

"That's not the right way to go," Erpenbach told "Early Show" anchor Rebecca Jarvis. "The state employees have talked about the money and giving up the money, and that's fine. But what they have a problem with - and what a lot of us have a problem with - is the fact that Governor Walker is taking decades of union law and throwing it out the window and trying to bust the unions altogether, and that's just not the right way to go."

When Jarvis asked if he were violating his state's constitution by refusing to attend a vote, Erpenbach said, "Oh, no, not at all. In fact we're actually doing our job. We're standing up for the thousands and thousands of people who haven't been heard on this legislation at all.

"And make no mistake about it: Something's going to pass, we will take a vote. This budget actually ends on June 30. So we have plenty of time to slow things down, to talk it through and to see that the governor can come to the table and force some sort of compromise and move us forward."

Union showdowns spread across country
Photos: Wisconsin protests

"The governor has crossed that line on something that made Wisconsin pretty strong, and certainly a leader in the nation over the last I don't know how many decades when it comes to collective bargaining," said Erpenbach. "For the governor to stand up and say to all those hard-working men and women in Wisconsin we're going to take away your right to collectively bargain, it's absolutely, positively wrong.

"Wisconsin was built on unions and this legislation, what the governor wants to do is just rip that fabric apart," he said. "That's not the responsible way to go."

When asked how long the impasse can continue, Erpenbach replied, "That's totally up to them, and that's totally up to the governor. The governor has a responsibility to lead the state of Wisconsin by consensus, if he can at all. It's his responsibility to take two sides, sit them down, and try and work something out. He hasn't done that so far. And that's actually kind of disappointing.

"The public employees have said you can take the money - the money isn't the issue. The issue is their right to collectively bargain their contracts. And that's where we all have to draw the line."

If the budget bill did not include the revocation of collective bargaining power, would he vote "yes," Erpenbach was asked?

"It all depends on where the rest of the cuts came from," he replied.

"Keep in mind, Rebecca, we're only talking about $130 million in this budget adjustment bill. That's it. The state's already spent $150 million this year on business tax breaks. That's money we didn't have, but we're still going to give it to businesses.

When asked where the money can come from to fill that budget hole, Erpenbach said, look at business tax breaks "that we just handed out for some unknown reason. Again, it's $150 million; our budget hole is $130 million. I think the math is pretty easy on this.

Erpenbach was asked what kind of message sent by the Democratic lawmakers fleeing the state and the continuous protests send to children.

"Well, actually the message we're sending to children is sometimes this is what democracy looks like. Sometimes people have to rise up, they have to let their voices be heard, and you know, when this first started what, on Monday, there was about 10,000 people. Yesterday there were 40,000 people. And these aren't just union employees, they're friends, they're neighbors, they're family members. They see what this legislation does. They don't like what this legislation does and they think it goes way too far. So the message to the kids is sometimes this is what democracy looks like."

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.