FLASHBACK: When 14 WI Senate Democrats fled the state and became fleebaggers

Texas Rep. Julie Johnson posted this photo on her Twitter account showing her and Democratic colleagues on a private jet flight to Washington, DC.

Texas Democratic lawmakers fled the state for Washington, DC, Monday in order to block Republican-backed election reform bills for a second time — setting up a standoff with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and risking arrest by leaving during a special session.

Close to 60 of the Texas House of Representatives’ 67 Democrats departed Austin on two charter flights to the nation’s capital, where they vowed to press the Biden administration and congressional lawmakers to pass federal voting rights legislation.

KXAS reporter Scott Gordon tweeted an image of barefaced lawmakers on one of the planes, apparently defying federal rules about wearing masks while traveling.
—The NY Post

In February of 2011 a group of Democrat lawmakers in Wisconsin blocked passage of a collective bargaining rights bill by ignoring orders to attend a vote on the floor of the state Senate. Instead, they left the state to force Republicans to negotiate over the proposal.

The 14 Democrats disappeared from the grounds. They were not in their offices, and aides said they did not know where any of them had gone. A state police search was launched. A few hours later the AP learned the group had left Wisconsin for Illinois.

What was said at the time

“It’s more about theatrics than anything else.”
Then-Governor Scott Walker

“I feel sorry for the parents who have to pay for an additional day of day care by surprise. And I also feel sorry for the children that the parents are being bad role models today.”
Then-Republican state Senator Sen. Glenn Grothman

“This is not something I take lightly, and it’s not something I take any pleasure in doing,” said Wisconsin GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. “We simply cannot have democracy be held hostage because the minority wants to pout in Illinois.”
Then-Wisconsin GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald after GOP senators unanimously passed a resolution finding their 14 Democratic colleagues in contempt. They ordered the Democrats to return to the Senate and threatened them with arrest if they failed to comply.

“Those senate Democrats should realize, if you want to participate in a democracy, you got to be in the arena. And the arena is right here in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s not hiding out in Rockford, Illinois, or Chicago, or anywhere else out there. Democracy means you show up and participate. And they failed to do that. They’re walking out on their job.”
Scott Walker

State Sen. Julie Lassa, who is six months pregnant, said the governor is wrong about her and the others holed up in an Illinois hotel.

“For all of us who left the state, we believe we’re standing up for democracy.”
Then-state Sen. Julie Lassa, who was six months pregnant, said the governor is wrong about her and the others holed up in an Illinois hotel

“We’re doing our job of making sure the people have an opportunity to have their voices heard.”
Then-state Senator Spencer Coggs

Did the tactic work? To recap, from the Washington Examiner:

Wisconsin: 2011

In February 2011, 14  Senate Democrats left the state, at first refusing  to disclose their location, to break quorum on an anti-union bill supported by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. It was later revealed that they were residing in Illinois.

The legislation that they protested, 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, limited the collective bargaining authority of public-sector unions to the negotiation of wages and reduced the take-home pay of public employees in order to guarantee the solvency of the state pension system.

“The plan is to try and slow this down because it’s an extreme piece of legislation that’s tearing this state apart,” said Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the lawmakers who left Wisconsin.

Senate procedures require at least two-thirds of the body to be present for votes on bills that appropriated funds. After three weeks, Republicans removed elements of the bill related to budget appropriations, allowing them to pass it with the legislators on hand.

The next year, organizers forced a recall for Walker, using the bill as a campaign focal point. Walker won the election, making him the only governor in history to survive a recall vote.

Indiana: 2011

Days after Wisconsin legislators left their state, 38 House Democrats fled as well, also taking refuge in Illinois.

Inspired by the Democrats in the Badger State, the Hoosiers attempted to block a right-to-work bill, which prohibited labor organizers from compelling employees to join their unions.

“Republicans have decided to bring their Wisconsin assault to Indiana, and we’re not going to just sit around and take it,” said Rep. Dan Parker, the leader of the Democratic caucus in the Indiana House.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma agreed to remove the controversial bill from the legislative agenda, leading the Democrats to return to the state. The next year, however, Republicans passed a similar right-to-work law without Democrats walking out.

4 thoughts on “FLASHBACK: When 14 WI Senate Democrats fled the state and became fleebaggers

  1. Wait… so I thought Democrats think we’re in a “climate change emergency”. So they’re flying around on a private jet? Do they realize how many greenhouse gases they’re producing? I guess, who needs the stinking TSA looking through our bags – we’ll just go on a private jet! Well, I guess we could have taken a bus, but only poor people do that, we don’t want to mix with the poor people right? I guess the champaign is served after this picture was taken. Oh, and where are their masks? I thought Democrats were all about wearing masks on planes and listening to Dr. Faucci. And… who exactly paid for this private jet trip? Was that person obeying campaign finance laws? Questions journalists should ask… but apparently no journalism existed in this case


    • All great thoughts. The media wasn’t tough at all when this happened in Wisconsin.

      Here’s a few lines from the paper in Austin, TX:

      Part of democracy has to be a willingness to accept political and legislative defeat. Texas Democrats are going to lose some legislative fights while they are in the minority, and they need to be in Texas to make their arguments, take their votes and accept the outcome. That’s the heart of democratic governance. Hitting the road on what amounts to a political fundraising campaign is an abandonment of their duties as lawmakers.


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