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Lawrence L. Pauley: Wisconsin senators absent without leave

Feb. 25, 2011 @ 12:02 AM

Outside the Wisconsin State House citizens protest, while inside the governor and the Republican legislative majority struggle to cope with the state's $3 billion plus debt. Yet, they can do nothing, because 14 Democrat senators are A.W.O.L. Confused?

The issue becomes clearer when it is known that, although the Republicans control the House and have a 19-14 majority in the Senate, the rules of the Senate require the presence of three-fifths of the membership (20 members) as a quorum to do business. By refusing to attend the legislative session, the Democrat members of the Senate prevent a quorum and make it impossible for the Republican majority to take any action. Furthermore, they have fled the state entirely to thwart any efforts to compel their attendance, and have declined to say when they will return. In this way, they hope to compel the Republican majority to submit to the will of the minority.

The state constitution requires each member of the legislature and all officers to take and subscribe an oath or affirmation that they will "faithfully discharge the duties of their respective offices to the best of their ability." Each of the absent members subscribed to that oath and it is clear that each of them have violated it. But, as a practical matter, what can be done?

The rules of the Senate allow the expulsion of a member, but without a quorum, expulsion is impossible. Recall is an option, but that remedy involves a time-consuming petition process and referendum that may stretch into months, and may not be possible at all because legislative action may be required. Thus the state is held hostage indefinitely by 14 truant senators.

Were the elected majority to give in to this blatant blackmail attempt by the minority, it would violate its own oath of office. This intolerable situation is tantamount to a rebellion against the State of Wisconsin.

A somewhat analogous situation arose during the Civil War when Virginia elected to secede from the Union. The people of western Virginia (now West Virginia), pledged loyalty to the Union, proceeded to reorganize the government of Virginia, declared all offices held by persons in rebellion to be forfeited and vacant and filled them with loyal citizens. The government of the United States recognized the propriety and legality of such actions.

In my opinion, by refusing to perform the duties of their offices and by removing themselves from the authority and jurisdiction of the state indefinitely, the senators-in-exile, being in rebellion against the state, have forfeited all right to the offices they have heretofore held. The governor should declare their offices vacant and proceed to fill them by appointment until they may be filled by election.

Lawrence L. Pauley is a resident of Huntington.

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