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“Until We Throw This Bill Out, We Can’t Come Back:” Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson Remains in Illinois

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Wisconsin senate Democrats have stalled the anti-union bill by fleeing the state, thereby denying Republicans quorum for a vote. On Thursday, Wisconsin police were deployed to retrieve the absent Senate Democrats at their homes without success. We speak to Democratic State Senator Chris Larson, who has fled to Illinois. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s John McCutcheon, John McCutcheon last night at the Orpheum Theatre here in Madison, Wisconsin. He was celebrating 35 years of WORT community radio, also dedicated that song to Clarence Kailin, who has been an icon here for decades. We interviewed him on Democracy Now!, died recently in his nineties. He was one of thousands of Americans who went to Spain during the civil war there in the 1930s before World War II to take on Franco and to fight fascism. He was in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Well, this is Democracy Now!, and we’re broadcasting from the State Capitol in Wisconsin. Juan Gonzalez is in New York. And on the line with us is a man who would usually be right here in this building. He is Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson. But he’s not; he’s in Illinois, along with the 13 other Democrats who make up the State Senate, the Democratic senators in the Wisconsin State Senate.

Senator Larson, explain why you’re still in Illinois. And your reaction to this surprise overnight vote that was taken in the Assembly in favor of Governor Walker’s budget bill?

SEN. CHRIS LARSON: Well, Amy, thank you very much for having me on.

The main reason — those things kind of join together. The reason why we’re still here in Illinois is because of what happened early this morning, which is, this was —- this bill, this backward budget bill that serves as a Trojan horse to destroy workers’ rights, to cripple Medicaid, Medicare and BadgerCare, as well as create political appointments and do no-bid contracting, because that was rammed through, with very little response -—

AMY GOODMAN: I think we just lost the state senator, Chris Larson. So we’re going to turn right away now to our next guest []

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go back right now to the Wisconsin state senator, Chris Larson. I think we are going to try to keep him on the line. He is in Illinois, not here in the Capitol, where he usually would be.

State Senator Larson, why don’t you continue with what you were saying about what you are demanding happen and your reaction to the vote taking place in the Assembly, why you were saying that that’s precisely why you’re not coming back with the other 13 Democrats to the State Senate?

SEN. CHRIS LARSON: Right, thank you. Yeah, this bill is something that was put together not by lawmakers in Wisconsin, but by corporate influencers who wanted to do a fast push to take away a lot of power in Wisconsin and give it to a governor who is answering calls for billionaires instead of the regular people and hearing the calls of tens of thousands of people who have been speaking out at the Capitol, you know, out in the Rotunda, out on the streets, as well as over a hundred hours of public testimony about how this bill will affect their lives.

It was introduced under the guise of a budget repair bill, but there’s parts of it that actually increase the deficit and will cost us federal funds. It was pushed by Club for Growth, with ads, well before any lawmaker, anybody in the public, had ever even seen it. So this bill does a lot to reverse the Wisconsin tradition of having workers’ rights, of the things that we have founded here, and it tries to set us back.

So that’s why we’re standing where we are. When we saw how fast this was moving and how it was being pushed as if a foregone conclusion, we had to step away, as it’s been put, as a filibuster with feet, in order to slow this process down and grind it to a halt. And in that time, in this last eight days, the public has had an opportunity to read it and see what’s actually in this bill. And I know I mentioned some of those things: the no-bid contracts, the giveaway of Medicaid, Medicare and SeniorCare, and obviously the loss of worker rights that have been fought and died for for the last 50 years. So this is really probably the worst bill to come in Wisconsin, based off the public testimony, based off of the influence that it’s had behind it, and it’s got to be stopped. And that’s why we stand where we are.

We saw what happened in the Assembly late last night, where they tried to jam this through without people knowing what was going on. And it’s just unacceptable. I know John said that it was a party-line vote, and it largely was, but there was four brave Republicans who decided to stand up and vote against it, who listened to the voices of their constituents, who — in about 62 percent of them are saying this is unacceptable. And they said this was — they voted down. And so, we’re hoping the same thing happens in the Senate with Republicans, and we’re able to dispose of this bill completely and move on as a state.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Senator Larson, this is Juan Gonzalez in New York. I wanted to ask you, how long are you prepared to stay out of the state, and how do you respond to those critics who say that you are basically shirking your responsibility to be in the Capitol and passing legislation?

SEN. CHRIS LARSON: Right. Well, when we originally left, I took a toothbrush and an extra shirt, so it kind of showed how long I was expecting to stay away. Obviously it’s been longer than that. We bought some clothes, and we’re good here for a little while.

But until we have a real conversation — Walker really threw the negotiating table out the table when he introduced this bill and said, “There is no negotiation. This is going to be how it is.” And I think that really, you know, soured the tone with the public, and that’s why so many people immediately took to the streets on this. That’s not how we do things. As John said, democracy isn’t something that happens for 13 hours one day every two years on Election Day. It happens all the time. There’s room for public input. And not even being able to have a conversation is just unacceptable. You know, if you watch the 60 hours of riveting debate, it wasn’t so much a debate as it was one side chiding the other and trying to bring attention to some of these provisions, with little to no response by the other side. So until we’re able to engage in a real debate, until we’re able to throw this bill out and actually move forward with a budget repair bill and move forward with the real business of Wisconsin, we can’t come back.

And for those who chide us for being gone right now, you know, we were elected independently. And Wisconsin has a strong tradition of independence. We were elected independently by our constituents to stand up for them. And that’s exactly what we’re doing on this bill. It doesn’t matter where our feet are, we’re standing up for our constituents.

AMY GOODMAN: Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Again, he is in Illinois with the other Democratic state senators. There are 14 of them. Their pictures are all over the State Capitol. They’re being hailed here, the Wisconsin 14.

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