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Wis. Dems not deterred by recall threat, pay issue

By Dinesh Ramde

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 23 2011 6:10 p.m. MST

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2011 file photo, Wisconsin Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach is seen outside a downtown Chicago hotel. Erpenbach and fellow Democratic senators fled Wisconsin Thursday to block a vote on a sweeping anti-union bill backed by Republicans and GOP Gov. Scott Walker. The Democrats who fled could stay in hiding for days or even weeks.

.M. Spencer Green, File, Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin state Sen. Chris Larson packed just his toothbrush and one extra shirt when he and 13 fellow Democrats fled the state last week, to avoid near-certain passage of the Republican governor's plan to strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights.

"That tells you, I didn't think it would take this long," Larson said by telephone Tuesday from somewhere in Illinois.

Nearly a week later the stalemate persists at the Capitol in Madison, and the pro-union protests that began there have spread to other states — including Indiana, where labor legislation and other GOP proposals sparked a similar Democratic walkout.

The 14 wayward Wisconsin lawmakers have given no hint about when they might return, even amid recall threats, a Senate rule change that forces them to appear in person if they want to receive their paychecks and the GOP-controlled Legislature returning to work on other business without them.

Gov. Scott Walker has implied that if the Democrats don't come back soon, they'll be responsible for thousands of state workers losing their jobs because Wisconsin won't be able to refinance its debt.

Even as the Assembly prepares to approve Walker's plan this week, the Senate can't take up the measure because it needs at least one of the 14 Democrats for a quorum.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach said Democrats came up with the idea to flee during a strategy meeting last Thursday morning. An hour later they grabbed some clothes and toiletries and headed for Illinois. Erpenbach's uncle took him shopping for extra pants and underwear, but if the impasse continues much longer, "I'll have to grab a roll of quarters and find a Laundromat," he said.

The Democrats on Wednesday emphasized that their time away is no vacation. The say they spend their days hard at work — handling district business through their staffs, monitoring the Capitol protests, talking to the media and answering constituents' e-mails.

Indiana House Democrats have also fled to Illinois for similar reasons. They say they're boycotting until Republicans assure them they won't debate public education and anti-union measures the Democrats oppose.

One Indiana House member on the run found support in an unlikely place — a handwritten note left on his windshield at the Urbana, Ill., hotel where the Democrats are staying.

"My name is Kyle Patterson and I am a future educator," the note to Rep. David Niezgodski said, "People like you are my heroes and I thank you for your dedication to educators and to the everyday working person."

The note included an offer for a free pizza. Niezgodski said he appreciated the offer but would likely decline.

Indiana House Democrats have also fled to Illinois for similar reasons. They say they're boycotting until Republicans assure them they won't debate public education and anti-union measures the Democrats oppose.

One Indiana House member on the run found support in an unlikely place — a handwritten note left on his windshield at the Urbana, Ill., hotel where those Democrats are staying.

"My name is Kyle Patterson and I am a future educator," the note to Rep. David Niezgodski said. "People like you are my heroes and I thank you for your dedication to educators and to the everyday working person."

The note included an offer for a free pizza. Niezgodski said he appreciated the offer but would likely decline.

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