Stunned Democrats stripped Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker of his leadership position after he abruptly turned on them and voted against new contracts for state workers.
The deals looked all but dead after Decker's about-face late Wednesday night. Senate Democrats planned to reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, but they can't approve the contracts without the Weston Democrat's support.
Democrats and union leaders said Decker never hinted he wasn't with them.
Wisconsin State Employees Union executive director Marty Beil lashed out at Decker, calling him “a whore” for siding with Republicans who opposed the contracts.
“There's no reason for what Decker did here tonight,” Beil said. “No one saw it coming.”
Decker declined to respond. The 20-year Senate veteran lost his re-election bid in November and is out of the Legislature in three weeks anyway. “I have no regrets,” he said.
Interestingly enough, Decker appears to be siding with Wisconsin's Republican governor in this debate over union contracts:
Contract negotiations are usually a quiet affair, but Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker ignited a bitter debate when he demanded last month that the current administration stop negotiations.
He said he wanted state workers to make deeper concessions to help him deal with a projected $150 million deficit in the current fiscal year and a projected $3.3 billion shortfall in the next two-year state budget. He even went so far as to say he might consider abolishing state employee unions.
But Democrats control the Senate and Assembly until Jan. 3, when Republicans seize control of both houses. They pressed on despite Walker's demands.
Last week they released 17 agreements retroactive to July 1, 2009, that cover about 39,000 state workers. The deals include no pay increases and 16 furlough days that Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle ordered state employees to take in the state budget. The contracts also call for 5 percent increases in health care contributions, which would generate about $1 million in savings, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Decker's been mostly silent except to say Doyle should have completed the contracts a long time ago. Another defeated Democrat, Sen. Jeff Plale, D-Milwaukee, also voted against the contracts saying he didn't want to hamsring the incoming Republican-controlled legislature. Maybe there's behind the scenes chicanery that explains their votes, but if these two Democrats did for once vote their consciences and go against the most powerful Democratic spcial interest in the country, that's certainly admirable.