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Wisconsin Democrats Demand Action on Proposals They Say Are Needed to Save Middle Class

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Wisconsin state Rep. Gary Hebl (D) admits he is letting his imagination run wild, imagining the possibilities if Democrat Tom Barrett had won the state’s governorship in 2010 instead of Gov. Scott Walker.

Hebl wrote in an op-ed for the Star sayingthat if Barrett had won, it would have resulted in a state government “that came together not to protect the interests of an entrenched majority, but to promote and support the people of Wisconsin – laborers, farmers, teachers, students, business owners, children.”

“I can’t help but play a game of ‘make believe’ where the legislature isn’t calling extraordinary sessions to open the floodgates for corporate campaign donations, but rather is calling extraordinary sessions to address job growth in Wisconsin, or to stem the continued hemorrhage that is Wisconsin’s brain drain dilemma, or to deal with our current unsustainable road funding formula,” he added.

Hebl is doing more than just pining for what might have been. Dem legislators have decided to take their goals of 2010 and transfer them to 2016.

Arguing what is good for the GOP is good for the Democrats, Hebl and his colleagues on the minority side of the legislative aisle are demanding an “extraordinary session” to consider proposals they believe are needed to save Wisconsin’s middle class. Or at the very least, they want to spare the state from what they see as the ravages of Republican thought.

An extraordinary session in Wisconsin, according to the state’s Legislative Reference Bureau’s Glossary, is “the convening of the Legislature to accomplish specific business identified in the action calling the session. Extraordinary sessions can be called by the Assembly and Senate Committees on Organization, by petition, or by joint resolution of the Legislature.”

That doesn’t seem particularly incendiary, and it is not. But here’s the spark that lit the candle of dissatisfaction for the minority Democrats: extraordinary sessions speed up the legislative process by limiting the time for debate, and not allowing motions to postpone or table proposals.

Democrats like Hebl complain that what’s defined as “extraordinary” has almost become “ordinary” in Wisconsin. They point out the GOP repeatedly called for extraordinary legislative sessions in 2015. Their purpose was to win approval for Gov. Walker’s pet projects like the rewriting of campaign finance legislation and replacing the state’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board with separate, partisan ethics and elections boards.

Democrats argue they have a much more selfless, albeit liberal, agenda.

“The bills we put forward would invest in small businesses, and create family-supporting jobs, increase the state minimum wage, expand rural broadband access and fully restore the earned income tax credit for low-income working families, and emphasize keeping jobs here, rather than shipping them overseas,” Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D) told WKOW.

Also, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D) said his party’s proposals are more important to their constituents than the politically focused agenda of the GOP.

“There’s just absolutely no urgency on the part of the Republicans on a situation that is really a very dire and serious one,” said Barca.

But as much as Democrats say they want a debate and vote, everyone knows it’s up to the majority party — the GOP — to decide if and when an extraordinary legislative session is held before lawmakers return to Madison on Jan. 12.

Forecasting what the Republicans will or will not do on the Democrats’ request, along with the GOP side of this debate, takes a single sentence rather than many paragraphs. Their silence speaks volumes.

So far, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) has declined to comment on whether he would call for an extraordinary session. He certainly hasn’t helped the minority party move any of their ideas forward. None of the Democrats’ proposals have even reached the committee stage or had a hearing.

As a result, Democrats are left with the opportunity to tour Wisconsin pushing their proposals’ particulars and their party’s platitudes, railing against Republican rule, without ever actually putting any of it to the test of legislative scrutiny.

Be that as it may, Hebl’s overarching goal goes beyond specific legislative goals like accepting Medicaid dollars under Obamacare and setting up a sustainable road funding plan to fill potholes, along with a fully funded University of Wisconsin and public education system.

Hebl’s Christmas dream is to create a new kind of “Wisconsin Wonderland.”

“A world where the legislature comes together in a bipartisan manner to protect and secure jobs from iconic Wisconsin institutions like Oscar Mayer, SC Johnson, and Joy Global, rather than ignoring the best interests of Wisconsin workers and instead calling a special session to secure the jobs of members of the current Republican majority,” Hebl wrote.

“I won’t give up on a Wisconsin Legislature that puts our communities ahead of our own interests.”