Today– George Washington’s Birthday–we are seeing Wisconsin politics at its worst. A state long known for policy innovation—social security, welfare reform, school vouchers, and much more—is now witnessing a seldom-seen but dreadful abuse of basic democratic practice—the abuse of the legislative quorum call.
Quorum calls have long protected the rights of minorities and for that reason they are fundamental to a functioning democracy. If the leaders of a legislative chamber can quickly and quietly call for a vote to pass an unpopular bill when most members are absent, or when members of the opposition are unavailable, democracies can be turned into tyrannies over night.
But minorities, to protect their own rights, must not abuse a power created for their own protection. When the Democratic Senators in Wisconsin drove to Illinois to avoid the quorum call, and thereby prevent the majority of the Senate from working its will, they initiated a fundamental threat to the core values of American democracy. Now there are rumors that the practice will spread to Indiana and beyond.