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Wisconsin Democrats Say They’re Staying Away

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Wisconsin Democrats Lena Taylor and Chris Larson and Rev. Jesse Jackson

Democratic Wisconsin State Senators Lena Taylor (right) and Chris Larson (left) attended a rally at Operation PUSH with Rev. Jesse Jackson (center) on March 5, 2011. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The political standoff in Wisconsin didn’t appear any closer to ending on Saturday.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has said he’ll issue pink slips to as many as 1,500 state workers if Democratic state senators don’t return to Madison to vote on his controversial budget plan.

Fourteen Wisconsin Senate Democrats fled Wisconsin to Illinois in order to prevent a vote on a plan to strip union workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.

As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, on Saturday, some of those senators hiding out in Illinois said they’re in no mood to back down.

Wisconsin’s 14 Democratic state senators have been staying away from the state capitol for the better part of three weeks and the stalemate in Madison has been causing tempers to flare.

Whether it’s the takedown of a Democratic state representative who tried to make it into the capitol after it had been ordered closed by a judge, or the chant of shame directed at a Republican senator making his way toward the statehouse amid a crowd of pro-union protesters, it’s clear that things have reached a fever pitch in Madison.

Earlier this week, police tackled Wisconsin State Rep. Nick Milroy when he tried to enter the capitol after a judge had ordered the building closed to the public.

Milroy said he was trying to get into his office to get his clothes and that both he and the officer who took him to the ground were acting too aggressively.

In Chicago on Saturday, there was intensity at Operation PUSH Headquarters, where two Wisconsin state senators stopped by as guests of Rev. Jesse Jackson, who likened their stand to one he and other civil rights workers fought against segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace in the 1960s.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mary Frances Bragiel reports

“The right of workers that Dr. King fought for in Memphis, Tennessee; we fight for in Madison, Wisconsin. And so, from Wallace to Walker, the struggle to deny a more perfect Union is on.”

The Democrats fled Wisconsin in order to prevent Senate Republicans in Wisconsin from approving Walker’s plan to strip public employee unions of virtually all collective bargaining rights.

Republicans have enough votes to approve the measure, but not at least one Democrat must be present in order to establish a quorum to vote on such budget matters.

Republicans have voted to find their Democratic colleagues in contempt, a move that means Democrats could be forcibly returned to Madison if they return to Wisconsin.

“We don’t accept them using our state and making it seem as if it’s a police state. They know they cannot arrest us,” Democratic Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor said Saturday. “They know that our constitution affords us the ability to not be arrested except for certain reasons and one is not that I didn’t come to vote for a bill that you want to fast-track and run over the Wisconsin workers.”

But Republicans have said that what the Democrats have done is illegal.

“We’re going to have to prevent this from ever happening again and we will do that in a very direct way as soon as the senators get back,” Republican Wisconsin State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald said.

But most of those who’ve camped inside and outside the Wisconsin capitol rotunda for three weeks have said Democratic senators should stay away until the Republicans back down and reverse their call for new union rules.

The youngest Wisconsin state senator said he’ll stay away until that happens.

“We’d be happy to start working across the aisle with our colleagues but unfortunately, that can’t happen until this siege on public workers, this siege on workers’ rights ends,” Democratic Wisconsin State Sen. Chris Larson said. “And it’s up to them to end this today.”

The latest poll shows that the standoff is taking a toll on Walker’s popularity. A Rasmussen survey of 800 voters shows that only 43% approve of the job he’s doing.

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