Battles over employee bargaining rights escalate

Two weeks after union supporters first stormed the Wisconsin statehouse to protest Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to cut public-employee union members' collective-bargaining rights, activists on both sides are upping the ante.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate launched a website on Wednesday seeking to recall at least three pro-Walker Republican state senators whom he calls "vulnerable … for their radical, partisan overreach." The move, if successful, would overturn GOP control of the Senate.

Republicans are playing a similar game. State Senate Republicans voted on Wednesday to impose $100-a-day fines on Democratic senators who have fled the state in a standoff against Walker's rejection of a compromise, Reuters reported.

It's the latest news in a series of ever-escalating actions and reactions following Walker's proposal to cut union benefits and collective-bargaining rights as a way to help shore up the state's projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall. And Wisconsin, it seems, is just the beginning.

Responding to the union-rights fury raging across the country, tea party powerhouse FreedomWorks-a group led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas,-dispatched on Wednesday its first flock of paid ground activists to Harrisburg, Pa., as part of a multi-state, grassroots counter-protest. State coordinator Brendan Steinhauser, who will travel to Wisconsin and Indiana, said the focus is just as much on the messengers as the message.

"Obviously we want to push through a limited government agenda in every state we can," Steinhauser said. "But there's also the part of us that says to fight back in the media war against the union guys, because we have video of them smashing cameras, littering the sidewalks, pushing girls around; just a lot of bad behavior. We don't want these guys to be the only voices out there."

It's a strategy that can be traced to many a tea party organization recently. Early Monday morning, Tea Party Express Chair Amy Kremer sent an e-mail warning supporters of the "dramatic upturn in incidents of violence against peaceful tea party activists by angry union mobs," listing a series of citations and reports in which tea partiers have been assaulted or threatened.

"I'm so upset," Kremer continued-and she's not the only one. Nationally and locally, groups from both the left and right are taking the opportunity to publicize-and capitalize-their alleged martyrdom.

Following Kremer's e-mail (which concluded by requesting a contribution to the cause), Tea Party Express's sister organization, The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, wrapped up its first round of ad-selling for a radio and TV blitz in support of Walker, and-more overtly-in contempt of the tens of thousands of pro-union protesters.

On the left, a similar game plan has been taking shape. In a letter to his supporters on Wednesday, Tate appealed for $60 donations to bolster his recall effort and "end the ugly games Republicans in the legislature have played in the last few days-unplugging phone lines, bolting windows inside the Capitol shut, and withholding the paychecks of Democratic legislators."

Finger pointing aside, Steinhauser said, all the brouhaha "isn't just about reacting and fighting back, but about what we do on offense as well. If there are any wobbly legislators, we have to give them some backbone if necessary."

According to Steinhauser, Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee should expect to see similar battles.

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