One of the sillier claims made over the contretemps in Madison - and its a robust competition - was made by George Lakoff. We should, he writes, call the fugitive Senators "the Lincoln legislators" and claims that are actually fulfilling our state's constitutional design. Quorum requirements, he asserts, were designed for just this purpose. The whole point, he says, is to allow a minority to paralyze a legislative body when it is about to do some thing they think his bad. This frustration of the will of a democratically elected body is an "essential part of democracy."
Really. I did not make that up. I am just not that imaginative.
Lakoff invokes a story claiming that Abraham Lincoln, as an Illinois legislator, jumped out of a window to destroy a quorum. Perhaps he did. But that doesn't make it right.
As a matter of Wisconsin's constitutional design, the argument that our framers intended quorum requirements to be used as a device to prevent a majority from acting is not only flat out wrong, it is frivolous. It requires one to ignore the language of the very constitutional provision creating the general requirement of a quorum. It states that, if a quorum is not present, those lesser numbers of legislators who are present to compel the attendance of those who are absent. If the framers of the Wisconsin Constitution had attended quorum requirements to be a device for frustrating the will of a legislative majority, they would not have given the body the power to compel attendance.
Rather than permitting a rump of a legislative body to prevent the enactment of law by the body as a whole by deliberating staying away, they were intended to prevent a rump from enacting law without permitting the participation of those who are absent. Lincoln may have been a great man, but not everything a great man does is great.
Lakoff is, of course, known for advancing a well known trope of progressives. The idea is that Democrats lose elections because Republicans are so much better at framing the issues in ways that are perverse and false and confusing. Whatever the merits of that claim, he has certainly shown how it's done.*
* I am one of the lawyers for the plaintiff in Barthel v. Holperin, litigation filed today in the Circuit Court for Oconto County seeking to compel one of the missing legislators to return. Any work I have done or will do in the case is being done pro bono.