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Runaway Wisconsin Democrats Cheered By Protesters

Republicans in Wisconsin's Senate asked the governor on Friday to send state troopers after the leader of 14 Democrats who vanished to stall GOP efforts to strip some public workers of their collective bargaining rights.

The runaway lawmakers fled Thursday — to the delight of tens of thousands of protesters who have descended on the state Capitol — ahead of a Senate vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to end collective bargaining for state, county and local workers. The plan exempts police, firefighters and the State Patrol. Democrats were keeping their whereabouts secret but later emerged to give interviews.

In San Diego, meanwhile, a rally is scheduled at 4:30 p.m. today at the San Diego Labor Council to show support for union workers in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who was among those who fled, said Friday that the group was prepared to be away for weeks, although he would like the standoff to end as soon as possible.

"That really, truly is up to the governor," he told The Associated Press in an interview Friday at a downtown Chicago hotel. "It's his responsibility to bring the state together. The state is not unified."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he asked Walker to send two state troopers to Democratic leader Mark Miller's home in the town of Monona. Fitzgerald said he just wanted to send a message to Miller that he must bring his caucus back to Madison.

Miller, reached by cell phone, said he wasn't worried. "I'm not there," he said.

Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Ted Blazel said troopers knocked on Miller's door and rang his doorbell, but no one answered.

In a sign that the commotion might be causing other problems for the governor, he pushed back releasing his two-year budget plan by one week to March 1.

Walker will still deliver a speech to lawmakers about the budget as planned on Tuesday, but won't release his actual bill until the following week. A spokesman did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The governor insists the concessions he is seeking from public workers — including higher health insurance and pension contributions — are necessary to deal with the state's projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall and to avoid layoffs.

Republican leaders said they expected Wisconsin residents would be pleased with the savings the bill would achieve — $30 million by July 1 and $300 million over the next two years.

The proposal marks a dramatic shift for Wisconsin, which passed a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and was the birthplace of the national union representing all nonfederal public employees.

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