Report: Senator Carpenter flipped position on mining bill; caused bill to fail

Report: Senator Carpenter flipped position on mining bill; caused bill to fail

By John Mercure and Matt Montgomery. CREATED Mar 7, 2012

MADISON- According to sources, Republicans and labor unions expected the mining bill set for northern Wisconsin to pass Tuesday, but state Sen. Tim Carpenter changed his vote at the last second.

As a result of the bill failing 17-16, Gogebic Taconite's president says the Wisconsin Senate's rejection of mining reforms sends a clear message and that they will put out of Wisconsin.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald joined Charlie Sykes on Wednesday to talk about his disappointment surrounding the bill's failure.  "There was some real indications that one of these Democrats was going to vote with us and move this bill forward."  The company involved in the case has now pulled out.

John Mercure of Wisconsin's Afternoon News has an inside scoop on the story.  John said multiple sources told him that there were intense negotiations between the mining company, Democrats and Republicans went on during this legislation.

According to John, here is the inside scoop on what happened.  He spoke to multiple sources that said there were very close negotiations between the mining company, Republicans and Democrats trying to make this happen bill happen.

Earlier this week several Senate Democrats, including Milwaukeeans state Sen. Spencer Coggs and Tim Carpenter, indicated they were considering vote for the mining measure.  Senator Carpenter even spoke to one of John's sources about how his dad worked for 35 years at Falk, a company that makes mining machinery.  John heard that Carpenter felt an almost a hereditary obligation to vote for the mine

On Monday night five labor unions and Gogebic Taconite's thought they saw an opening.  According to sources, Senator Carpenter was indicating that he might be willing to vote for the mine and its thousands of jobs.  But Carpenter apparently voiced concern about how a mine up near Lake Superior would benefit his constituents in Milwaukee.  Carpenter, John's told, expressed an interest in having a fully funded mining and manufacturing program developed in inner city Milwaukee -- specifically he wanted the program to train high school students in his district for future mining and manufacturing jobs.  And Carpenter was apparently insistent that the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce administer the program.  Why the Hispanic chamber?  It turns out that Senator Carpenter's Senate District has the largest population of Hispanics of any of the state's 33 Senate districts.  

So the training initiative was inserted into the bill.  And sources say that in exchange for the initiative, Carpenter committed to voting for the bill.  The unions are happy, Republicans are relieved, and fellow Democratic Senators don't yet know anything about his decision, as of Monday night.

On Tuesday, Republican Senate leadership decided to call the vote, believing they have the numbers for passage.  Then in the afternoon, the Democrats caucus, John was told by an inside source, they felt good about the fact that they had all their members and Republican Dale Schultz set to vote against the bill.  They believed defeat of the governor's mining bill was at hand.  At that point, Carpenter spoke up and indicated he might bolt, and vote for the measure.  As you can imagine, chaos emerged.

About 5 p.m the vote was called.  Nervously, Democrats and Republicans filed into the chamber.  Both sides though they had the votes to win.  Both sides were also very nervous.  State Sen. Tim Carpenter is the first one in the roll call.  All eyes were on him as the roll was called.  Almost immediately there was confusion.  John reports there was a murmur and he looked confused.  Senate President Mike Ellis asked Carpenter if that was how he intended to vote and he abruptly changed his vote and cast the vote that would ultimately defeat the measure.

Republicans were stunned.  The labor unions that had negotiated the Milwaukee based training deal were angry -- and confused.  One union guy John spoke with Wednesday said he feels that Carpenter betrayed them.  95% of the thousands of jobs created would have been family supporting union jobs.

John asked his source what the chances are that the company would reconsider their decision to abandon Wisconsin.  According to the source, "We have danced and danced with Wisconsin politicians.  We don't like to dance and we are now done dancing in Wisconsin.  Forever."

John called Sen. Carpenter, but no response.

The mining company has declined further comment besides their statement.