Scott Walker’s Wisconsin In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine
Once again The New York Times is the newspaper to be reading on a Sunday. This week the must read article can be found in the magazine section, and deals with the recall election in Wisconsin.
The protests against Act 10 inspired opposition to similar laws in Michigan and Ohio and marked the first significant push back to the surging Tea Party. Few in Wisconsin are more identified with the grass-roots resistance than Lori Compas, a 41-year-old wedding photographer and mother of two. With no assistance from the state Democratic Party, Compas led an unlikely yet successful drive to recall the Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald, Walker’s most essential and visible ally. Compas lives in Fort Atkinson, a small town 30 miles east of Madison, and has never run for office before. She is now Fitzgerald’s improbable opponent in the coming June recall election.
In early March, I met her for lunch at the Cafe Carpe, a sunny restaurant and folk club that doubles as the town’s informal community center. Compas majored in agricultural journalism in college and moved to Fort Atkinson five years ago with her husband, a geography professor at a small state university nearby. “I had never paid attention to state politics until about a year ago,” she said. “I started paying attention, and I got really upset at what I saw our senator doing.”
For Compas, the pivotal moment came when the collective-bargaining measure was passed. On March 9, 2011, Scott Fitzgerald led a hastily called meeting of the Senate and Assembly leadership. A few days earlier, the Assembly voted on the budget-repair bill that included the collective-bargaining measure, but the Senate had been unable to pass it because of a rule requiring a quorum of 20 members to vote on fiscal measures. At that point, the 14 Senate Democrats were still in hiding in Illinois, leaving the Republicans with just 19 votes. After attempts at persuasion and withholding their paychecks failed to bring the Democrats back, Senate Republicans decided to separate the collective-bargaining measure from the budget bill and vote on it immediately.
During the meeting, a heated argument erupted between Fitzgerald and Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader. “I said I wanted an explanation of what’s in this document, so I can at least know what I’m voting on,” Barca told me. He had been handed a 37-page summary of the bill, not the bill itself. Fitzgerald ignored his request and, five minutes later, called the roll. By a 4-0 vote the committee separated the measure from the budget bill. It was then passed by both houses within hours. “I said, ‘I just want to make you aware that this meeting is a violation of the open meetings law,’ ” Barca said he told Fitzgerald, who called the meeting less than two hours before. (Under Wisconsin law, a government body is generally required to give 24 hours notice to the public before it meets.) The exchange was captured on WisconsinEye, a local version of C-Span, and went viral.
“Barca’s standing there yelling, ‘This is a violation of the law!’ ” Compas said. “I just sat there, and I cried. I’ve never felt so powerless and so frustrated. Regardless of where you stood on this issue, the complete contempt that Fitzgerald was showing for his legislators was unacceptable. That night I think I tweeted: ‘I will recall Scott Fitzgerald if I have to crawl on my hands and knees through the snow to every house in his district.’ ”