I just happened to be near the floor of the Wisconsin State Assembly one afternoon in the early 1990’s when Green Bay Representative Mary Lou Van Dreel stood to ask for recognition from the Speaker. There is a tradition when constituents are seated in the gallery for them to be introduced by their representative.
Looking up into the gallery Van Dreel loudly and warmly introduced ‘Harry Butz” to the chambers. A burst of laughter went up from the legislators, and though I did not see Van Dreel’s face, I am sure in a moment she was smiling too at the prank that had been played on her.
Those were the days when civility and good-natured antics were the rule, and over-the-top bombast was infrequent. Back then tempers did flare, and tough words landed on members of the other side of the aisle, but there were boundaries which for good reason were not crossed.
Today the opposite is the case as evidenced by the moronic outbursts in the State Assembly on Thursday when the mining bill was debated on the floor.
While the bill was contentious, and one that I would argue does not have solid environmental protections, the outbursts and foul language used by protesters in the gallery to make their point was totally out-of-bounds. The wholy inappropriate cursing at Republicans, draping of a banner, and the pounding on assembly doors made the whole lot of them more buffoons than serious-minded citizens.
Something very unhealthy to democracy has been unleashed at the Capitol over the past year, and unless it is reined in it only has the potential to become more unwieldy and perhaps even dangerous. What we are witnessing has nothing to do with free speech, but instead is just boorish behavior that makes everyone look bad.
It is not just the protestors who are to blame, but also legislators who really must conduct themselves in a fashion that underscores the responsibilities they shoulder.
While I am very opposed to Governor Scott Walker and his position on collective bargaining I am also very troubled with the antics of Representative Mark Pocan. The Madison Democrat put a large anti-Walker banner in his office window at the Statehouse to make a political statement. There is no way that is acceptable, unless some very tight rules were modified since I worked in the assembly. I strongly suspect they were not, and this is but one more example of bad form in highly-charged times.
There is a time for frothy debate and hard-nosed political campaigning. But far more often under the dome there should be level-headed civility and unity when serving in what is a most impressive building, and (in theory) a most distinguished legislative body.
Maybe someone needs to introduce ‘Mr. Ben Dover’ in the gallery, and come to understand that the way things are going in Wisconsin is not good for anyone from either party.