Wisconsin Upside Down

What has happened to Wisconsin?

Like many others in Madison I spent a part of Tuesday at the Wisconsin State Capitol.  The weather was fantastic, the sun made the statehouse  stand out against the blue sky, and the new trees which have been planted on the lawn looked healthy.  All seemed perfect.

It was not.  Far from it.

Inside the Capitol an “Extraordinary Session ” had been called to pass a state budget.  Outside thousands gathered to protest Governor Walker and the Republicans concerning the collective bargaining law.  The State Supreme Court sent down a major ruling before the end of the day allowing the union law to take effect, and as newsworthy as the decision itself were the Chief Justice’s blistering words for the majority.  To top the day off  it was announced that six Republicans are running as Democrats to force a primary election on July 12 in the recall elections.

What has happened to Wisconsin?  Our political process?  To our shared sense of being Wisconsinites?

After today I can hardly believe there are any Republicans or Democrats that can say this is how we want to be remembered for having conducted our political affairs. Win or lose, this is not a day to be proud of.  I am also certain that the average citizen is not amused or pleased with the relentless rhetoric and high-stakes power plays that have come to dominate the public arena.

Not so long ago there was a time when differences between the political parties under the dome did not mean all out rancor and meanness.

Before going to the Capitol I encountered a friend who once worked as an aide for a state representative.  I asked about his views on some issues, and if he ever thought about working at the statehouse again.  He quickly said no, and added “Things are just so mean now.”

There was a time when staffers at the end of the day, regardless of party or political differences, gathered here and there around the Capitol for a drink and perhaps a game of darts.  I now hear reports of staffers being unable to say hello to each other in the hallways under the dome since the rancor and partisanship has settled in so deeply.

As I stood in the sunshine Tuesday and looked up at the Capitol, that grand building where powerful ideas are to be sorted out in order to move our state forward, I wondered how things could have changed so much.    Walking on the sidewalk I saw a man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “F… Scott Walker”.  A car driven by someone who wanted to make a point blared the radio with a shouting right-wing talk show host.   No one could be pleased with any of this!

I love a frothy debate as much as the next guy in this state.  I like the tug and pull of ideas.  Spirited campaigning is fun too.  Throughout our nation’s history we have always had intensity in our political affairs.  That is a good thing for democracy.

Yet in Wisconsin something has happened in the recent past that leaves those of us who have followed politics here feeling uncomfortable and uneasy with where the road lies.  The shared sense of purpose at finding the way forward seems to have become lost by both sides due to hyper-partisanship and gutter-ball politics.

We have now come to a place where there are nine recall elections slated for this summer!  If that does not speak to the level of anger that has developed I do not know what would.

I certainly feel the anger about the way the collective bargaining issue was handled, and have scored my political punches in the past months on this blog.  As such, I take my share of the blame for the problem of which I write today. 

I think the recalls are needed in light of not only what happened, but more importantly how it happened.  The political process should not be discarded as we witnessed this year.  Having said that, however, I am not completely at ease with recalls for policy disputes.   My old-fashioned sense tells me regular elections are the best remedy for these matters.   Somehow I wish elder statesmen on both sides of the aisle could have used reason to tame the electorate away from jumping off the cliff with the recalls.

At the end of the day there must be a level of civility maintained in the political process or the worst will play out and claim the day.  I fear that we are perhaps too far down the road of anger and resentment for things to change anytime soon.

Something tells me we have been sucked into this mess and will have to ride it out.  Not even a sunny day on the Capitol Square can save us now.

Wisconsin Republicans Call “Extraordinary Session” To Pass State Budget, Political Process Undermined

Something is about to unfold at the Wisconsin State Capitol that is…well…extraordinary.  The Republicans are calling for an “Extraordinary Session” to pass the state budget!  The “Extraordinary Session” is scheduled to start 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 14th.

Never in the years that I worked in the State Assembly did the leaders in charge ever need to implement an “Extraordinary Session” for the state budget process.  Then again, there was never a budget so reviled, or the political atmosphere so ablaze with bad feelings as to think an “Extraordinary Session” might somehow be a ‘good’ political idea.

The fact that the Assembly Organization Committee turned to the “Extraordinary Session”  is a statement in and of itself.  Most are aware that the budget process in an average session is messy and brutal.  So to add a hyper-partisan element in the form of the “Extraordinary Session” only adds to the chaos and disbelief that has settled across the political landscape of the state.

There are many, I know, that wonder what the big deal is about the “Extraordinary Session”.  ‘Let’s get the budget passed’ will be the refrain from many, no matter how it must be maneuvered thought the statehouse.

Wrong.

The process of government matters.  Regardless of being a liberal or conservative there can only be one set of rules that allows for a fair, above the belt type of process that allows at the end of the day all to say, win or lose, that the game was played honestly.

An “Extraordinary Session” will not allow for a fair process to take place.

All the rules from past budgets when battled on the Assembly and Senate floor are now thrown out the door.  The Fitzgerald Brothers who run the Assembly and Senate can, with an “Extraordinary Session”,  pass matters between the houses in rapid-fire fashion without the time and involvement of the opposition.  Limited debate, limited number of amendments, and limited time for the public…the voters…to understand what is happening.  That is not how the process is supposed to work.

Why are the Wisconsin Republicans under the dome acting this way?

If the ideas from Governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the statehouse are so remarkable then there should be no reason to speed the process up into a blur, or limit the opposition from having time to speak and offer amendments.  If Walker and his legislative brethren are so sure of the policy goals they have advanced then there should be no fear of letting light shine this week on the Assembly and Senate floor.

The only reason that the “Extraordinary Session”  has been put in place is that the light that has been exposed on the budget bill thus far makes the public angry and queasy.   The Fitzgerald Brothers know that more light might trigger a stronger reaction. 

But that too is part of the process of democracy. 

That the anger of the voters unsettles Republican officials is just too bad.  Are the Fitzgerald Brothers thinking the public will feel better having the process short-changed with the “Extraordinary Session”?  Do they think that will quell the anger?  I think not!

Who knew there were so many tone-deaf members in the Republican caucus?

Wisconsin State Capitol Security Needs To Be Scaled Back

When elected members of the Wisconsin State Legislature resort to this amount of excessive security they might need to take a group retreat and ponder if they are indeed doing the people’s business?

I do not recall security at the Wisconsin State Capitol being as excessive following the events of 9/11, as it has been since Governor Walker proposed curtailing collective bargaining earlier this year.  I was not sure if I should be angry or sad on Saturday while watching the grim-faced officers at one of the two open entrances.  

Regardless of how I felt it was clear that there was a dramatic flair being put forth to somehow continue to insinuate that labor ‘thugs’ had bad intentions, and only the ever-vigilant law officers could protect the building and all inside.  There clearly is a desire to convey a political message with the use of these officers that far exceeds the actual results of their work. 

One needs to ask how much political theater is enough at a time when budget shortfalls make almost every issue of the newspaper.  How much more do taxpayers need to spend in order for Governor Walker’s administration to feel that they have made their point? 

We all get it.  Republicans think labor unions are comprised of violent people who are out to create mayhem.  The lack of any such violence, however, underscores the reason the over-reach by the Wisconsin Department of Administration needs to be stopped.  

Even when tens-of-thousands gathered at the Capitol there was nothing more serious than full-throated expressions of outrage.  All the protesting that took place was peaceful.   It was only when attempts were made to curtail entrances that some pushed and became unruly.

As I watched my fellow citizens enter the statehouse Saturday, all who looked as lethal as I do, I wondered how law enforcement would handle the children who entered the building.  Could they do their work and not smile at the absurdity of making a kid feel like they were just shy of a police lineup? 

What were the officers thinking the 8-year-old looking African-American girl was bringing into the statehouse?  Radioactive M&M’s?  Is that why they not only had her walk through a metal detector, but then pulled her aside to be wanded?  Following her standing with arms outstretched she was then allowed to walk into her Capitol.   Are they sure she should not be followed and monitored as she laid on her back to look up at the dome in the center of the building?

What I saw again on Saturday offends me!

Over and over the parade took place as scores of taxpayers went through the charade just in order to make entrance to their statehouse.  I realize this has been happening every day for many weeks, but to again see this up close makes me wonder how anyone thinks this is logical.  More importantly, who will fight to bring this to an end?

At the north entrance many years ago was the office I temporarily worked in while our wing of the Capitol was undergoing remodeling.  People came in and out, the halls were alive with lobbyists, school groups, and fellow staffers.  There was accessibility and freedom of movement.   Now there is a law enforcement set-up that makes me wonder just what type of nefarious plot is hoping to be caught.    As I stood there Saturday I pondered the changes that have taken place and wondered how far can we slip into this wave of needless hysteria.

That this is being done for political reasons, as opposed to sound security purposes, should alarm and anger us.  If there is something to be frightened over, this hyped-up security for political purposes would be it!

If 100,000 Citizens Gather At Statehouse In 32 Degree Weather, What Happens With Spring Protest On May 14th With 60 Degrees?

Let the pressure be applied!

Scott Walker and his allies continue to show that they will stop at nothing to strip workers of their voice on the job.

With their first flawed pass at union bashing tied up in the courts, Walker’s cronies now say they will incorporate the bill stripping workers of their rights into the state budget, which is flying through the legislature despite unprecedented protest against its controversial nature.

On Saturday, May 14, join us in Madison for a rally at the State Capitol. We’ll deliver our message louder than ever: Wisconsin will not stand for Scott Walker’s attack on Wisconsin’s working families. Music will begin at 2:30 p.m. with speakers at 3:00 p.m.

On Eve Of Spring Election Madison Honors Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson Pays Tribute With Call To Vote

There was no way not to feel the tug of history Monday night at the Wisconsin State Capitol.  The broad sweep of history was on display and acted as a backdrop to the political events that are unfolding in the state.  

A large crowd had gathered while gray clouds passed overhead spitting some ice pellets.  In spite of the weather it was clear that those assembled  were in a reflective mood.  While collective bargaining rights and hopes for the spring election on Tuesday were very much a topic of discussion, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the dreams not yet realized had also settled over the crowd.

There was no way not to feel the religious spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the opening music allowed for a spiritual quality to the evening.  More than one person must have experienced goose bumps as the bagpipes played and the crowd sang “Amazing Grace.”  There are times when ‘the moment’ just moves a crowd, and I think that was the case at the Capitol.  I noticed some wet eyes at times in the crowd around me.

The backdrop to the event was the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The murder of King took place in Memphis on April 4, 1968.  On the balcony of the  Lorraine Hotel that night was Jesse Jackson.  At the same hour King was killed 43 years ago Jackson stood before those assembled  in Madison and solemnly, but earnestly spoke from the heart.  

“Dr. King is alive because he lives in us,” Jackson told the crowd.

King had been in Memphis to stand with the sanitation workers, and so it was touching to have Jackson bring out two of those workers from 1968, and have them stand alongside him. 

The rich background of history weaved an amazing tapestry on the steps of the Capitol.  I have never seen anything quite like that before at the Statehouse.  The past rose up and spoke to the fight we still need to undertake to complete the vision that King laid out for this nation.

I have watched and heard Jackson many, many times since 1988, but this was the most meaningful.  There was no way to look at Jackson and not see the mental images of the news stories from Memphis.  There was no way to hear Jackson call for a better nation, the need for all citizens to exercise their right to vote,  and the need for racial barriers to be lowered and not hear the voice of King.

This was a special night in Madison.  One I hope that deepens our commitment to the shared values of making this city a better place to live, and our state a more fair place for all our workers.

Pictures From Another Huge Protest Rally That Rocked Wisconsin State Capitol

If it is Saturday, it must be protest time at the Wisconsin State Capitol.

In spite of a brisk spring wind blowing across the Madison isthmus a massive and highly energized crowd that totaled over 85,000 demonstrated against Governor Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans. 

 Those rallying were sending two messages that were clear and specific.

First, a high degree of anger over the end to collective bargaining in the state along with the strong disapproval over the proposed drastic budget cuts.  The second message was the commitment to recalling eight Republican State Senators.

Anyone walking on the Square knew there was as much disgust in the air over the political machinations that have taken place these past weeks as there was determination to stop it from continuing.

Something is sweeping Wisconsin, and it is more than mere partisan politics.  It is a statement that in Wisconsin we have values that should not be tampered with, tread on, or discarded.

When someone tries as Walker and the Senate Republicans have done, the crowd was saying, there will be a reaction.

The reaction came today in the form of protest rally. 

Coming down the road it will present itself in the form of a recall election.

As I walked and talked I was struck again, as I have during previous rallies, that it was as if sections of people from Wausau, Green Bay, Wild Rose, Ashland, or any other place were picked up and set down at the Capitol.  The folks were Badger State through and through, and energized to make a difference about the future.

This is not an electorate that is about to forget what needs to be done once they return home.

 

 

Preston came to the rally today to send a clear message to Governor Walker.  (One that CP has stated over and over.)

Even President Reagan came to Madison today to send a message…

Wisconsin Politics Could Not Have Been Created By Famed Author

Pulitzer Prize winning author Allen Drury of “Advise and Consent” fame could not have written the events that played out in the Wisconsin State Capitol during the past four weeks. Even as good a writer and creator of political fiction as Drury was, the events in Madison were beyond being created out of thin air.

I truly realized this on Wednesday.  That is the day I got a haircut.

As is always the case the woman cutting my hair engaged me in conversation about the latest news.  On top of the agenda was the collective bargaining story that was taking place at the Capitol.

The woman is a perfect barometer when it comes to gauging what the rank-and-file voter is thinking.  While she keeps up to date on the news she is not overly political, and is usually more interested in plans with her husband than the average legislative debates.  As such, she is much like most of Wisconsin’s citizens.

But she had been following the collective bargaining controversy that commanded national attention.  What she had seen and heard from Governor Walker had not impressed her.  The prank phone call was a most important moment, she thought, as it made more people pay attention to the debate, and better understand the motives driving Walker.

When she asked me what the next developments would be I gave her the stock answer I have used for three weeks.  I told her that if she were to take a blank sheet of paper and write down the craziest scenarios they would pale in comparison to what actually would take place.

Damned if I was not right.

We are now all aware of the most bizarre series of events which started playing out in the Capitol late Wednesday and culminated, at least legislatively, on Thursday afternoon.   

What no one knows for sure is where we all go from here.

Clearly the workers of this state are not going to sit down and accept being assaulted.  I suspect that a  series of strikes and work stoppages will begin, and be planned in such a way as to maximize their effects.  The harsh impact  of no collective bargaining has to be made obvious to the entire state.

On top of this will be multiple recall races that will drive emotions and money across the state.  The level of rancor will only grow as the signatures are gathered, and as I predict recalls become reality.

I strongly sense a  growing unease and meanness which has been building over the past week, and I fear is about to become a real problem.  On both sides.

What troubles me is everything we have witnessed did not have to be this way. All that we have endured was done by Governor Walker for political purposes.   As a result that makes the possible future events even harder to think about.

But what I fear is that the angrier elements will needlessly ramp up to make points in ways that undermine the larger message from whichever side they come from.

I saw the rallies and energy in Madison these past weeks as a way to funnel anger into the constructive end of changing minds in the Capitol, and impacting the legislation.  Now that the very process was up-ended to favor the Republicans, the ones who wanted to end collective bargaining in the first place, will only increase the anger among some who are not sure how to proceed.

How this all translates in the weeks to come will be on the minds of many.

Allen Drury would have had a series of note cards with the scenario for his story laid out well before he started his first chapter.  He would have known how it all ended.  As we know in his Advise and Consent series everything did not always end on a happy note.

It looks like Wisconsin is in a similar place.

As The Wisconsin State Assembly Voted On Collective Bargaining….

I was determined, come whatever, that I would stand inside the Wisconsin State Capitol when the Assembly cast the vote to strip collective  bargaining rights from state and public employees.

Though a very sad state of affairs, I had to be in the building where I once worked, and stand with others who cared as I did about the under-handed process  being used by the Republicans, and the policy they were jamming into law.

James and I needed to wait in line, at a specified Capitol door, for 15 minutes to get into the building.  I guess the Dane County court opinion handed down last week for public access to the Capitol did not apply today.  

While I understand the need for some security, what was assembled today bordered on what one might find in a nation where the leader was truly frightened of his own people.

Hmmmm….

State Troopers that must have been carted in by the busloads seemed to have every corner of the Statehouse covered.  At the entrance the only thing that seemed not to be done to those entering was a cavity search.

Perhaps next week.

Am I dismayed?

Hell, yes!

This is not the type of state government I once knew.

I angers me.

More than that is makes me truly sad.

The process has been so bastardized by the power-hungry, and truly out-of-control conservatives that it hardly can be recognized by those of us with a sense of how things are to be done. 

It is shocking.

Inside I was surprised at the few number of people who had been allowed into the building for the final vote in the State Assembly.  Those there grouped as best they could, looking at the second floor Assembly chambers,  letting Republicans about to vote  know full-well that they were not pleased.

When the vote was taken and it was made known that the citizens had been cast aside, the crowd erupted with “Shame! Shame!’ and then came the even more dreadful sounding word for those Republicans who assaulted workers, “Recall! Recall!”

Minutes later one of the nation’s most faithful advocates for worker rights, Reverend Jesse Jackson, waved to the crowd and let them know he was not ready to stop fighting,

There were other sights and sounds which included CNN’s Ted Rollins, and a flag-waving symbol for what the night at the State Capitol will feel like.

 

This was where I needed to be today.

It was sad.

Now we need to pick up ourselves and recall every one of the dirty bastards that did this to the people of Wisconsin.

Onwards!