Madison Protests Hit Largest Numbers On Saturday
MADISON, Wis. -- Sometimes they cursed each other, sometimes they shook hands, sometimes they walked away from each other in disgust.
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None of it - not the ear-splitting chants, the pounding drums or the back-and-forth debate between 70,000 protesters - changed the minds of Wisconsin lawmakers dug into a stalemate over Republican efforts to scrap union rights for almost all public workers.
"The people who are not around the Capitol square are with us," said Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican from Rochester and co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee. "They may have a bunch around the square, but we've got the rest on our side."
After nearly a week of political chaos in Madison, during which tens of thousands of pro-labor protesters turned the Capitol into a campsite that had started to smell like a locker room, supporters of Gov. Scott Walker came out in force Saturday.
They gathered on the muddy east lawn of the Capitol and were soon surrounded by a much larger group of union supporters who countered their chants of "Pass the bill! Pass the bill!" with chants of "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!"
"Go home!" union supporters yelled at Scott Lemke, a 46-year-old machine parts salesman from Cedarburg who wore a hard hat and carried a sign that read "If you don't like it, quit" on one side, and "If you don't like that, try you're fired" on the other.
A lone demonstrator stood between the crowds, saying nothing and holding a sign: "I'm praying that we can all respect each other. Let's try to understand each other."
The Wisconsin governor, elected in November's GOP wave that also gave control of the state Assembly and Senate to Republicans, set off the protests earlier this week by pushing ahead with a measure that would require government workers to contribute more to their health care and pension costs and largely eliminate their collective bargaining rights.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the crowds that have gotten bigger each day have yet to win over any member of his caucus.
"What they're getting from individuals back home is stick to your guns, don't let them get to you," Fitzgerald said. "Every senator I've spoken to today is getting that back home, which is awesome. It's great to hear from people who are part of a rally ... (but) two people you meet at a fish fry or a person who comes up to you at a basketball game, those comments sink in."
Fitzgerald and other Republicans say the concessions are needed to deal with the state's projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall and to avoid layoffs of government workers. The move to restrict union rights has also taken hold in other states, including Tennessee and Indiana, where lawmakers have advanced bills to restrict bargaining for teachers' unions.
The throngs of Walker supporters who arrived in Madison on Saturday for an afternoon rally organized by Tea Party Patriots, the movement's largest umbrella group, and Americans for Prosperity, carried signs with a fresh set of messages: "Your Gravy Train Is Over ... Welcome to the Recession" and "Sorry, we're late Scott. We work for a living."
"We pay the bills!" tea party favorite Herman Cain yelled to cheers from the pro-Walker crowd. "This is why you elected Scott Walker, and he's doing his job. ... Wisconsin is broke. My question for the other side is, `What part of broke don't you understand?'"
Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate, short of the votes needed to keep Republicans from passing the so-called "budget repair" bill, fled the state on Thursday. They haven't been seen since, and said Saturday they are more resolved than ever to stay away "as long as it takes" until Walker agrees to negotiate.
"I don't think he's really thought it through, to be honest," Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, of Middleton, said Saturday.
Democrats offered again Saturday to agree to the parts of Walker's proposal, so long as workers retain their right to negotiate with the state as a union.
Fitzgerald said that's an offer the GOP has rejected for months. The restrictions on collective bargaining rights are necessary so that local governments and the state have the flexibility needed to balance budgets after cuts Walker plans to announce next month, he said.
Walker, who was spending time with his family Saturday and didn't appear in public, also rejected the Democrats offer. His spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said the fastest way to end the stalemate was for Democrats to return and "do their jobs."
Madison police estimated that 60,000 or more people were outside the Capitol on Saturday, with up to 8,000 more inside. The normally immaculate building had become a mess of mud-coated floors that reeked from days of protesters standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said there were no arrests or problems during Saturday's protests. "We've seen and shown the world that in Madison, Wis., we can bring people together who disagree strongly on a bill in a peaceful way," he said.
Steve Boss, 26, a refrigerator technician from Oostburg, carried a sign that read "The Protesters Are All `Sick' -- Wash your Hands," a reference to the teacher sick-outs that swelled crowds at the Capitol to 40,000 people Friday and raised the noise in its rotunda to earsplitting levels. Boss said the cuts Walker has proposed were painful but needed to fix the state's financial problems.
"It's time to address the issue. They (public workers) got to take the same cuts as everyone else," he said. "It's a fairness thing."
Doctors from numerous hospitals set up a station near the Capitol to provide notes to explain public employees' absences from work. Family physician Lou Sanner, 59, of Madison, said he had given out hundreds of notes. Many of the people he spoke with seemed to be suffering from stress, he said.
"What employers have a right to know is if the patient was assessed by a duly licensed physician about time off of work," Sanner said. "Employers don't have a right to know the nature of that conversation or the nature of that illness. So it's as valid as every other work note that I've written for the last 30 years."
John Black, 46, of Madison, said he came out to the rallies in order to help bridge the gap between the pro-labor protesters and Walker's supporters. He carried signs that asked for a compromise on the budget bill while a friend's son handed out purple flowers.
"We liked Scott Walker as a change agent, but he moved too quickly and because of that there's always room for compromise," Black said.
The Atlantic reports that at one town hall meeting in Wisconsin, one GOP state senator faced "loud opposition" to a proposed compromise.
About 50 pro-union protesters peacefully left the state Capitol late Thursday after a judge ruled they could no longer spend the night to show their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.
The judge also ruled the state had violated the public's free speech and assembly rights by restricting access to the building.
AP reports that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will issue layoff notices to 1,500 state employees Friday if his union bill doesn't pass by then:
Walker also said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is negotiating with Democrats who stymied passage of the bill by leaving the state for changes to the proposal that would get them to return. Walker said he won't compromise on the collective bargaining issue or anything that saves the state money.
"I can't take any of that off the table," he said.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Democratic State Senators in Wisconsin have been threatened with contempt by Republicans, if they don't return by 4 p.m. today:
Republicans in the state Senate ordered Democrats on Thursday to return to the chamber by 4 p.m. or be found in contempt of the Senate - a move that means Democrats could be taken into custody.
"We simply cannot have democracy be held hostage because the minority wants to prove a point," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).
HuffPost's Mark Blumenthal writes:
A new survey released this morning by the Pew Research Center is the first to provide a clear before-and-after snapshot of national attitudes toward labor unions in the wake of the ongoing protests and budget conflict in Wisconsin:
The public’s overall views of labor unions have changed little through the lengthy stalemate between Wisconsin’s governor and the state’s public employee unions over collective bargaining rights. About half (47%) say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions compared with 39% who have an unfavorable opinion. In early February, 45% expressed a favorable opinion of unions and 41% said they had an unfavorable view. However, liberal Democrats and people in union households are more likely to say they have a very favorable opinion of labor unions than they were just weeks ago.
See the Pew Research report for their complete analysis and full results by party, ideology and union membership subgroups. The Pew Center had also conducted an in-depth survey on unions in early February, just before Walker released the budget bill that sparked the protests.
On Wednesday afternoon, former congressman Dave Obey -- who served from 1969 until retiring this year -- was barred from entering the Wisconsin statehouse.
“I’ve been coming to this building since 1958 and I’ve never been denied access,” Obey stated. Although he did not tell security officials who he was -- because he believed everyone should have access, regardless of title -- others did inform them.
Yesterday, a judge issued an injunction ordering the Capitol building "open...to members of the public during business hours and at times when governmental matters, such as hearings, listening sessions and court arguments are being conducted."
Several Democratic members of the Assembly set up desks outside to meet with their constituents, arguing that people could not get to their offices.
“Governor Walker’s lockdown of the Capitol during normal business hours betrays Wisconsin’s longstanding dedication to open government and is an insult to the people of Wisconsin," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D) in a statement. "I call on Governor Walker to let the people back into the People’s House immediately.”
The City of Madison has filed a police report charging a 23-year-old man for "disorderly conduct" after he unplugged extension cords from a Fox News vehicle. Read the full report here.
Adding another state into the debate on public workers, West Virginia's Herald-Dispatch reports:
West Virginia's public employees would reap pay raises averaging 2 percent this year, with a second year of increases promised to teachers and school workers, under a proposal advanced Wednesday to the state Senate by the House.
But the 78-22 vote reflected GOP-led concerns that increasing state spending threatens a stable budgetary picture that has so far allowed West Virginia to avoid deficits and the painful choices they can force. Foes also contrasted the pay hikes with the state's continuing unemployment woes.
Full story here.
More details have surfaced on Ohio's controversial SB 5, which just passed the state senate.
Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public-employee unions representing teachers, librarians, toll collectors and others from bargaining over health benefits, pensions and working conditions. Under the bill, unions could still negotiate wages, but striking would be prohibited for all public workers, taking away a major bargaining chip. Workers could face a fine of up to $1,000, or 30 days in jail, if they go on strike.
A Twitter campaign, #standupOH, has already mounted. As user @escapetochengdu tweeted, "The bill that just passed Ohio Senate allows the government to jail striking librarians for 30 days. Despicable."
Read the whole Wall Street Journal story here.
The bill put forth by an Ohio panel earlier today has passed the state senate, TPM reports:
The Ohio State Senate just passed the controversial SB 5, aimed a limiting unionized state employees' ability to collectively bargain or go on strike.
In an indication of how divisive the legislation is in the Buckeye State, the final vote in the Senate was 17-16.
Gov. John Kasich (R) has endorsed the measure and is expected to sign it when it reaches his desk.
Full story here.
A tourism campaign leveraging the Wisconsin senators who fled to Rockford, Illinois has gone viral. The push, "Hide Away In Rockford," hawks "collectively bargained" rates to some of the town's best tourist attractions.
“Unlike Wisconsin’s state senators, this video isn’t low key; it’s been a real runaway hit," said Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB) President/CEO John Groh of the campaign's success.
Watch the promotional video here.
HuffPost's resident pollster Mark Blumenthal reports:
WASHINGTON -- A automated telephone poll conducted this week in Wisconsin by the Democratic-affiliated firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) largely confirms other recent polls showing public support for collective bargaining rights for unions and, by a narrow margin, more opposition than support for the agenda of Gov. Scott Walker (R). Some caution is in order, however, about several vote preference questions included in the same survey.
Despite the ongoing coverage and national interest in the controversy, all of the opinion surveys taken within Wisconsin so far have had sponsors with partisan ties, and each has taken a different approach to the questions asked. Where their questions have been similar, however, we can begin to compare the results.
Read more here.
HuffPost's Amanda Terkel and Sam Stein report:
WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin's Republican state senators are attempting to commandeer the staffs of the 14 Democrats who have been camped out in nearby Illinois for nearly two weeks, the latest effort to convince their colleagues to return and move forward on Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget repair bill.
A resolution proposed on Wednesday would allow Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) to "assign supervision over any employee appointed by a Senator who is absent without leave for 2 or more session days." The absent senator would retain control of the office's data, however, presumably meaning that Republican senators would not be allowed to access the Democrats' electronic or paper files.
The measure is almost certain to pass, as the state Committee on Senate Organization, which has jurisdiction over such measures, is composedd of three Republicans and two Democrats. Fitzgerald's office could not be reached for comment.
Read the rest here.
HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:
WASHINGTON -- The Wisconsin Democratic Party has launched a fundraising campaign to recall state Senate Republicans who have supported the budget bill by Gov. Scott Walker (R) that would strip collective bargaining rights from the state's public employee unions.
Read the whole story, and see the email they sent out, here.
Reuters reports that a panel of state senators in Ohio has voted to strip unions of some collective bargaining rights as well as the right to strike:
The Senate Labor Committee vote was 7-5, with one Republican and four Democrats voting against. The measure now moves to the Republican-controlled state Senate, which could approve it as early as Wednesday.
If endorsed by the state legislature and signed by Republican Governor John Kasich, Ohio would become the biggest state so far to enact sweeping restrictions on public sector unions.
Full story here.
Wisconsin state GOP senators voted to fine their absent colleagues $100 per day they stay away, the Wisconsin State Journal reports:
Senate Republicans stepped up their efforts Wednesday to compel the 14 Senate Democrats who fled Wisconsin two weeks ago to come home.
The Senate voted to impose a $100 per day fee for any senator who is absent without leave for two or more session days. Republicans remaining in the Senate approved the daily fine resolution with none of the Democrats present.
Full story here.
Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald spoke with CNN's Eliot Spitzer, during which Spitzer asked him if it was fair to cut both education funding and taxes for the wealthy.
HuffPost's Sam Stein reports that $30,000 was raised online in first two hours for new PCCC/DFA ad hitting Scott Walker and Republicans in Wisconsin. By the three-hour mark, the amount had risen to $50,000.
See ad and fundraising here.
HuffPost's Nick Wing looks at the myriad advertisements that have emerged on Wisconsin airwaves since the protests began:
Tensions between Wisconsin public employees and Republican Gov. Scott Walker have led to the beginning of an advertising war marked by a volley of commercials coming from a variety of sources.
The first salvo was launched last week by a third-party group, the Koch-backed conservative organization Americans for Prosperity. Entitled "Stand with Scott Walker," the commercial commends the governor for purportedly taking the necessary steps to address the state's budget shortfalls, actions that would force public employees to pay a larger share of their pensions and health care benefits, as well as limit collective bargaining rights of the state's unions. It also directs blame at President Obama for supposedly helping to organize the massive protests, which the ad argues don't represent the will of Wisconsin voters.
Read more and watch the commercials here.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is out with a new ad in Wisconsin that features protesters in Madison describing how Gov. Scott Walker's budget will affect them. Scroll down for video, via Greg Sargent.
More details on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's press conference today, AP reports:
After focusing for weeks on his proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday presented his full budget – a plan that cuts $1.5 billion in aid to public schools and local government but avoids any tax or fee increases, furloughs or widespread layoffs.
Walker said the cuts could be paid for in large part by forcing government employees to pay more for their pension and health care benefits. And the governor whose cost-cutting ideas have stirred a national debate over public-sector unions gave no indication he would soften his demand to reduce their power at the negotiating table.
Full story here.
HuffPost blogger Tom Hayes examines the situation in Wisconsin in the context of social networking:
If anyone in the world should be paying close attention to the grassroots political unrest in the Middle East, it is Big Business and Big Labor in America. The rise of self-organized groups of people toppling once-entrenched regimes is a harbinger of things to come here in the U.S. too.
For now, traditional battle lines are more immediate. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker's attempt to break the public employee union there is being characterized by some as a last gasp test for Labor. It is not. The fate of big unions has already been cast. Like record stores and time-bound television, the labor union as an organizing device has outlived its usefulness: people simply don't need intermediaries to organize them into groups anymore.
Read the whole post here.
Wisconsin state representative Michelle Litjens (R), who was allegedly told she was "f---ing dead" by fellow representative Gordon Hintz for voting in favor of the budget bill, discussed the scuffle with Laura Ingraham on her radio show. (Hintz has since apologized for his "outburst," and Litjens says she accepts the apology.)
LISTEN (via Mediaite):
Governor Walker just asserted his budget repair bill will save the state $1.5 billion. He says if the senate Democrats come home, local governments will gain $150 million in additional revenues.
Governor Walker is calling for Wisconsinites to come together to "make tough decisions," asking for a commitment to the "future" so "our children don't face even more dire consequences." He asserts that his budget bill will make Wisconsin work for the people again.
Scott Walker has just said the "people of Wisconsin" are his most important priority, to applause. He asks his constituents to be "mindful of differences" in opinion, and applauds the state assembly for "not losing sight" of their goals and passing the budget bill.
Governor Scott Walker is currently holding a press conference to discuss his proposed cuts to the state budget. Updates to come. Watch live video here.
Wisconsin TV producer Jen Ayers just tweeted:
Snipers on the roof of buildings near the capitol... wowsers.
More to come...
Democrats have raised the possibility of pushing a recall campaign against Republican state senators in Wisconsin who vote to strip the collective bargaining rights of public employees. On the other side, Republicans have talked about recalling some of the Democratic senators who left the state.
Now on the liberal blog DailyKos, Chris Bowers writes that Democrats who strike a compromise to take away collective bargaining rights should also expect to face progressive heat:
If this bill passes with the provisions stripping collective bargaining rights, then anyone who votes for it should expect to face a broadly based recall effort that we will support here at Daily Kos. Further, the Democratic senators who break first and let collective bargaining rights be stripped by returning to the state should not necessarily consider themselves exempt from such a campaign. This is an existential fight for workers' rights, and as such it must be fought with every legal means available.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Brewers infielder Craig Counsell supports the efforts of Wisconsin's union workers.
He said in a statement:
“As a Major League baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers who works in Wisconsin under a union contract and whose right to bargain collectively is guaranteed under federal law, I support the thousands of public sector employees who are threatened with the loss of that right under recently-proposed state legislation. These employees are real people with real families whose livelihoods, careers and futures are being jeopardized. I urge the government of Wisconsin not to take away this most basic of union and human rights.”