Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

In Madison: Scott Walker Packed His Budget Address With Ringers

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's budget address was delivered beneath a dead and stuffed eagle. His address made commitments to a better educated Wisconsin, even while offering almost guaranteed decreased funding of the state's schools. He criticized the state's wasteful use of "our tobacco settlement," and then minutes later praised, for his "bold new ideas and strong leadership," former Republican Tommy Thompson—the state's key architect of that tobacco settlement spending.

He twice passed into reverence for "our state's constitution," even while it was being broken two floors below him: the Capitol's doors were still locked.

One possible reason for why the doors remained locked to Wisconsin citizens nearly six hours after a judge ordered them open soon became clear. The assembly gallery had been packed with ringers.

In the run up to Walker's address, a press pass allowed me access to the goings on inside the dome, as well as to the assembly address itself.¹

By noon, as chants of "Let us in" at the King Street entrance to the Capitol grew, none of the police officers I spoke with knew what was happening. Everyone had heard a judge had ordered the doors open, including the thousand or more demonstrators outside, but nobody knew who actually would say "open the doors." One sheriff's deputy guarding access to the west wing said he only knew to do what the DNR officer in charge told him to do. Later, just after Walker's address finished, I found myself face to face with grim-looking Madison Police Chief Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs. "What's going on here?" I asked. "We're still debating," he said. I tried to follow up; "Later, later," he said. I never saw him again.

The Department of Administration's battle against the judge's order to open the capitol is ongoing. (Follow the Isthmus reporter in the courtroom, Alison Bauter, for the latest.)

About 120 porters remained in the capitol from the night before. Wearing his construction hat, Chad from Cross Plains said he's been in the dome for days now; his boyish face was just barely sprouting patchy whiskers. He is with Union Local No. 599, Operative Plasterers' & Cement Masons' International, who constructed and renovated the capitol. "We built this place," he said. "And I'm not leaving."

(A bit of service journalism for the politically active in Wisconsin. "Koch" is pronounced "coke." This detail makes many of the otherwise "clever" Koch-pun signs invalid.)

Another group was the drum circle; they appeared not to have left since last Wednesday. Their energy was high and sporadically they would break into loud percussion. The children's area has reopened on the second floor and for those concerned, yes, food is still quietly getting in.

Sitting behind the Capitol's information desk in his green vest, Jim gave directions to protesters, media and even legislators. He's been a seasonal Capitol tour guide for the last 12 years. Jim grew up in Medford and claims his friends were the founders of Tombstone Pizza. He moved to Madison 30 years ago. "Everyone who moves to Madison never leaves," he said. Jim said that usually at this time they get more than a thousand fourth-graders a day as part of their government education class—"some from northern Illinois even, as Springfield is too far to drive." Asked if he'll ever work recent events into his tour, he said, maybe—but that "I just give you the facts."

Throughout the afternoon, those having an appointment with a legislator were allowed access, with each legislator only allowed a small number of badges. At about 2 p.m., I noticed an increase in the number of men in suits and long overcoats being brought into the capitol and then allowed upstairs. One sheriff's deputy asked me, as four more came in, "Do you know who those guys are?" Later, I would find out.

Thanks to mobile technology, those with access to the Capitol really know very little more than those locked outside. In fact, without fast access to email, Twitter, and numerous news sites, I am, in a way, less well-informed while inside the capitol than somebody sitting with a laptop at home… anywhere.

At 3:40 p.m., I took a spot in the back of the Assembly room and waited for Walker.

In a red suit that screamed "Look at me, fuckers" Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch worked the Republican side of the assembly like a brothel's madam. From the way she bawdily glad-handed among the Republican leadership, it was clear that Kleefisch, a former TV news reporter renowned for refusing to debate her opponent during the 2010 election, thinks she is somehow important to the GOP's goals in Wisconsin. She thinks she's a player. It's adorable.

The shades were drawn and, with the limited number of protesters in the Capitol below, one wouldn't have known there was anything at all going on outside… or inside. In the background, a dim drum beat could be heard. Only during Dan LeMahieu's (R-59) pre-event prayer did a huge cheer go up from outside. Reporters and legislators alike largely ignored it.

Peter Barca (D-64) said many Democrats had a difficult time coming to the event and he lodged his "concern" that the address "might be a violation of the open meetings law" and "if we don't follow our own rules we cease to be a nation of laws."

Whatever, dude.

Walker entered to thunderous applause, though not from the Democrats, who refused to rise. At least two-thirds of the East audience galley was loudly applauding but they had nothing on the West coast. It was now clear who the men in business attire were. Nearly without exception, the west gallery was all men in black suits and, when the governor said something meaningful, they all rose and applauded, and they did it with verve and volume. I'm not saying these guys were not from Wisconsin, but if you know Wisconsin, you know for a fact that even for most businessmen, black suits are not part of the wardrobe. In general, the only time one will see a large gathering of Wisconsin men in black suits is at a funeral, or, apparently at a Governor Walker budget address.

Reporter Kristin Knutsen found evidence that many of these ringers may have entered through the capitol's access tunnels, noting the presence of the Division of Criminal Investigation—the same officers I saw upstairs outside the Assembly chambers following the address escorting unidentified men.

Needless to say, with no citizens allowed past the doors, and none of the rotunda's encamped protesters allowed past the first floor, the GOP had stacked the audience. So what if the move is declared unconstitutional now? Walker's address, and the heavy applause, has already been broadcast.

* * *

In the coming days, everyone is going to hear a lot of specifics about what Walker's bill means. Some will say it means 10% of teachers will be laid off. Others will say it means a $900 million cut to education and a $250 million cut to the University of Wisconsin system—all while increasing funding to prisons. After the address, outside, I asked one of a handful of protesting corrections officers if Walker's commitment to spending more on prisons in any way offset him losing his collective bargaining rights. Brian—a corrections officer from Black River—said, "No. And anyway, I don't see him doing it."

There are already rumors that one of the 14 AWOL Democratic senators is returning. That's a rumor. Do the research. Don't believe any one source.

After the address, some of the Democrats addressed those in the rotunda. Nick Milroy (D-73) thundered against Walker's promise to deliver 250,000 new jobs in four years: "It's clear now those jobs are going to be in license plate manufacturing." David Cullen (D-13) said: "Screw the middle class, that's Scott Walker's message." One accidentally criticized the Tea Party, and was reprimanded by a guy who said, "Hey, I'm the tea party!" Apologies were made.

While spirits were high, the Democrat rebuttal message came across a bit like a eulogy. Taking turns standing atop a plastic delivery crate and using a small PA system to address no more than 80, each encouraged listeners to go back to their communities and fight there. "We've done all we can do here," one said.

I exited the capitol into blazing sunset. While many spoke of a collecting gloom inside, it had been a sunny day in Wisconsin, a real rarity. Thousands and thousands of protesters appeared as my eyes adjusted. "What's going on in there?" one goateed man yelled.

"Is the address over? Is it still going on?" asked another. "How many are in there?"

I left them at the King Street entrance. They were still chanting: "Let us in!" On the way to my car, I passed the Northeast Wisconsin Fox affiliate shooting an update. While its parent was willing to trip over itself to cover any gathering of tea partiers greater than 100, Fox 11 has chosen to shoot from the vantage of East Washington—highlighting a nearly empty Capitol grounds.

Of all the angles of the Capitol, that one up East Washington is the sole view that would make it appear as if nobody was there. (Though, I'm not even sure why Fox 11 is even bothering given that Fox News has just started passing off stock footage of fights as the Wisconsin protests.)

Thousands continue to gather every night at their capitol in Madison. Many are now camping out on the grounds overnight.

Sure, they are teachers and corrections officials and nurses and other public employees who stand to lose the most from the bill. But increasingly, the numbers of private employees joining those threatened are the very middle class private employees who've seen recent statements by the governor as indicative that he's coming for them next—including his plans for BadgerCare recipients to pay more for the coverage as they get jobs in the private sector.

And now, some of them are even self-identified Walker voters. And like good Wisconsin boys, they're apologizing for it.

¹ The press credential process at the state capitol was not set up to handle a lockdown situation. Passes are issued by the press corps themselves, and while generous, they are faced with having to make the difficult decision about who to credential as legitimate press and who is, say, with the Heritage Foundation. The Awl's pass was arranged by Mr. Dick Wheeler who writes The Wheeler Report, an excellent source of state news and information. Please go follow them on Twitter.

Abe Sauer can be reached at abesauer at gmail dot com.

41 Comments / Post A Comment

roboloki (#1,724)

thanks once again abe.
just so we're clear: walker will drastically cut money sent to local governments in wisconsin and he will forbid those local governments from raising taxes to offset the evisceration he is handing down?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Yes, that is basically it. BUT there will be an increased investment in fear. He claims the state "currently has over twenty thousand IP addresses of people who prey on our children." So one area he is willing spend a bunch more money is to go get all those bastards.

QueenWasp (#926)

This is IP address nonsense is aimed at a generation who fears the internet and doesn't understand how it works. What people who buy into this BS don't understand (and I would bet Walker doesn't understand it either) is how difficult and expensive it can be to do something with those magical IP addresses.

I am not pro-exploiting children on the internet, but there needs to be some logic interjected here. This whole thing has hit the point of caricature. There is so much buffoonery and redirection, it's hard to tell what the fuck is really going on. *head explodes*

davetar (#1,114)

Come on, all the Olds have watched enough CSI to know all you have to do is create a GUI interface using Visual BASIC to trace an IP address.

QueenWasp (#926)

It all comes back to CSI.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Actually, yes. He also said, "We will provide additional resources and positions in our DNA lab to assist our criminal investigations."

"additional resources" = more $$$

CatsInBags (#3,656)

and lets not forget the return of "truth in sentencing" — which is kind of extra special. Cutting prison guards' salaries while decreasing their leverage with prisoners (making their jobs more dangerous) and at the same time costing the state more $$$ keeping folks locked up longer. Go Badgers.

KarenUhOh (#19)

How many times did Walker say something to the effect of, "And because we're making the tough choices that require us to make cuts in _____, we will be able to give our localities even greater opportunity to take control of their own financial well-being"?

There was a lot of static, so I kept hearing it as, "I'm giving you a raise by cutting your pay."

QueenWasp (#926)


LondonLee (#922)

So does piss.

Great stuff as usual, Abe.

CatsInBags (#3,656)


Were I a protest organizer tasked with organizing a rally to air legitimate grievances in a manner likely to be respected by those we seek to influence, my first rule would be "no drum circles."

Seriously, fucking drum circles are like holding up a big banner that says "hi, please disregard our message, for we are hippie manqué college students and just want to smoke dope and paaaaaarty maaaaaan."

Full disclosure: the most drum-circle-loving guy I know is a multiple-tours-in-Iraq Marine, so, uh.

CatsInBags (#3,656)

I second the drum circles ban. Also, hula hoopers, fire jugglers and unicyclists. Please stay on the cover of admission packets to mediocre liberal arts schools.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Here's the thing though about "hippie manqué college student" drum circlers. Those are exactly the kind of people who sleep on a marble floor for 10 days or more. Hell, I saw a bunch of those drummers in there last Wed. night and it's very possible they have not breathed fresh outdoor air since Saturday. Other "sane" people? They got the hell out of there (not to be allowed back in). So, you know, it's maybe exactly the kind of mentality of enjoying a drum circle that makes them the ideal hard core group to keep momentum alive, no matter how annoying the drumming is.

CatsInBags (#3,656)

I think that's probably true. But I also think it also might push some people willing to sleep on the floor in protest away (I do appreciate what these folks are doing, but I'm also getting old and cranky). They also might drown out the voices of people with something to say — both literally and from the greater narrative. While the protesters should not shoulder the entire burden of shaping the "message" or "narrative" of a protest — Hitler signs and drums circles do not help. And I know I'm being a little flip here, but it makes it so easy for "coverage" to be focused on the drummers and twirlers rather than the incredibly diverse group that these protests represent. And yes I am arguing with myself.

@Abe: Right? My point is that these are good, dedicated people from all walks of life who are willing to go above and beyond to protest a crappy situation and just want to enjoy a nice drum circle while they do it. It's not that they are pot-smokin' hippie slackers, but as a campaign consultant has undoubtedly said, the optics of the thing hurts the legitimate message.

Man, when did I turn into George McGovern? Anyway, good on them.

(obligatory: Maybe the price of admission to the drum circle should be wearing a hardhat. That'll fix those optics right quick.)

@CatsInBags: Also, giant puppets. Why is it totally badass when union workers break out the giant inflatable rat on the picket line, but cringe-inducing when a well-meaning fellow in striped overalls brings his 15-foot-tall Peace Marionette to the protest? DUDE WORKED HARD ON THAT GIANT PEACE PUPPET.

Abe Sauer (#148)

@Catsin: Coverage? What coverage? You mean they'll be mischaracterized by video of them having a fist fight in palm beach with graphic overlay "WI PROTESTS?" Ha ha ha. You're totally arguing within the confines of how media covers things circa 1987.

And there are no twirlers that I've seen. And it's actually GOOD that the drummers are in there now since there are so few left that the only way to make any considerable noise to remind legislators that they are there is with drums. When I was in the assembly chamber, the drums, while faint, were one of the only reminders that anything was going on outside at all.

Yes, there is already a giant inflatable "fat cat" outside with a three piece suit on who is choking a guy in a hard hat. Quite exquisite.

CatsInBags (#3,656)

@abe Well…Right. The coverage that is simply dehumanizing the protesters by portraying them as cliches of what a "protester" is "supposed" to be in the eyes of cable viewers? I guess what I'm saying is, we (the protesters) should try and acknowledge our role in making that simpler for the networks to do. And of course, this salty quibble I share with Gef is pretty silly, there are much larger issues to care about. Like the fact that when I voted to change the disposition of the extremely dysfunctional (anti-labor) Wisconsin State Supreme Court, literally tens of thousands of people walked right by the polling place where they could have changed that equation in one day (they don't even need an ID to vote). So I guess what I'm trying to say, is while I'm proud of the solidarity shown, proud of Wisconsin Labor for standing up — I'm disappointed that there is seemingly little leadership putting out a stronger message other than "Kill the Bill" and "This is what democracy looks like."

SeanP (#4,058)

My take on this: if they can demonize teachers, nurses, sanitation workers, etc… they can demonize anyone. Pot-smoking, drum pounding hippies or not, they'll find someone to label as enemies of the state. For example, someone shoves a camera in your face and you push it away – you're a "union thug".

osori (#10,161)

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your work has been great and really shows how important it has been to have people on the ground to push back against pat critiques and to give credence to what has been an undeniably unique and momentous resistance.

Not a drum circler myself, but quite sick of the cultural sneering from people who aren't in the thick of it who claim wisdom as to what will "be influential." Drum circles didn't seem to stop the rallies from building for the past two weeks. Not a damn bit. You know what does stop rallies from building? People who would rather offer style critiques than actually organize or lead the rally. . . . or who think that calling upon "campaign organizers" or godawful made up wonkwords like "optics" will be more appealing to the masses who have already filled the streets of the capitol square.

This is precisely what has made this protest so fucking cool. Lots of different people, with different styles, getting together and not insisting that one way of protest has to be the only way. There are no slick organizers making it clean and pretty so that this time, maybe, for once, Fox will really really like us! No. This is about people who are may disagree about their affection for chanting, marching, drum circles and but getting beyond that because they know that altogether, their staying active to defend shared principles.

@Abe: Damn, that thing is pretty great. Kenosha bricklayers represent.

CatsInBags (#3,656)

@osori No outside meddling here (go back and read my previous comment and see if you can figure out where I live…or take a close look at my avatar). Though I concede the criticism is pat. But its still worth examining, because the very citizens we are trying to sway are the ones that believe in them. If we're going to move forward as a state, we have to know how to communicate with our neighbors, because they are not coming down to the Capitol and seeing the great diversity of the crowd, nor are they going to find that kind of coverage (Abe, and a few others excluded).

All the same. I was being flip. And there's more important things to focus on. Onwards…

Dan Hartung (#10,166)

FYI, Tubbs is the Wisconsin Capitol Police Chief. The Madison Police Chief is Noble Wray.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Yes, thank you.

jpc79 (#10,171)

Love that Rebecca Kleefisch is chatting up former WTMJ weatherman and Tea Party State Rep. Jim Ott.

Dan Hartung (#10,166)

It's not definitive, given the photo resolution, but I suspect that the woman in blue in the front row of the gallery is Walker supporter Diane Hendricks, a billionaire twice over.

creedofhubris (#10,173)

Calling a female political opponent a whore is really out of line. Casual misogyny like that has no place in modern political discourse.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Well, I called her a madam, which is, technically, a little different than a "whore" (your word). Whores are sympathetic. Madams exploit whores, see? And really, you're asking for civil political discourse regarding a woman who equivocated gay Americans with dogs? Really?

creedofhubris (#10,173)

You don't get a pass just because she's guilty of the same offense. You're supposed to be better than her, right?

P.S. that's not what equivocate means.

Abe Sauer (#148)

You're right. "Equate." My mistake.

Why would I need a pass for a transgression I didn't make?

creedofhubris (#10,173)

A madam is just a whore with a mortgage. These are sexual insults. Saying she's acting "bawdily" is also calling her a whore, as you probably are aware. I don't see much difference between what you did and right-wingers calling people faggots, except that you were more eloquent about it.

The combination of the condescension and the gendered insults in that paragraph was striking; she's wearing red and she's working the room, and for that she deserves a slut-shaming smackdown? Please.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Hitler. There. Thanks for reading.

I agree. This was an awesome post (really, really enjoyed reading it) but the sexist attacks were totally out of place and wreak of misogyny. No, that's still not OK if she's a terrible person.

Snooples (#5,666)

Creed, I think you are wrong. Also? Confused.

lawyergay (#220)

Digby linked to this story just now on her blog:

Well done.

osori (#10,161)

Cats: Onwards indeed. I realized you were there when I read more of your responses. My apologies.
The question of how to revolt, how to let the hard core be hard even while inspiring the moderate fence sitters, is eternal. I'm struggling with these same questions day by day.

Next beer's on me :)

Abe Sauer (#148)

An update: This video posted by renowned conservative blogger Ann Althouse's husband Larry "New Media" Meade proves he was in the East gallery audience for Walker's address.
He had no press pass. So while Wisconsin citizens were locked out of the capitol and protesters who'd been in the dome for days were barred from the assembly chamber, a conservative activist got a seat in the audience? Curious.

thezak (#10,271)

In Massachusetts Boston City Council is similarly problematical

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