Wis. Capitol Becomes A Stage For Demonstrators

While the legislative process stalls, politics by other means continues in the streets and in the Capitol's hallways. i i

While the legislative process stalls, politics by other means continues in the streets and in the Capitol's hallways. Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images
While the legislative process stalls, politics by other means continues in the streets and in the Capitol's hallways.

While the legislative process stalls, politics by other means continues in the streets and in the Capitol's hallways.

Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators are keeping up their nearly weeklong protests in Madison, Wis., amid anger about a plan by Republican Gov. Scott Walker to take away collective bargaining rights for many public employees.

On Saturday, supporters of the governor's measure showed up in large numbers for the first time. Tired of listening to a week of pro-union, anti-Walker rhetoric, they brought in some Tea Party firepower.

Joe the Plumber stopped by to salute the crowd, and other conservative activists made it clear that they were there to turn the issue into a national platform.

Ned Ryun of the national group American Majority told the crowd they were on the leading edge of a movement that is already rippling across Ohio, Indiana and other states.

"I want to thank Gov. Walker for leading the charge," Ryun said. "Together with other fiscally conservative leaders from across the country, to stop this death spiral of spending and government excess that is crippling our economy."

Day after day last week, union leaders and their members had characterized Walker's so-called "budget repair bill" as a mean-spirited attack on working families, because it would cancel many public workers right to bargain over anything but wages. But on Saturday, protesters poured in from more conservative parts of the state to argue the plan would help their families.

State Treasurer Kurt Schuller said that the governor is just trying to spread the pain that everyone is feeling.

"While the rest of Wisconsin has been going through three years of layoffs, increasing health insurance premiums, cut hours, our state employees have been largely untouched," Schuller said. "So we have two Wisconsins."

One local remarked that he'd never seen so many conservatives gathered at one time in notoriously progressive Madison.

But before the sun set, most Walker supporters went home. And union forces again owned the streets, marching around the Capitol building. On the curb, teacher Leah Gustafson held a sign saying, "Scott, your son is in my class. I teach him, I protect him, I inspire him."

Gustafson said she teaches Walker's son in a school outside Milwaukee. Like much of organized labor, she also said she accepts the need for union workers to pay more for their pensions and health care.

"Absolutely, I get that," she said. "I understand that, and I am more than willing to do that. But it's the bargaining rights that really scare me. We have to obtain and retain teachers for the future, or our educational system is going to crumble."

Teachers across the state came to Madison, shutting down many schools last week. Madison teachers meet Sunday to discuss when they will return. Anti-union forces say the teachers' job action demonstrates the need to curtail their power.

Meanwhile, legislators have abandoned the Capitol, and so has the governor. The building has turned into what amounts to a giant performance space.

Democratic legislators continue to stay out of sight. Without them, Walker appears unable to pass his bill. Yet without negotiations, Democrats cannot force a compromise. So while the legislative process stalls, politics by other means continues in the streets and in the hallways.

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