Wisconsin protest hits 40,000 — but no resolutionMADISON — The standoff between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, 14 wandering Democratic senators and 40,000 protesters engulfing the state Capitol escalated Friday — to a stalemate, at least headed into today.
MADISON — The standoff between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, 14 wandering Democratic senators and 40,000 protesters engulfing the state Capitol escalated Friday — to a stalemate, at least headed into today.
In an early evening news conference Friday, Walker gave no indication of budging on his bill to gut the collective bargaining rights of state employees.
“We’re not going to allow for one minute for the protesters to drown out the millions of people in Wisconsin who support this,” the Republican governor said, calling his proposed union takebacks “modest” as the chants of protesters droned outside.
He went on to chastise many of those protesters as government workers who “skipped out on work,” and similarly castigated the 14 Democratic senators presumably holed up in Illinois for “not doing their jobs.”
“You can’t legislate from Rockford,” he said. “Come offer me amendments, come offer me a discussion.”
For their part, the senators, in hiding to prevent a quorum needed to vote on the measure, sent mixed messages on when they would return.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Waunakee said the group was prepared to be away for weeks.
“That really, truly is up to the governor,” he told the Associated Press in an interview at a downtown Chicago hotel. “It’s his responsibility to bring the state together. The state is not unified. It is totally torn part.”
But Sen. Bob Jauch of Poplar told the News Tribune and Wisconsin Public Radio in separate interviews that he and his Democratic colleagues probably would return before business resumes next week.
“This is going to get over by this weekend, I’m convinced of that,” he said by cell phone from somewhere in northern Illinois.
Later, he added: “We went out and bought a change of underwear and toothbrush and toothpaste. … We are individually responsible for our actions. We do not apologize for them because we think we are serving the best interests of this institution we belong to.”
Earlier Friday, the 19-member Republican majority unsuccessfully attempted to convene the Senate, sending two state troopers to the Madison-area home of Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller. It was unclear if they believed Miller had returned.
The troopers do not have the authority to arrest Miller, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said, but their arrival would show the seriousness of the Republicans’ intent to move forward with the bill.
Jauch said “conversations” are taking place between the Democrats and Walker, though in his news conference Walker remained resolute, saying dumping the collective bargaining privileges is the only way to prevent “massive layoffs” from the state’s $6 billion-plus budget deficit. He said the move would allow local and state governments to bargain with employees, and, in turn, help those jurisdictions save money.
For those who did not join the statewide protests — including one at the University of Wisconsin-Superior — and stayed at their jobs, Walker said, “we appreciate what they continue to do.”
At about the same time as Walker’s remarks, legislators in the state’s lower house, the Assembly, adjourned until Tuesday without taking action on the measure.
Friday morning began with the Capitol quiet and peaceful, save for a few protesters waking up from a bad night’s sleep.
By noon, it was the loudest place in the state, with Capitol police estimating the crowd at 35,000 outside the building and 5,000 inside. The Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived and greeted protesters about that time, sending the crowd into a deafening roar.
Hermantown, Minn., native Sarah Korpi said the crowd easily was the largest she has seen at the Capitol, where she has been since Monday.
“Every day the crowd has gotten bigger and bigger,” said Korpi, who is a teaching assistant now living in Baraboo, Wis.
But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the crowds haven’t caused any of the Republicans to waver in their support of the bill.
“What’s going on around this building has galvanized this caucus,” he said as cheers from the protesters could be heard in the background. “There’s nobody that’s soft.”
While the crowd has been extremely loud, it’s also been peaceful. Still, there were safety concerns for Senate Republicans.
In a twist mirroring their peripatetic Democratic colleagues, the whereabouts at the Capitol of the Republican senators have been kept largely secret, as have their meeting times.
“We’re trying to operate in a secure south wing, where our debate is not being influenced by the crowd outside,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve got to make sure our senators are not intimidated.”
They’ve also been escorted by state troopers when walking through Capitol corridors.
“Thank you for your service,” one Republican said to a trooper.
Protesters and union leaders said they expected more rallies this weekend.
Among the thousands who came to the Capitol Friday morning were three Superior teachers and a retired UWS professor who left Superior at 2 a.m.
“The drive didn’t seem that long, really,” said Kim Kohlhaas, a first-grade teacher. “Not for this.”
The four argue that stripping away teachers’
collective-bargaining rights could have a trickle-down effect to students.
“When we have a strong working relationship with the administration, students have that support,” Kohlhaas said. “But if we don’t have that strong relationship, we won’t have that quality for our students.”
The three teachers said they took a personal leave day to attend the Capitol protest.
Courtney Seidell, a 29-year-old speech pathologist in the Middleton, Wis., school district, wrote: “Lost my voice,” on her iPad. She said it was the result of spending most of Thursday in the center of the Capitol rotunda.
But she said she’ll be back, and expects her pay to be docked as a result.
“I’ll be back every day until we have bargaining rights again,” she said. “If there are other people at the Capitol, I’ll be here.”
In his comments to the media, Walker said he believed a “quiet majority” of Wisconsin residents support his actions, saying he has received 19,000 favorable e-mails this week.
Mike Simonson of Wisconsin Public Radio contributed to this report.