Gov. Scott Walker's shock troops came to the state Capitol today to rally in support of his budget repair bill, which would extract unilateral concessions from state workers while stripping almost all public employees in Wisconsin of their collective bargaining rights.
The rally, organized by the tea party-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, was a bit underwhelming compared to the anti-Walker rallies this week, today included. (Police estimated the total turnout at about 50,000, of which less than 10% were at the counter rally.) But the participants I spoke with before speakers took the stage were remarkably united in purpose: to back their governor and rebuke the union supporters and Senate Democrats giving him a hard time. [Note: The Madison Police Department's actual crowd estimate, released after this story was filed, was 68,000.]
Like the many anti-Walker protesters who've packed the Capitol this week, the pro-Walker forces were angry. But it was anger slathered with resentment of union workers who they feel have it so much better than they do.
"The reason I'm here is my husband has a small business," Sharon Duginske of Wausau told me. "We have to pay 100% of everything" health insurance and the like. So does their business' lone employee.
Duginske doesn't think union workers ought to complain about the loss of collective bargaining, since they can always get this back "after this governor is gone." She's angry that government agencies now collect union dues, another thing Walker's budget repair bill will do away with. And she's cool to the argument that unions have raised standards for other workers, through things like the 40-hour workweek and worker's comp. "Why should I pay for them to have 40 hours when I have to work 60?"
But Duginske reserved her deepest ire for educators, whom she accuses of "teaching what to think, not how to think." In Wausau and elsewhere, she said, "kids are taught political correctness in school. They are taught to go against the values I have, to be anti-Republican, anti-conservative."
What's more, "bad teachers can't be fired," which means "new teachers can't find jobs because other teachers are taking up space." She was just getting warmed up: "They don't even have to work a full year."
Gregory, of Milwaukee (he declined to give his last name), took a somewhat broader analysis. "I'm for people, not the government," he said. "I think people should solve their own problems."
What does this mean in the context of a dispute over union rights? "I think they should be treated like the private sector," Gregory explained. "The state is broke. We can't pay for pensions when the state is broke the same thing Scott Walker says."
Gregory added something about his fundamental beliefs: "I consider the Ten Commandments the definition and the responsibility of liberty," saying any great leader must take his direction from these. And, in a criticism inspired by Obama's health care reform bill, he offered a critique of legislation in general: "No law should have more words than the U.S. Constitution."
I thanked Gregory and moved on. Later, it occurred to me to look something up. Ah, yes, here we go: According to an online resource, the un-amended U.S. Constitution has 4,543 words, including signatures. According to my computer's word count of a cut-and-paste file, Senate Bill 11, Walker's budget repair bill, has 48,966.
I spoke next to Dwight Eich of Wausau, who said, "I'm here because I'm concerned about the direction this country is going." He was especially angered by the Senate Democrats who left the state Thursday to block a vote of the bill. He said the state's voters elected Republicans "to do the will of the people, and it's unfair that Democrats are trying to highjack the democratic process."
The same theme was ably sounded by James Carlock of Kenosha, who carried a bright lime-green sign saying "Teachers Get Back to Work" on one side and "Sen. Wirch Get Back to Work" on the other. Carlock, who is represented in the state Senate by Robert Wirch, one of the 14 Democrats who fled the state and remain in hiding, feels "they are abdicating what the people of [their] districts were electing them to do."
As shouts of "Go, Scott, Go!" filled the air, Carlock continued, "In a democracy, you will not always win, but you have the ability to discuss and debate." He can't think of any issue where skipping out to avoid a vote is justified: "I believe living in the United States and Wisconsin is enjoying the fruits of democracy and accepting the majority rule, even if I disagree."
Laura Gorichanaz of Greenfield came to rally on an AFP bus from Milwaukee to support Walker and represent the state's conservatives. Her father, who accompanied her, said there were "a lot more people than buses," and many folks ending up having to carpool. (If only it were possible to just hop on a train!)
"Not every student at the UW and across the state is a liberal, and some of what Walker is doing will benefit us," said Gorichanaz, who carried a sign saying "UWM [heart]'s Governor Walker." She's upset that her classes Thursday were canceled because her instructors headed off to protest. "I figure it costs me $62 a day to be in school," she told me. "If they're going to do that, I deserve my money back."
Similar sentiments were sounded by Kelly Gilbert and Jim Poulsen, both of Milwaukee. They carried signs bearing the photos of the 14 missing Senate Democrats asking, "Have You Seen Us?"
Poulsen, an engineer, said he voted for Walker and feels he "proposed many of the things he's doing now before he was elected." He thinks it's a matter of fairness to the electorate: "They voted him in, they want to see him do exactly what he's doing."
Gilbert, a teacher in a Milwaukee-area "voucher school," said a lot of her friends are public school teachers but feels they should have "reported for work" over the last several days. I asked her if there was anything that might justify a teacher walkout like, for instance, if the administrators at her school began firing people based on the ranking system of "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo."
Gilbert didn't miss a beat: "Considering how the job market is right now, I would stay until my number was called."
This need to conform to modern economic realities also instructed the perspective of Bob Clark, a real estate agent from Brookfield, and his friend Dan Petrie, newly hired after a workless spell by a sheet metal manufacturer.
"I'm going to support the governor who's trying to do the right thing for the state of Wisconsin," said Clark. He pays his own health insurance, funds his own pension, and does not get paid sick vacation or sick days. So naturally it rubs him the wrong way that state workers would object to having to pay more toward their health care and pensions.
But unions representing almost all of these workers have agreed to accept these benefit reductions. What does Clark say about that?
"I'd say that's nothing," said Clark, echoing Gov. Walker's position. The real issue for the unions, and Clark (and Walker) is the part of the proposal that strips collective bargaining rights and the ability to collect union dues. Clark feels this is why the unions are fighting the proposal, and why he wants it to pass.
"[They] don't want to lose power," he said. "It's the head of the unions who are getting paid more than the governor."
Petrie of Wauwatosa, who said his son and Walker's son "played baseball together," couldn't agree more. The main issue isn't "the pittance" that Walker wants state workers to pay toward their pensions and health care. It's collective bargaining, which should be done away with.
"Collective bargaining is not a right, it's a privilege," Petrie argued. "A right is something that's necessary to the human condition, and they don't have the right to demand more and more from the taxpayers who are paying their salaries."
He also agreed the main thing driving the unions was the threat to their ability to collect dues, which they can then use to "bankroll these politicians who are going to kick it right back to them."
I was starting to feel as though I had enough perspective, but the rather rotund pair gave me some more. Said Petrie, "I'd love to have a state job." Agreed Clark, "If I think my job is so hard and I'm treated horribly, there's the door, I'm free to leave."
It was this kind of freedom that Saturday's rally was meant to protect.