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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  A Few Clouds
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A few downtown Madison businesses have gladly staked out positions on the Walker budget
Signs of the times

Hawk's owner Hawk Schenkel: 'I'm proud to have signs in the window.'
Credit:Bill Lueders
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In recent days, a sandwich-board sign has adorned the corner of State and Gorham streets, by a retail store. Its messages have included, "Stop the Walker wrecking crew." But an employee says the sign does not belong to the store: "We're a business. We can't really do that."

Tell that to the dozen or so State Street businesses - a minority, to be sure - that are displaying signs protesting Gov. Scott Walker's plans and supporting his opponents.

"We knew a lot of our customers were going to be affected by this bill," says Laura Komai, co-owner of Anthology, 218 State St. "We felt very strongly we needed to make a statement in support."

So way back on Feb. 15, the store put up a sign: "Our small business depends on students, faculty, staff and state workers," above a protest poster with a raised fist. Since then, says Komai, "A lot of our regular customers have stopped in and said, 'Thanks for your sign, thanks for your support.'" Anthology, which makes buttons, has even gotten some business out of it.

Jack Garver, owner of the Fanny Garver Art Gallery, 230 State St., says a protest-themed art display in his window, along with a sign backing public employees, has been wildly popular. "Everybody thinks it's really cute. People are thanking us for our support."

But Garver says the protests are "hurting business," to where he may need to lay people off. "I think it's keeping some people away from the downtown," in part by making it harder to park.

Other businesses report that their signs have pulled customers in. "We've definitely had some sales because of them," says Jacky Trudeau, owner of Sunshine Daydream, 619 State St., which has a large number of signs.

According to Mary Carbine, executive director of Madison's Central Business Improvement District, the protests have been "very good for downtown businesses that either serve food or sell it" but "not necessarily a boon for other types of businesses. It doesn't seem that this is a shopping crowd."

Carbine has not seen any downtown businesses with pro-Walker signs, adding "that doesn't mean they don't exist, because there is a diversity of opinion on this."

Across the street from the Capitol at 20 W. Mifflin St., the Coopers Tavern last week brandished a "We support working families" sign. Owner Pete McElvanna says this drew an angry call from someone who vowed, "We'll not be in as long as you've got your sign up." His caller ID (a feature Gov. Walker apparently lacks on his phones) identified the call as coming from "State of Wisconsin."

McElvanna says "no threats were made," and his reaction was "whatever, dude." The sign was stolen overnight, but he's disinclined to jump to conclusions: "Maybe someone's got a poster for their wall."

Of the State Street businesses Isthmus spoke to, the only negative reaction was reported by an employee at a store with a vast array of protest signs, who said some people complained about an erasable board message, "No tea parties allowed in the store." This play on "No Food or Drink" signs was meant as a joke but perceived as discriminatory. "They didn't get the joke."

Afterward, the employee contacted Isthmus to ask that the store's name not be mentioned, saying, "My manager is afraid we will get a lot of harassing phone calls."

Hawk Schenkel of Hawk's Bar & Grill, 425 State St., is a bit less bashful: "I'm proud to have signs in the window." The protests have been good for business, and "there's been some good debates at the bar" - unlike, say, in the state Legislature.

Craig Butenhoff, owner of Jazzman, 340 State St., is also proud of his signs, which have drawn a warm reaction from customers. He doesn't think the protests have hurt his business any, but even if they did, "I don't care because I'm behind these people."

Protests a win-win for police

While no one has a firm handle on how much it will cost for the daily presence of hundreds of law enforcement officers at peaceful protests at the Capitol, it is possible to guess.

State officials say about 200 officers a day have been sent to the Capitol from dozens of agencies across Wisconsin. The state has promised to reimburse local governments for salaries, mileage and lodging costs.

The city of Madison has been heavily represented, with a daily presence at the Capitol of between 70 and 220 officers, according to Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain.

As of Monday, DeSpain said Madison is "somewhere about the 12,000-hour mark in terms" of its commitment of officers. But he declined to crunch the numbers, in part because it isn't known how much overtime pay is involved. The department was unable to provide a midweek update.

The average salary of a Madison cop is just over $60,000. Assuming a 40-hour workweek, that translates to $28.85 an hour. Multiply that by 12,000 hours and the state - which Gov. Walker insists is "broke" - already owes Madison $346,200. And that's just for straight wages through Monday, Feb. 28, without overtime or other costs.

But perhaps it is money well spent. Over the past two weeks, warm relations have developed between protesters and the law enforcement officers on hand to keep them in line. By and large they like each other, and see each other as being on the same side.

"There are going to be some positives that come from this," says DeSpain. "People who didn't know their local law enforcement before, they've spent a lot of hours with each other and learned that police are here to protect and serve."

A fox among chickens

Is Gov. Scott Walker going to fire Manny Perez, his pick to head the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development?

That's a logical if not inevitable conclusion to draw from remarks made by the governor at a press conference last week. In seeking to refute charges that he is out to bust unions, Walker said, "I don't have any interest in doing anything to the private unions. I think the private unions are too important to getting the state's economy going. I welcome working with them."

This sentiment would appear to put Walker on a collision course with Perez, a labor market economist who for the last several years was president and co-owner of JNA Staffing Inc., a Milwaukee-based temp help firm. An advertisement from 2009 touts Perez as a featured speaker at a seminar on "What Can Be Done to Keep Your Business Union Free."

Isthmus sent Perez an email asking him to put this past role "into the context you feel is most appropriate."

Perez did not reply. Perhaps he's out looking for work?

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