The other day, the Wisconsin legislature's Joint Finance Committee delayed reimbursement to the city of Madison at the urging of 14 Republican lawmakers. Madison's request is apparently being "audited."
In their letter, the Republicans state incorrectly that, as mayor, I ordered Madison police to not participate "in any law enforcement actions to remove or control siege protesters within the Capitol." What actually happened is on that March day, our police department was asked if it would help forcibly remove protesters from the building. Chief Noble Wray refused on the grounds that he saw no credible public safety threat from the protesters. In fact, it was his feeling that trying to forcibly remove the protesters had the potential to create a dangerous situation that didn't exist at the time. I told the chief that I supported his decision and would say so publicly.
It's now clear why the Republicans wanted the building cleared. That evening, they forced through a vote on the governor's union busting bill with less than the required legal notice. People streamed to the building in anger upon learning about this vote.
I was scheduled to be at a mayoral debate that night, but went to the Capitol instead. Things were the most tense than I had previously seen over weeks of protests. There was a rumor going around that people would be forced from the building. So, at one point, I got on a bullhorn and announced that Madison police would not participate in any forced removals of protesters. The evening ended without any serious incidents.
So, let's recap. Thousands of peaceful protesters occupied the Capitol building for weeks. They were so respectful that they even used painters tape to affix their posters to the marble walls so that no residue would be left behind. They helped Capitol maintenance staff keep the place clean. Republican leaders wanted those peaceful protesters removed so that they could pass their bill in virtual secrecy.
Our police department refused to participate in what was essentially a political action. Their decision was based, not on any order from me, but on their professional judgement that the action was unnecessary from a public safety perspective. I supported that decision.
Not to long before, in the same building, the governor of our state told who he thought was a major campaign contributor that he and his staff had considered hiring thugs to create possibly violent disruptions to the protests, and he rejected that idea because it might have backfired politically. There was some indication that the suggestion to hire outside agitators had come from a Republican lawmaker.
I'm proud of the decisions made by Madison police commanders, I'm proud of the way our front-line officers performed, and I believe I made the right decisions as mayor during that time. Madison should be reimbursed for the expenses caused by the legitimate and peaceful public response to Governor Walker's bill.
Don't audit Madison. Audit the Republicans.