It’s been a few months since I wrote my last column on the continuing protests in Madison and across the state. At that time it was in response to some zombies who showed up at a Capitol event honoring Wisconsin’s Special Olympians. I opined that there are times when policy makers are performing ceremonial duties and representing the citizens of the state as a whole. During those times, there should be a modicum of respect exercised for the constituents being recognized.
Since then, the protesters have continued with their constitutional right to protest and petition their government. I’m sure there are readers who will agree with me that this has become a circus, that actions on the part of some have even become counter-productive; others believe that this is a necessary response to politicians who have gone mad with power.
Each weekday, a handful of protesters gather in the Capitol rotunda with signs and song, coming and going peacefully while continuing to reinforce the beliefs so passionately illustrated in the spring. But some protest actions that have occurred over the last two months have been childish and removed from the issues, and in my opinion, the protesters are hurting their own cause .
In August, Gov. Scott Walker was booed and heckled while he officially opened the Wisconsin State Fair. Every governor since Wisconsin was a mere territory has had the honor to welcome visitors to the fair. The last time such a display of political anger and venom occurred at the fair was in the early 1900s, when Teddy Roosevelt took a bullet from a mentally ill man during a speech on the grounds.
In late August, in response to Gov. Walker’s visit to a parochial elementary school to read to read to students, protesters angry about public school cuts and school choice policy super-glued the locks of the building. Did that stop Walker from coming to the school to read to students? No. But it did cost an inner-city Milwaukee school hundreds of dollars to replace locks that could have gone toward educational programs.
Two weeks ago, we learned of a state parole officer receiving a fine for unnecessarily honking his horn in Wauwatosa. His crime? He drove from his downtown Milwaukee office after work each day to the Governor’s Tosa home to beep his horn, give a one-finger salute and shout “Recall Walker.” It didn’t seem to bother Azael Brodhead that the governor is rarely at his Tosa home and that his two teenage sons and parents are living there.
Then there is the case of professional protester Miles Kristan. Known around Madison as “the pink dress guy,” Kristan thought it would be a noble gesture for the cause to dump a beer on the head of Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. Reps. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) and John Nygren (R-Marinette) also caught some suds in the face.
Some of Kristan’s co-protesters said Vos deserved the beer baptism, since he helped passed a budget that hurts the citizens of Wisconsin. The Madison police issued a disorderly conduct ticket to Kristan instead of a charging him with misdemeanor disorderly conduct or assault. Kristan paid the ticket and was given a hero’s reception as he left Madison’s police station.
Kristan’s friends even came up with a song in honor of his misconduct toward Vos – ”We’re gonna pour, we’re gonna pour, gonna pour a beer on him.”
‘This is Wisconsin, this is the place where you had some guy pour a beer on the head of a Republican State Senator?” Greg Palast said as the crowd erupted with cheers. “No, no, no, that’s all wrong. You can’t do that. That’s just wrong. I’m from New York. If you’re going to pour beer on a Republican, you have to drink it first.”
I guess political protesting has now deteriorated to the level of a middle school gym locker room.
All of this has led me to believe that enough is enough. Gov. Walker and the Republican-led legislature know there are voters, workers and citizens who are unhappy with the collective bargaining reforms and the cuts to transit, reproductive health programs and education. We have all heard that Walker played a bait and switch on the state – that he didn’t specifically campaign on cutting public employee bargaining privileges – and we all watched some of the Democratic candidates who ran in recalls this summer barely touching on that every issue, even though that is what the petitioners said was the reason to recall six Republican senators.
There are still rumblings of a recall of Gov. Walker in November. Will it never end? I would argue that Republicans “suffered” for eight years with policies they didn’t accept or like under Jim Doyle and Democrat-controlled legislatures. Why can’t Democrats do the same?
Voters are currently mixed on the Republicans’ changes to state policies. While they are supportive of reducing public employee benefits and basing teacher pay on merit, they are also equally split on Gov. Walker’s overall performance and whether the collective bargaining changes needed to be made at all.
Those poll results, gathered by Douglas E. Schoen LLC for the Manhattan Institute, don’t seem to have changed much concerning Walker or the voter’s mixed feelings concerning fiscal policies and public services. And after months of protesting, there doesn’t seem to be much change, either.
Let’s move on. It’s time to take plant the seeds of change where this state – and this nation’s – democratic process have always intended – at the polls. And with two elections coming up in the next fourteen months, there will be plenty of opportunity to speak with our votes.