Posted by Mary Bottari on March 04, 2011

The Wisconsin State Capitol has erupted in a torrent of lawlessness this week that schoolchildren will be reading about for years. No, I don't mean rowdy protests resulting in mass arrests. Even though some 300,000 people have visited the capitol in the last two weeks, the crowds have been peaceful and fun; and only a few arrests have been reported. I mean the convulsion of lawlessness that has seized Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican leadership -- a track record that would make Richard Nixon proud.

Republic Senate Passes Unconstitutional Measures to Rein In Wisconsin 14

Protest sign seen at WI CapitolAs the Wisconsin Capitol remained in almost complete lockdown Thursday in violation of a standing court order, senate Republican leadership turned up the heat on the missing 14 Democratic legislators with an unprecedented series of new rules, some of which were quickly assessed by lawyers as flatly unconstitutional. On Thursday, 19 Republican senators passed a resolution authorizing the missing Senate Democrats to be taken into custody by any Wisconsin law enforcement officer for "contempt of the Senate." Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the actions were justified because the 14 "have pushed us to the edge of a constitutional crisis."

The latest legal ploy comes in the context of news reports that the Wisconsin 14, who left the state to delay Governor Walker's bill to eviscerate 50 years of collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public employees, were preparing to come back under their own steam to fight the battle of the budget. One senate staffer explained that it would be impossible for the 14 to remain out when budget bill deliberations actually get underway because they were needed to defend school children, the poor and the elderly against draconian cuts in the bill.

The unprecedented "arrest warrant" was taken as a preemptive strike. As the senators were meeting, a Dane County Court Judge was poised to rule the capitol lockdown unconstitutional. The Republicans hoped to shift the focus of the TV news that night and the next day to their missing Democratic colleagues. But the prominent law firm of Cullen, Weston, Pines threw a wrench into these plans when it quickly reminded the public that "the Wisconsin Constitution absolutely prohibits members of the Wisconsin Senate from being arrested for non-criminal offense. The Wisconsin Senate' action today ... has no basis in the law of this state." Further, the firm argued that if the orders of the Republican legislators were carried out, they themselves could be subject to a contempt ruling under a Wisconsin statute that protects public officials from just this type of chicanery.

Late in the afternoon, the head of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, James Palmer, pleaded for sanity in the State Capitol: "The thought of using law enforcement officers to exercise force in order to achieve a political objective is insanely wrong, and Wisconsin sorely needs reasonable solutions and not potentially dangerous political theatrics."

Legal Chicanery and Petty Politics

Republican senators had been ramping up the pressure on Democrats all week, passing a resolution Wednesday that fines the absent fourteen $100 for every day they are absent. Lawyers point out that the $100 fine is likely also unconstitutional under Wisconsin law. They passed a resolution to allow the senate Sergeant at Arms to request the assistance of any law enforcement officer in the state to find and return any senator who is absent without leave. The Republican senators needed the extra help, since no local law enforcement agency was treating the political brouhaha as a serious police matter. It is likely the Wisconsin's State Patrol will be suborned into the hunt. The State Patrol is headed by recently-appointed Stephen Fitzgerald, father of both the Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald and State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.

The Senate also assigned Republican "supervisors" to the staff of he missing senators. For instance, Republican Senator Cowles is assigned to supervise the staff of Democratic Senator Hansen. Many saw this as preparation to fire Democratic staff members, or the ultimate move to expel Democratic senators, which would indeed cause a constitutional crisis, beyond the one precipitated by Walker's unilateral dictates.

"Palace Guard" Maintains Capitol Lockdown In Defiance of a Court Order

Since Monday, March 1, the Capitol building has been in an unprecedented lockdown as the governor attempted to clear the building in advance of his Tuesday budget address. Protesters, Capitol workers, legislators, Congressmen and others were shut out. Windows were sealed shut. The lockdown continued in contempt of court, because a Dane County judge ordered the Capitol to open on Tuesday. When firefighters responding to an emergency call at the Capitol Tuesday, even they were turned away (firefighters have stood with the protesters since the start of the fracas.) Although they were eventually allowed in to rescue a police officer from an elevator, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said enough was enough. He withdrew his men from the capitol, saying they were not hired to act as a "Palace Guard."

Faced with the problem of getting his supporters in to the Assembly Chamber on Tuesday, the governor and his guard escorted a cadre of lobbyists and well-heeled friends through a utility tunnel that runs from a parking lot across the street, under the Capitol grounds to the building's basement. Madison City Councilwoman Shiva Bidar-Sielaff heard that the tunnel might be being used for this purpose and went to check it out. She found about a dozen police officers guarding the tunnel entrance, some from Milwaukee, some in suits with unknown insignias. She witnessed an unmarked police vehicle screech into the garage. Out stepped Wisconsin's First Lady, Tonnett Walker, who was hustled into the tunnel as if the parking garage was under attack. "It was all very 'Men in Black,'" the Councilwoman said with a laugh, as she watched with a handful of other observers. Other Walker supporters had been bused in earlier; the bus signs and arrows were still up on the walls.

Not surprisingly, the Governor's plans to cut $1 billion dollars from public education and cap property taxes to force localities to balance their budget shortfalls on the backs of teachers and other public workers was greeted with wild cheers. Only about 20 protesters were allowed in, and they were quickly escorted out when one upstart let lose a single "boo." The Governor's private address took place in defiance of a standing court order to open the Capitol to protesters, prompting Democratic assembly leader Peter Barca to question the legality of the whole event under the state's strong open meetings laws.

Desks on the Capitol Lawn

On Wednesday, Assembly Democratic representatives couldn't get their work done with the Capitol in a virtual lockdown, so they took their desks out on the lawn for office hours. Democratic Rep. Nick Milroy spoke with constituents standing in the freezing cold -- the Wednesday low for Madison was minus 6 degrees, not including wind chill. Milroy relocated his desk, complete with family pictures and trinkets onto the muddy lawn. On Thursday night, Milroy was wrestled to the ground by police trying to prevent him from getting inside the building to his office.

Representative Marc Pocan was so irate with ever-shifting rules and the open access Republican legislators seemed to enjoy, that he issued an "Open Letter to Whoever is Calling the Shots on the Lockdown at the State Capitol," demanding to know who was in charge and asking for a measure of fairness for the constituents of Democratic legislators.

On Thursday, a lone protestor stood in front of the parking lot which holds the Capitol utility tunnel entrance with a sign "Rat Hole to Walker's Palace."

Court Rules Capitol Shutdown Unconstitutional (Again), Protesters March Out in Victory

In the early evening on Thursday, a Dane County Court judge ruled for the second time that Walker's virtual shut down of the Capitol was an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of the protesters. An agreement was reached to return the Capitol to normal business operations by Monday. After talking to former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, Capitol Police Chief Tubbs and Sheriff Mahoney who explained the terms of the agreement, remaining protesters agreed to leave the building for cleaning. The 100 or so remaining protesters, who had stayed in the building in an effort to keep it open, packed up their gear and left to the applause of Democratic Assembly members and countless other supporters who had been blocked from entering these past few days.

Lautenschlager summed up the two day-long court battle: "This is an important determination by the courts. First it says that actions of the state government officials are unconstitutional, and it also affords average citizens the right to be in their Capitol on Monday to lobby their legislators and conduct normal business. It is a huge plus in terms of access, and a huge plus in terms of signaling to Governor Walker and his colleagues that they will not be allowed to tread on people's constitutional rights."

Protesters Having a Big Impact, Walker's Poll Numbers Tanking

All that drumming from the Wisconsin State Capitol is having a big impact. The governor's poll numbers are tanking, and even the Republican-friendly polling firm Rasmussen shows that only 41% support the governor's proposal to gut collective bargaining in the state, while 56% support the workers. Another poll shows that if the election were held today, Walker would lose in a rematch 52%-45%.

There are many shoes yet to drop in this dramatic battle in Wisconsin. Will the Republicans attempt to enforce their illegal warrant against the missing 14? Will Papa Fitzgerald show for work in epaulettes? Will the governor start laying off 13,000 workers as promised, using real people with real lives as pawns in his political game?

Stay tuned, politics in Wisconsin have never been this wild.

Video submitted by Ann Murphy.


The Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy has been live reporting from the historic Wisconsin protests since day one. Check out our coverage here. Tomorrow, over 100,000 people will be out in what may be the largest rally in labor history, and certainly in Wisconsin history.

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari, CMD's Deputy Director, is an experienced policy wonk and consumer advocate who has served as a senior analyst on trade.

Comments

Mary: The absolute power and control vested in the Union Bosses has resulted in a power circle of corruption where Unions collect massive amounts of money by forced dues collection from State Workers, which Bosses then channel the massive campaign donations to Campaign Funding for the Selected Politicians they want and get elected, which “Selected” Politicians, then reward the Union bosses with excessively generous additional "Benefits" and “counter-productive “work rules” for the overpaid State workers, all at whole State’s expense and suffering.
So what you have here is a "Special Interest Group" culture of corruption by the State Workers Unions, telling the rest of the State that if they are refused these extravagant benefits, then tough, the Union is just going to shut the entire State Government down and you all can go bankrupt if our “Special Interest Group” doesn’t get its way and we keep our "Special Privileges and Work Rules".
This is patently antisocial and not fair to all.
Mary, you article is mostly a prevarication of this problem and not the TRUTH at all.
Sorry, it is mostly a lie, not the Truth at all, not the Facts as I know them.
Stop lying Mary, tell the truth. Telling lies will not change the Facts.
The Union control is corrupt and benefits only the Union Bosses selective membership, all at the Expense of entire population of the State.
Are you a Union person? Do you benefit personally from the Union endeavors??
I suspect that you are in some way connected to the Union, right??
Make a full disclosure of your own agenda, Mary, come on, tell the truth.
I challenge you to do just that, right here is this public forum.

John D. is obviously right. It's dem union bosses control's this here country. We gotta get rid of them unions with their stranglehold so we can take our country back. Back to that time when there was no protections like workmen's comp and unemployment insurance and child labor laws and a 40-hour week and job safety regs so's a real man can get a decent week's pay for an 80-hour week. We know its because of that union boss stranglehold that the decent folks who own what them labor aristocrats want to take away are havin such hard trouble gettin' what they feel they deserve. It's their God given right, you know!

And we know, of course, that if it wasn't for organized labor, then all them other deadbeats - them folks with so-called disabilities, those slackers and gold bricks claimin' they're too old to work, etc. -- Why, Walker, he wouldn't have to cut them off maybe, and push their wheel chairs over a cliff. Why, Walker if he was smart, he would outlaw walkers so's them fakers would have to use what our good lord gave them to go to work! No Walkers from Walker! That's what I say!

Yep, I wanna thank ol' John D. (Thought I'd never praise a Rockyfeller but times they are a changin'! Back!)

P.S. You ain't Eyetalian by any chance, are yuh? You with one of them there mob unions?

Dear John D.:

We stand by this story 100%, in spite of your claim the truth does not comport to the facts as you know them.

Do tell: which facts about the Nixonian manuevers of Walker's lackeys in orchestrating the budget address to minimize dissent or in violating long-standing rules in order to punish opponents can you actually prove are not correct.

If you persist in baseless disparaging of one my team members, your lying accusations will not be given air time in this forum again.

CMD does not accept donations from either corporations or unions or the government. That's a fact.

So, now why don't you tell the truth, John D. Who do you work for? And which right-wing corporate-backed lie machine have you been watching to feed you the misinformation you are trying to spread?

Lisa Graves

:)

Get em Lisa!!!!!

John D -

You're delusional and not worth arguing with about this or any other issue. Have a nice day.

“There is no arguing with one who denies first principles”
Latin Proverb

well said Leslie, best not to engage those who willfully spread propagandist BS, it only encourages them...as an 'ol farmer once told me. "never argue with a (Re)pig, it only frustrates you and irritates the (Re)pig"

I am in no way connected with any union and never have been.

You want to talk Truth John? Then cite to me ONE instance of where Walker disclosed to the voters his true intentions of abolishing collective bargaining. He even brags about the meeting he held with his cabinet the night before he "dropped the bomb". He kept it a secret because he knew people would not accept such a radical idea. Walker is the biggest liar to ever sneak his way into the Wisconsin Governors office.

Make no mistake - this weasel will be recalled in 2012. It doesn't take a rabid union organizer to know that they've been hoodwinked by an extremist who was too scared to present the truth about his views in an honest election.

Zeig Heil! You bloody fascist pig

Hey, John D (rockefeller?)— Here's a challenge to you: How do unions, which comprise 7% of workers in the private sector and 14% of workers in the public sector, control the country and its politics as you say?

Also, on the idea that the Democrat party is funded by unions, how can that be? Since the majority of labor, 93% private and 86% public, is non-union, where can they get the funds to outspend Goldman Sachs? Note that Dems Andrew Cuomo and Jerry Brown are both union busting as well.

The majority of money going to both parties is overwhelmingly corporate. Check it on opensecrets.org. That's why both parties are union busting—they're corporate controlled, not union controlled. Corporations also control media—less than 10 of them—and that's where you got the info for your screed. Go look up the facts of who finances campaigns.

Corporations are corrupt and they give money to politicians...Lets ban them...

That's the crux of your 'argument' turned up side down on you.
Is it legal or fair to ban corporations because they're corrupt and they give money to campaigns?

and you lie, btw....
Are you a corporate head?

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