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The Incredible Shrinking $7.5 Million Damage Tab for the Wisconsin Capitol Protests
When all is said and spun, some will judge the veracity of Governor Scott Walker's administration by a single number it released in March 2011.
The "Wisconsin Uprising" hit its stride in February-March, 2011 with more than 100,000 protesters rallying outside the Capitol and thousands more inside, including hundreds who occupied overnight for up to three weeks. When the administration was seeking to limit public access to the Capitol during the protests, the Wisconsin Department of Administration's chief counsel Cari Anne Renlund, told a judge hearing the access case that the cleanup would cost $6 million to repair damaged marble inside the Capitol, $1 million for damage outside and $500,000 for costs to supervise the damage. The estimates (which were the same as the original cost of the entire construction of the Capitol nearly a century ago) were based largely on alleged tape residue damage from signs. Protestors countered that they had consulted with preservationists and used marble-safe blue painter's tape. Their militant adherence to the blue tape was visible to every Capitol visitor.
Pants on Fire
The $7.5 million dollar damage claim was so laughable to people on the ground that even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's fact-checking arm, "Politifact," promptly rated the claim a "pants on fire" lie (which earns the site's flaring flames icon). The Walker administration eventually backed away from the number, revising it downward to one twentieth the original figure, to $350,000, but only after the $7.5 million had been repeated endlessly on Fox News and other right-wing media outlets.
A little more than a year later the real costs are in and the Milwaukee paper has reported that the actual costs, including the major cost of reseeding the muddy Capitol lawn, was about half again the lowest estimated cost put forth by the administration, or $200,000 -- less than 3 percent of the original estimate.
Don't expect to see any corrections on Fox News.
Meanwhile, Bloodstains Still Mar Capitol Marble
But now CMD has uncovered previously unreported damage to the Capitol attributable to DOA staff, not Wisconsin citizens exercising their First Amendment freedoms.
Protestor Leslie Peterson showed CMD the Capitol's hundred year old marble landing on the second floor where state workers have been unable without abrading the stone to remove bloodstains caused by a July 2011 attack by a knife-wielding Department of Administration employee. On July 25, then-state facilities director Ron Blair accosted Peterson after the regular noon-time "Solidarity Sing Along," when she was carrying a mylar balloon in the shape of a heart. Red heart balloons were long a symbol of the Wisconsin protests because some of the first protests took place on Valentine's Day 2011.
Blair was said to have been frustrated by one balloon in particular that had defied removal attempts for months because it was lodged in an inaccessible section of the Capitol dome and its helium refused to bleed. Blair, an official of the state's Department of Administration, apparently became incensed at seeing another balloon in the Capitol -- declaring to Peterson, "I'm sick of fishing these off the ceiling!" -- and then lunged at Peterson's balloon with a knife. He sliced the balloon and somehow injured himself with the knife, shedding blood on the white marble in the area of the attack. The incident led to a guilty plea by Blair for disorderly conduct.
At the Wisconsin Capitol, the beautiful green lawn is back, but the bloodstain remains on the white marble outside the Supreme Court.