Scott Walker Down the Rat Hole with the Palace Guard

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 is a reporter for the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation and is a two-time recipient of the Sidney Prize for public interest journalism from the Sidney Hillman Foundation.


Lemme get this straight.... Union officials, who represent the financial interests of hundreds of thousands of people by weilding their one and only Big Stick -- strike action -- are actually people who are being mean to employers by forcing them to pay a decent wage? That it's these union bosses who are living a lavish lifestyle? In contrast to whom? The Kochs?!! Are you insane? Or do you merely believe whatever benefits the bank statement of the upper class must then also be good for the working class they hire too, right? I'll bet around the same time you failed to think that one through fpor yourself is also the time you began believing that if one only works hard, invests prudently, follows the laws and attends church...that their odds of becoming fabulously wealthy too are all very goo,... and that there's no need to rely on good luck, great connections, excellent timing, or sans any of those more typical paths to wealth in America, then approaching blife with a ruthless, virtually martial business savvy that you were "lucky" enough to have drummed into you by a merciless, extremely authoritarian parent whom you could never quite please no matter how much you earned. Is that it? Because otherwise, you are beyond naive. You're a Limbaugh-Beck clone who hasn't had an original thought since adolescense.

Lisa, based on the strength and veracity of this article I support your sentiment and statement 100% - disinformation and venality is grounds for exclusion from real discourse. As a tech consultant I unfortunately see this behavior all the time - whether the HBGary plan was deployed (and there are indications this wasn't just theoretical, but an active program) - there still are fundamental choices about how to deal with disinformation and trolls. The first step is to identify the obvious lie. The enormity and importance of this issue is not lost on us in Seattle. If you represent prwatch please thank your team for a well-researched and vital piece of reportage...Again - thank you. Please do not let up. The whole world is watching. We all know this charade of the democratic process will not stand and that the constituents of Wisconsin will prevail. We cannot ignore the damage that a small group can inflict upon our values and our society, but we can take a stand and know that reason and ethics will prevail. For those who cannot stand in your rotunda...we stand behind you. We are proud of our values and our accomplishments. We are America.

Well written article!! I believe this gives those not living in or around Madison a fair view of what is going here. This whole situation is dispicable. Attempting to take away unions rights to collective bargain is not only fundamentally crazy, it shows a distinct lack of truthfulness in the "We are open for business" mantra. This week the stakes were raised with the big reveal of the budget. At this point in time, there is no man, women or child that has been left out the budget fallout. This budget effects every Wisconsinite in a negative way from cradle to the grave!! I believe we are all aware that the economy is dictating that we all tighten our belts a bit, (and I will refrain from dialogueing here as to how we got in this mess) but the way this is being brought about is a blunt attack on the hard working middle class as a whole, whether you are in a union or not, whether you vote Democrat or republican.This bill aims to divide this state into a working poor vs corporate wealth. Our governor and the republican assembly should be ashamed of themselves. They are not showing the State of Wisconsin or the world what democracy truely is about. To support a bill that strips a state of its' very ability to exist is uncomprehensible.

Michigan is going through the same thing as Wisconsin except we are being too complacent. Our protest are not as big as Wisconsins. We need to be more pro-active. As soon as I retire, I am out of this state because it is going down the tubes fast.

I am one of those "out of state union thugs", originally and proudly from Wisconsin. That term has been applied to Samuel Gompers, Eugene Debs, George Meany and others and if you would be so kind as to include me in that group I would be pleased. I am also one of the "slobs" that slept in the state capitol, "our house". Let me tell you a story Johnny. A group of people, lets call them "citizens", formed a state based upon the idea it was better to govern themselves and look out for their own self interests, to use the genius of their intellect and create a system where all who wanted could be educated and realizing that they, as a group, were only as grand as the least among them. Outside forces, let's call them the "others", with rich financial resources and wherewithal decided they could use their resources and throw away this idea and impose a system that would make them richer and more powerful. When the "citizens" heard about the "others" plans they raced to a prominent public building and occupied it. When other people, let's call them "supporters" from around the country heard about the "others" plan to impose their will on the "citizens" they raced to the public building as well. After several weeks of turmoil the others seemed to vanquish the citizens and their supporters, yet in their heightened emotional state they even turned upon some of their own. The desire to dominate was so strong the others could not stop themselves. What the others did not know was during the time they were focused on the citizens in front of them the rest of the nation woke up, attacked and decisively defeated the others. Now John, you may think I have described the recent events in Madsion and in broad strokes I have, but what I was really relating was an outline of Santa Anna's assault on the Alamo. John- Madison is your Alamo and I for one will not rest until Wisconsin, my Wisconsin, is restored. You and your kind have overreached and you will have to own it and years from now when you can't sleep you will think back on these days and in your heart, in that palce where only you go you will know what a fuckup Scott Walker was and how foolish you were to support him. Have a good life.

I was in Madison this past Saturday to protest Governor Walker’s actions regarding his, and the conservatives, “reshaping” of our society. Before you ridicule me as a radical liberal, please make an effort to understand my position and the position of over a hundred thousand other Wisconsinites who were there. We are not attention seekers or selfish. We want the best for our society, the same as you. Perhaps you believe the arguments about public unions taking too much of your money in the taxes you pay and that, for this reason, our economy is hurting. I’ve talked to many who believe this: neighbors, coworkers and even family and friends. It’s been difficult for all of us. You are probably not rich. Most of us are NOT rich. Did you know that 400 individual people in our country own half (yes, HALF) of the wealth of all the rest of us combined? We all know that money buys power. Billions of dollars buys great power. It’s not surprising that rich people have a different view of what our country should look like than you and me. Of course it only makes sense for them to use this power to create the kind of society that benefits them the most. Did you ever wonder what happened to anti-trust laws? You know the ones that stopped large corporations from buying other companies if it made them too big and powerful? When I was a teen I remember learning that these were called monopolies and we should be wary of them. Conservatives convinced us that we don’t need government laws like this. “Too much government”, they cried. More power for the rich. Did you know that Wall Street speculators (gamblers) are driving up the price of gas at the pump as I write this? They will get richer and we all are paying. Did you know that in the face of record oil company profits we are still giving them money (subsidies)? Really? Yes. There are more examples of how the rich look after themselves than I have space to write. Bank CEO’s are still giving themselves 17 million dollar bonuses. What happened to our outrage over this a short time ago? The reason I cite these examples is simply to show that the changes being forced upon us all has nothing to do with “helping” you and me. These budget changes will benefit the rich and hurt the rest of us. The result: quality education for rich peoples’ kids; management and higher paying jobs for rich peoples kids. The signpost up ahead reads “The American dream – only the rich need apply.” Yes, they may create jobs, but they won’t be the kind of jobs that many of us would really want. New jobs resulting from these changes will be low paying and disrespected. We are fast becoming a Plutocracy (government by the rich and for the rich). Please let’s not let this continue. We are beginning to see even more “movie trailer” quality commercials attacking anyone who would oppose them in their efforts. Billionaire Koch brothers are paying for these. They are very convincing. After all, this is the expertise of corporations who market their products very successfully. Yes, it is a sort of brainwashing. Convince me that it’s not. Did you know that Fox “News” is licensed as entertainment, not news? True. It is owned by an incredibly rich man - Rupert Murdoch (worth 6.2 billion dollars). Walter Cronkite would never have worked there. It is huge corporation and so are the other major networks. WORDS are POWER. Rush Limbaugh is worth 400 million dollars. Do you think he really cares about you and me? Unions are the only defense we all have from the rich imposing their will on the rest of us. It’s not surprising the rich used their power to change the law regarding who could contribute to state campaigns. The result was millions of dollars spent by the likes of New York billionaire David Koch (worth 4.8 billion dollars) in our last election of Walker. This man doesn’t care about you and me. He hates small business and of course unions. Unions represent the last and only defense we all have against the rich. When they’re gone, they won’t be back. More power. They are making it harder and harder for non-conservatives to vote. (Please investigate this for yourself.) More power. We all need to wake up and see what’s happening. We are fast becoming a Plutocracy (government by the rich and for the rich). This kind of thing doesn’t just happen. While we have been content to live our lives the past 10 or 20 years, the rich have been working very hard to make it happen. When someone says that we don’t need big government, remember – government means ALL OF US. This isn’t what our young, fragile, experimental government was meant to become. Let’s not be pawns in their attack on OUR view of society. Bullies ridicule to silence others. This issue is important and deserves thoughtful discussion: not name calling and hateful, sarcastic rhetoric aimed at our respected community members. And not one to be reduced to a battle between neighbors about wages and benefits. This is much bigger. When you see impressive commercials (and you already are) consider their REAL goal. To divide us and distract us from what the elite are doing to our society right in front of our eyes. I for one am not going to buy this product. It is scary and dangerous to our way of life.