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.


Public employees are underpaid by 10% compared to private workers with similar education and work experience. Factor in benefits and they are still underpaid by 4.8%. Please stop spreading the lies about overpaid State workers! This is, pure and simple, an attack on working class citizens. As a small business owner, I rely on the people that you are attacking. They are my customers!

This article offers the briefing, news release and full study to back this claim:

Wow, you really are clueless. Why don't you learn a little about campaign financing first. I don't like to debate people who can't do anything but repeat what they hear from Beck and Limbaugh

There is a little truth in eveything but what really matters is the civilians that depend on the services the public workers render. Neither political side is all for the single parent thats out of work and receiving food stamps, medical Assistance, Welfare to Work, Trying to find work or going back to school with children enrolled in Public Schools all while on the brink of a breakdown. Open your eyes and ears and think before you express such strong beliefs on whats the truth. Truth be told the poor aint going away and are growing in numbers. When you make it so these services are harder to Qualify for, lower benifit levels and contract with Private companies to run public services at a lower rate the only ones that feel it the most are the poor children.

John, In response to your comments above. I can't answer for Mary regarding whether, or not, she has a personal interest in the outcome of this debate. But, I can tell you that you are ill-informed if you think this is primarily a union debate. Personally, I have no vested interest in this, or any other union debate, but still stand opposed to Walker's budget bill. The issue of collective bargaining is a controversial issue, which has been used to take the focus of the other alarming aspects of this bill. Slashing education funding, medicaid, and privatizing the University of Wisconsin - Madison are enormously imporant issues that have been left undiscussed. Additionally, the provision that would allow the privatizination of energy plants, with no legislative approval, is of grave concern - and quite suspect, if considering the relationship between Walker aned Koch Industries. Please do not assume that the only individuals who oppose this administration are either democrats and/or union members. I have been a registered republican for 25 years, however I am vehemently opposed to this bill, as well as to Governor Walker. Every elected official, democrat or republican, has an obligation to engage in honest, open debate regarding policy. It is quite clear that Walker has no intention of participating in such. This has been demonstrated not only by his militant actions, but more shockingly, in the recorded statements made when he assumed he was speaking with David Koch.

Administration officials in open court testified that damage to the capital by protesters approached $7.5M. They are now backing off that claim:

Walker's next threat in this drama will be to attack Illinois. If he can't send the troopers over the State line, he will extend the State line. Perhaps form a coalition of the willing with Indiana? New Jersey? Read on....

Wonderful article ! As a Wisconsin resident it's refreshing to see the truth about what is exacting going on here. Alot of news media is not reporting the trueth ! Scott Walker has to GO along with all the GOP senators (they're all corrupt)! He is a dictator for sure! He has no reguard for the law or the constitution . Wisconsin is under a "HOSTILE CORPORATE TAKEOVER" and other states will be next. Get out and protest to save America. You forgot to include the famous "Walker prank phone call" . I just read an article titled "Wisconsin lawmakers seek to criminalize prank phone calls that make Scott Walker look bad" Can you believe it?! calls_n_829840.html Hoping for brighter days when this dictator and his GOP servants are out of office.

The UNIONS are the DICTATORS here! You are forced to belong even if you don't agree with them! They try to bully people into boycotting the businesses of those with opposing views, bullying people into their thinking through name calling and in your face tactics or worse. They have caused more cost to us, the taxpayers (and oh by the way, you union members who pay taxes) with the destruction of OUR Capitol. YES, it is my Capitol too and I didn't want it destroyed. I didn't want to have to pay more taxes for your irresponsible actions, that would normally be a crime (destruction of property) if this weren't such a liberal city. The ironic thing here is, you could have used that money toward paying down the debt. Hello, now you UNION PROTESTORS have cost everyone more money! Also, the money you can save in Union dues could go a long way if you didn't belong, but if you choose to support the Union Bosses life style, that's still your choice even under Governor Walker's plan. (Something you don’t seem to get) Leave the rest of us out of it! The problem is that you Union members don't even understand that you can still choose to belong to this outdated group! Get rid of the dead wood, the mediocre workforce and let’s start rewarding those that excel in the field! It’s time to work again people instead of just going to a job, and being protected by a group that costs too much money to the taxpayer and is producing poor results. Half of your day as a teacher is being used on these Union activities instead of educating children on subjects that they will need to get a job or into college. Stop pushing your Union ideas in the classroom! The results in the classrooms here are nothing to be proud of and I, for one, am willing to see what can happen when we pay for merit instead of seniority and poor teachers who shouldn’t be teachers! The salaries of teachers and their benefit packages are very comparable to other jobs for the time they work! I really hope we come up with some new and innovative ways to educate children, besides the public schools as they exist now and maybe this will action will start it! People, parents, don't be afraid to change the system! This isn't working! Don't let the Unions convince you this is worth saving! I am willing to pay for education when I see a system where children are really achieving and excelling! The only way that is going to happen is with a major change in our system starting with the limitation of Union demands. Get rid of these Democrat Senators who are costing us more money and not doing their job! If anyone of us walked off of our job because we didn’t like what the policy of the majority was, the company would say “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”! It’s time they deal with the reality of Governor Walker’s election and stop being such poor role models for our children! We had to put up, and still do in Madison, with the left wing leaders, for so long. Man up Senators and get back to your jobs! Note: Teachers don’t expect your students to have great behavior in your classrooms and schools, you have no one to blame but yourselves as their role models. They don’t have to come to class or do their homework either! If they bully other students because they feel they are better or deserve more. Don't be surprised! Wouldn't it have been nice, if they would have learned how to think of others before themselves. To learn you are not always right and that even sometimes, it is better to work for the good of everyone, instead of a smaller group and that when a majority has chosen a leader, you respect that even if you don't always agree!

I'm sad at how clueless you are. Your last "note" made me embarrassed for you. You obviously have no idea what it's like to be a teacher. You have no idea what goes on in a classroom. Do you have any idea of what it's like to be a working individual? And what's this about teacher's being role models? I MUCH rather have my child look up to a teacher than Scott Walker. I'm surprised at your "majority has chosen a leader" statement. At one point, yes. The majority supported him. That was until he pulled out his anti-worker ideas. WHICH he kept secret from Wisconsin. How on earth can you justify all the illegal behavior that the Republicans are pulling? I use to consider myself a Republican, but I don't think I'll ever be able to vote Republican again. I lost all trust I had for my party. Anyway, I hope you come to an important realization that Weasel Walker and his cronies are just trying to fill their own pockets. Oh wait. You probably won't because NO ONE can be as straight-up-stupid as you are, without being paid, bribed, or quite possibly a bot that spews out craaaaap. I love you, Wisconsin. We'll win in the end.. we just can't give up!