Report from GEO's Michael Verderame in Madison

Below is a report back from Madison by the GEO's Michael Verderame. BD

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This Sunday Zach Poppel and I traveled to Madison to support the occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol. I want to share some of my experiences.

    We had both been energized by the previous day’s experiences—Zach had organized the Springfield rally, which had several dozen GEO participants, and I had gone to Madison with several dozen other GEO members. We both wanted to build on that energy.

    By the time of the departure, we knew that it was uncertain whether we would be able to get into the building, and therefore we were ready to support our colleagues inside who may have faced potential arrest. Amy Livingston and Anna Kurhajec had arrived last night, and Leighton Christiansen came with another labor group this morning.

    By the time we parked, walked to the capitol, and got into the line for entrance, it was about 3:20, and the police had promised to close the doors promptly at 4:00. The line was moving slowly (police were allowing one person in for every two that left), but we knew that Leighton was inside. Sometime around 3:45 we resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably wouldn’t get in, though we stayed in line. Shortly before 4:00, we got word that Amy and Anna had been among the last people to make it in after waiting about two hours. When the doors closed at 4:00, the outside crowd chanted “Let Us In” for 15 more minutes.

    You all can see what happened on the inside on TV feeds.  (I’m sure Amy, Anna, and Leighton can fill you in as well). On the outside, we saw an energetic protest that still had the spirit of Saturday’s rally. Despite the bitter cold, people were in good spirits.  We kept hearing conflicting reports about the status of the people inside.  Earlier in the day we had heard promises that there would be no arrests; later on it seemed like arrests were a likelihood.  While still waiting in line, I had scrawled Kerry Pimblott’s telephone number on my arm with a permanent marker in case of arrest—a surreal experience for someone who’s never even had a speeding ticket. I had to eplain what was going on to my (borderline hysterical) parents.

    Once the doors were closed, of course we were worried about Amy and Anna (the labor group Leighton had come with had him covered). We received a blessing from GEO HQ (to leave if we wanted, that other people could come up to bail them out, but Zach and I were both firmly resolved that we wanted to bail them out—it would get them out much faster than if someone new had to drive up from Champaign. The plan was for us to be their first phone call if they were arrested.  There were ACLU people available to bail people out, but they would be responsible for all the protesters.  The difference between us bailing them out and the ACLU bailing them out could have meant a difference of several hours or more in jail time for Amy and Anna.

    The crowd was lively and many were in constant contact with people inside.  At one point we formed a human chain around the building.  People made a commitment to stay until either everyone was out of the building or until the police had announced there were no arrests.  Driveways, entrances, and exits were blocked. Some of the people inside chose to leave voluntarily upon police requests, and were cheered by the crowd outside as they left the building.  Others (several hundred) stayed inside, understanding that they were risking their own liberty to do so.

    As the temperatures dropped, people climbed up to the second floor to get a sight of the people inside. We also held a candlelight vigil. Chants and drumming continued.  Of course, as basically an unplanned event, it was a much smaller crowd than the massive Saturday rally, but it still maintained tremendous energy. For me, the most thrilling part was hearing the car horns of supporters driving the streets around the capitol.

    Throughout the day there had been constant supportive car honks.  At some point, though, they fell into a regular pattern: a call-and-response chorus version of “this is what democracy looks like,” which was surprisingly well-coordinated.  This kept up for well more than an hour, as each successive wave of commuters picked up on the game and kept it going.  This will be one of my favorite memories.

    Though none of us could get in the building, we were heartened to see food and supplies go in, as well as additional press.  By 7:00 we had received word that everyone inside had been guaranteed they would be able to spend the night peacefully and would not be arrested.  Leighton, Amy, and Anna are still inside as I write, along with hundreds of other protesters.

    Once the outside protest dispersed and we knew Leighton, Amy, and Anna would not need bail, we headed home.  Stopping to warm up at a local bar, we  overheard the news that Sen. Dale Schulz had switched his vote on the bill. We now need only two additional senators to kill Scott Walker’s budget bill and allow the Wisconsin 14 to come home.

    When this was announced in the bar, there were cheers throughout.  Talking to our people inside, I was glad that they also had learned about Sen. Schultz’s switch and there was cheering inside.

    One thing you notice in Madison is that just about every local business has a sign supporting public sector union rights.  Many of the people I saw both days had signs proclaiming that they were “private sector workers,” “small business owners,” “non-union members,” and “taxpayers”—the groups Walker claims to represent—who were coming out to support their union brothers’ and sisters’ rights.

    Right now, Walker is thoroughly despised in Madison.  Over both days I was there I saw one right-wing counter-protestor, against approximately 120,000-150,000 of us. What I did see was a massive group of people (and their dogs), diverse in their race, ethnicity, age, economic background, sexual identity, religion, and even in their professed politics (it was surprising how many “conservatives” believe in union rights).  All of them have had enough of Gov. Walker, after he’s been in office less than two months.  An incredible proliferation of clever signs lambastes Walker and his multi-billionaire benefactors, the Koch brothers—punning and the double entendre are very alive in the Badger state. 

    But there is a serious tone as well. People here profess their disgust for Walker’s willingness, caught on tape, to plant agents provocateur in the crowd to try to cause violence and discredit the movement.  What kind of governor, the Madison Chief of Police asked, would consider risking the safety of law enforcement officers and protesters, including their children, for his political gain? And more to the point, backed down from the idea only because he decided it would hurt him politically.

    It was also a crowd that connected the dots, and demonstrated precisely the kind of critical self-awareness that Left intellectuals often claim to be unable to find in the American working and middle classes.  These were not people marching, as the Right charges, just to protect their own benefits. The people marching understood the connections between war spending, corporate welfare, and tax cuts on the one hand, and cuts in education, health care, and social programs on the other.  They understood the ridiculousness of a governor who claims to have to crush unions in order to plug a $140 million deficit, right after he signed $140 million in corporate giveaways and tax breaks.  They understand that the divisions between skilled and unskilled, middle and working class, union and nonunion, and private and public sector, are meant to divide working people against one another.  They were committed, as sign after sign showed, to a politics that was anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic. These were people who believe in the public good and the public sphere, and are trying in every way they can to recreate it.

     However much he likes to talk about the silent majority who supports him, I have seen almost no evidence that anyone likes or supports him, let alone a majority.  He literally cannot be seated in a restaurant in Madison. Walker went to one of Madison’s premier fine-dining restaurants, and the owners refused to serve him.

    One thing I hope gets recorded, besides the very good behavior of all of the protesters, is the incredible courtesy and professionalism of all of the law enforcement officials involved.  Through their support for us and through their conscientious and nonviolent performance of their duties, they modeled the ideals of public service that Governor Walker wants to devalue.

    My overall impression, like the Saturday protest the day before, was of incredible peace and harmony.  I have never seen this many people assembled (for any reason—not just a political rally) without any unpleasantness or violence. People speak plainly and from the heart, in their posters and in their words, about how this bill will affect their lives, how it will take away things they’ve won, not only through their individual effort but through generations of workers who have sacrificed to build their unions.

    The symbolism of reclaiming the Capitol for the people against the special interests and Gov. Walker’s attack on democratic union rights was very powerful. Wisconsin’s State Capitol is a beautiful, marble, neo-classical structure, the kind of architecture that was built, at the time of the U.S.’s founding, as a kind of living expression of the idea of the public good.  From the outside, you can see signs in the windows of Democratic Assemblymen/women and Senators’ offices, cheering on the protesters. Sometimes these legislators or their aides would open up their windows and wave. From the inside, the spectacular Rotunda has taken on a new kind of beauty with the thousands of signs, fliers, and banners that have transformed it into a true site of civic engagement. I was able to get in on Saturday, along with many other GEO members, and it is an experience that needs to be seen to be believed. The cameras don’t do it justice.  On Saturday a massive, loud yet somehow completely orderly crowd alternated between cheering and drumming passionately on the one hand, and on the other, listening carefully and attentively to a stream of open-mic speakers who talked poignantly about how the bill would affect their lives.  Periodically parades would march through the center of the crowd—I saw a firefighter’s parade, and a massive parade by the Chicago Teachers’ Union, a union with new, radicalized leadership and a strong commitment to progressive labor and educational policies.

    The energy is tremendous. But they will need to keep it up in the next few days and weeks, in order to win over more Republican Senators and finally kill the bill.  I hope to make it back up to Madison (my third trip this week) to spend a night with the brave workers of Wisconsin (spearheaded, I should say, by the unbelievable UW grad local, the Teaching Assistants’ Association). Hopefully some others will be able to as well.  I will say, for those who haven’t yet been to Madison, it is an experience you will never forget.

    Two weeks ago I remember telling someone that “Wisconsin is coming to all of America next.” At the time, this sounded ominous and threatening.  Now, it has become transformed into something hopeful.  I’d like to think that the energy, passion, selflessness, and civic engagement that Wisconsin has shown the world can become a model for all of us. Wisconsin is coming to all of America next, but not in the way Scott Walker intended.

    Does anyone know how to get permanent marker writing off your skin?
   
Peace,
    Michael

Leighton Christiansen reports in the Socialist Worker

Leighton Christiansen, an officer at large in the Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, describes the scene in Wisconsin.

http://socialistworker.org/2011/02/28/taste-of-our-power-madison

 

I HAD the opportunity to spend a day in Madison, Wis., participating in the occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol, as tens of thousands of Wisconsin union members, unorganized workers, students and citizens protested against a "budget repair bill" introduced by Gov. Scott Walker.

The bill would gut collective bargaining and other union rights, and would force wage, pension and health benefit concessions, among other measures. The effect will be to destroy unions and worsen the suffering of working people in Wisconsin.

The first thing you notice in Madison is the mood. I've had the opportunity in the past to spend time in Madison, organizing and protesting, but the mood is different now. Walking up State Street with my "Kill the Bill" sign in hand, I was among dozens of folks walking to and from the Capitol building. Most of them had signs of their own, supporting the fight against the bill.

And while I'm used to Midwesterners being polite, everyone had a smile for me and a "hello"--and when they found out I was from out of town, a "thank you." Having been an "outside agitator" for 25 years now, I am used to a somewhat different reaction.

At every corner while waiting for the light to change, or in front of any bar with a TV in its window, people are gathered, talking about the Walker bill, how if would affect them and their co-workers and families, and what to do about it. On one corner, a group of firefighters were standing with their signs, passing traffic honking in support. Every shop window along State Street has a sign or signs against the bill and supporting Wisconsin's workers. Nearly ever corner had a small gathering of picketers or at least a street orator--and folks listening.

When I got to the Capitol, there were pickets walking every sidewalk around the building. During the 1980s and 1990s, I walked a number of picket lines in solidarity with workers around the Midwest, including in Janesville, Wis. Those picket lines often had a dark mood, as workers fought a losing battle, hoping at best to take no cuts.

The Wisconsin picketers are mad as hell at Walker, but smiling and laughing among themselves, joyous in the creative energy folks are putting into this fight. You would never have known that it was drizzling and 30 degrees.

When I walked up to the Capitol doors with my sign, the state trooper there looked me in the eye and asked, "How are you today?"--and was actually interested in the answer. I was surprised. But I learned that the state troopers, police, firefighters and even prison guards, who tend to be the most right-wing members of AFSCME in Wisconsin, are taking part in the protests.

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INSIDE THE Capitol, I find thousands of people, even on a Wednesday afternoon. While not the tens of thousands of the weekend, the energy was high. Workers and family members surrounded the rotunda on three floors, holding signs, listening to speakers at the bottom of the well, chanting "Tell me what does democracy look like? THIS is what democracy looks like!" and "Kill the Bill."

Numerous unions are present or have left signs behind from earlier visits: AFSCME, Teaching Assistants' Association, Teamsters, Steelworkers, American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Pipefitters, UNITE HERE, Union de Trabajadores Inmigrantes, National Nurses United, the Sheet Metal Workers, and many more.

There are solidarity signs from workers in Michigan. Everywhere are signs linking the struggle in Madison to the struggle in Egypt. There are signs showing solidarity from Wisconsin with the people of Libya, fighting to overthrow their dictator Qaddafi.

And of course, pizza boxes are ubiquitous. The outpouring of solidarity has meant that the occupiers and protesters have not gone hungry. A local pizza place is only supplying orders for the Capitol occupation--city residents will either have to wait until the protests are over, or go to the Capitol and occupy if they want a slice from this shop.

But for the "Cheddar Revolution," the supplies of food aren't the problem. Around various of the building, there are tables of food and stacks of bottled water flats, although at this points fresh fruits and vegetables would be welcome. I find out from occupation organizers that hand sanitizer and socks are the greater need (Click here if you would like to help).

Organizers tell me they are amazed by the community spirit of the protesters. Martina and Molly, members of the TAA, share their awe and appreciation of protesters using their various skills to help make the occupation a community. "Someone put up food safety signs--who would think of that?" Martina wonders. Some other folks set up a first aid station, which occupation organizers had not thought of.

We often speak of the creativity and energy of the working class and their ability to run workplaces or society democratically and without bosses...and in Madison, we are seeing that energy and those talents unleashed.

Everywhere, there is a sense of collective power. But at 4 p.m., when three busloads of union members and activists from Los Angeles--people who would have been on a bus at least 24 hours to get to Madison--march into the rotunda, the occupiers go wild. Chants and cheers fill the rotunda until you can feel the pressure of the sound. Back-thumping and fist-bumping, hugs and tears follow the LA contingent as they march around each floor of the Capitol.

We see banners and jackets and shirts and signs from the Communications Workers of America, International Longshore Workers Union, Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, AFSCME, the area AFL-CIO, and many others. This solidarity celebration lasts for 15 or 20 minutes, and the energy carries into the regular 5 p.m. rally held for folks coming in after work.

Inside the Capitol, there are numerous conversations about the way forward, about what an ass Walker is, and laughter about the prank phone call that captured how arrogant he is when he thought he was talking to one of his big backers. Signs call for negotiations, since the unions have agreed to wage cuts. Others say, "Kill the WHOLE Bill." This is the big question of the Madison protests: What ending are we willing to accept?

Some Wisconsin union leaders have already said they would accept the wage and benefit cuts in the Walker budget bill, as long as collective bargaining rights are protected for public employees. But this stance has been the 30-year practice of private-sector union leaders in the U.S., in auto, in trucking and other industries.

While this strategy has for the most part protected the jobs of union leaderships and bureaucracies, what do workers have to show for it? Fewer unionized jobs, lower wages, and more expensive benefits. Private sector unionization is at a century-long low, at 7.2 percent. Living standards are declining for the working class. And we know from talking to Wisconsin workers that if these cuts go through, working union members may be forced to sell their homes, go bankrupt and go on assistance just to live.

This can be avoided if we can kill the whole bill. This was the mood of most of the scores of protesters I talked to while passing out the "Why We Demands No Cuts" statement that Madison International Socialist Organization members, many of them public-sector workers, released. The show of power in Madison also led Wisconsin's South Central Federation of Labor (SCFL) to call for a national general strike if the bill passes.

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FOLKS IN Wisconsin are starting to figure out how to harness their energy and make this a more sustainable fight. Teachers in some districts are using rolling sickouts that don't shut down the whole district, but still allow for a strong union presence at the Capitol. Unions are also taking turns occupying the Capitol overnight with the TAA, a sort of rolling sleep-in. Unions such as the SEIU are preparing to send full-time organizers to Wisconsin to beef up the campaign to kill the bill.

The uprising in Madison has inspired workers in Ohio to protest against similar bills. The action has forced other Republican leaders, such as in Indiana, to pull back from similar union killing measures.

The organized power of the U.S. working class can stop these attacks--but only if we make sure our leaders don't accept a compromise. The momentum is on our side in Wisconsin. This isn't the time to settle for half an attack on our rights, for half of a murderous bill. We can stop the whole bill and turn back this attack.

Show your solidarity with workers in Wisconsin and around the country. Send messages of support and solidarity. Stand against similar measures in your state. Get in the car or on the bus or on the plane and come to Madison. It is true that U.S. labor history is being written in Madison, and this is a movement you should be a part of.

The one-sided nature of the class war of the last 35 years is coming to an end. Just as the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are inspiring populations across the Arab world to fight back, they inspired workers in Madison. And the occupation in Madison is having an effect across the U.S.

Come to Madison, get a taste of collective power, and take it home to your struggles. You will be changed. And this is the change that we need.

See you in Madison.

Thanks!

Thanks for this valuable perspective, Michael.

AFSCME Solidarity Rally Tuesday!

JOIN THE PROTESTS!

AFSCME 698 & AFSCME 3700 SPONSORED RALLY IN SUPPORT OF OUR UNION SISTERS AND BROTHERS IN WISCONSIN, INDIANA AND OTHER STATES!

Tomorrow – Tuesday – March 1, 2011

12:15 – 12:45

Alma Mater Statue
Green and Wright Streets

Come and show your support for those that are having their collective bargaining rights attacked!

Let us start March 2011 out by “Marching in Solidarity” for our sisters and brothers!!

Morning Line: Rise of the New Mercenaries

Sam Smith

One of the things that has perplexed me about the current chaos is how did so many Republicans become so bizarrely crazy so fast? The closest example that comes to mind is the McCarthy era – but that only targeted a progressive minority and not all union members and the middle class. Further, McCarthy was brought down with the help of other Republicans who saw the damage he was doing to their cause. Has any leading Republican spoken out firmly against Scott Walker?

While it is easy to blame it on the fiscal crisis, that seems a bit too simple. For example, consider the number of Republican politicians who have announced their retirement in the face of potential more rightwing opposition. I suspect what’s scaring these folks is not ideology but money. They are not facing a grass roots rebellion but political mercenaries well paid by forces recently liberated by the Supreme Court decision on corporate personhood.

One of the ways you can tell they’re mercenaries is because true conservatives act more like Ron Paul, people with a solid record of commitment to particular ideas. Can you imagine John Boehner actually having a coherent set of principles? Or Scott Walker doing anything based on ideals rather than campaign cash flow?

We have been educated to treat politics as a battle of ideas. In America it no longer is. It is the elite and their well financed mercenaries on the one side and their victims on the other. A milder and less violent variety of what’s going on in Libya but still pretty damn ugly.

http://prorevnews.blogspot.com/

Who 'Contributes' to Public Workers' Pensions?

When it comes to improving public understanding of tax policy, nothing has been more troubling than the deeply flawed coverage of the Wisconsin state employees’ fight over collective bargaining.

Economic nonsense is being reported as fact in most of the news reports on the Wisconsin dispute, the product of a breakdown of skepticism among journalists multiplied by their lack of understanding of basic economic principles.

Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to “contribute more” to their pension and health insurance plans.

Accepting Walker’s assertions as fact, and failing to check, created the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not.

Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin’s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

How can that be? Because the “contributions” consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages -- as pensions when they retire -- rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services.

Thus, state workers are not being asked to simply “contribute more” to Wisconsin’ s retirement system (or as the argument goes, “pay their fair share” of retirement costs as do employees in Wisconsin’s private sector who still have pensions and health insurance). They are being asked to accept a cut in their salaries so that the state of Wisconsin can use the money to fill the hole left by tax cuts and reduced audits of corporations in Wisconsin.

The labor agreements show that the pension plan money is part of the total negotiated compensation. The key phrase, in those agreements I read, is: “The employer shall contribute on behalf of the employee.” This shows that this is just divvying up the total compensation package, so much for cash wages, so much for paid vacations, so much for retirement, etc.

Coverage of the controversy in Wisconsin over unions’ collective bargaining, and in particular pension plan contributions, contains repeated references to the phrase “contribute more.”

The key problem is that journalists are assuming that statements by Gov. Walker have basis in fact. Journalists should never accept the premise of a political statement, but often they do, which explains why so much of our public policy is at odds with well-established principles.

The question journalists should be asking is “who contributes” to the state of Wisconsin’s pension and health care plans.

The fact is that all of the money going into these plans belongs to the workers because it is part of the compensation of the state workers. The fact is that the state workers negotiate their total compensation, which they then divvy up between cash wages, paid vacations, health insurance and, yes, pensions. Since the Wisconsin government workers collectively bargained for their compensation, all of the compensation they have bargained for is part of their pay and thus only the workers contribute to the pension plan. This is an indisputable fact.

Not every news report gets it wrong, but the narrative of the journalistic herd has now been set and is slowly hardening into a concrete falsehood that will distort public understanding of the issue for years to come unless journalists en masse correct their mistakes.

Among the reports that failed to scrutinize Walker’s assertions about state workers’ contributions and thus got it wrong is one by A.G. Sulzberger, the presumed future publisher of The New York Times, who is now a national correspondent. He wrote that the governor “would raise the amount government workers pay into their pension to 5.8 percent of their pay, from less than 1 percent now.”

Wrong. The workers currently pay 100 percent from their compensation package, but a portion of it is deducted from their paychecks and a portion of it goes directly to the pension plan.

One correct way to describe this is that the governor “wants to further reduce the cash wages that state workers currently take home in their paychecks.”

Politifact.com has a Wisconsin operation and it was also among those that got it wrong -- 100 percent dead wrong -- because it assumed the facts as stated by Walker and failed to question the underlying premise. Further, contrived assumptions make it is easy for the perpetrators of the misrepresentation to point to data that support a false claim, something Politifact missed entirely, on at least two occasions, in proclaiming false statements to be true.

Given how many journalists rely on Politifact to check political assertions, instead of doing their own research, this is, by far, the inaccuracy likely to have the greatest (or most damaging effect) on subsequent reporting.

Again, the money the state “contributes” is actually part of the compensation that has been negotiated with state workers in advance so it is their money that they choose to take as pension payments in the future rather than cash wages or other benefits today.

David Cay Johnston is the author of Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill).

Americans for Prosperity WI Road Show is Classic Astroturf

For some, when the going gets tough, the tough gas up the custom-painted luxury motorcoach.\

So it is with the Wisconsin branch of the Koch-backed group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), whose four-day, ten-city bus PR event across Wisconsin to support controversial Governor Scott Walker started in Kenosha March 3 and concluded in Madison on March 7 -- but not at the Capitol, where the bus would have been surrounded by the tens of thousands of people gathered to oppose Walker's union-crushing "budget repair" bill. Instead, AFP ended its tour at the Alliant Energy Center, where protesters against Walker's radical proposals who were outside in the cold easily outnumber the pro-Walker crowd in inside the rented space.

And so it went with AFP's "Stand with Walker" Wisconsin road show. At every stop, the AFP PR gambit was met by some supporters, but it was also greeted often by an equal or a substantially greater numbers of opponents. A little-watched YouTube video of AFP's stop at Serb Hall on March 3, 2011 shows a group of about a dozen Scott Walker supporters, and a sidewalk packed with what appears to be about several hundred demonstrators against the governor's extreme proposals.  

Classic Astroturf

As we have already reported, AFP is also in Wisconsin with a $400,000 and counting TV ad-buy themed "Who Decides Wisconsin's Future?" in support of Governor Walker. The ad-buy has been a subject of two ethics complaints filed with the state's Government Accoutability Board. AFP's "Stand with Walker" bus tour is classic astroturf, defined by SourceWatch as "organizations that appear to be grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions, but that are primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms."

AFP certainly fits the bill. By now, it's been widely reported, both within Wisconsin and in prominent publications elsewhere, that AFP was largely inspired by the man who serves as its chairman, David Koch, one of the billionaire brothers who co-own Koch Industries, one of the larget privately-held corporations in the world.  AFP also possesses many characteristics indicative of a front group. It avoids mentioning its main sources of funding, engages in actions that benefit a third party, like a company, industry or political candidate. Its members are not its primary financial supporters, though it touts its membership while not revealing its biggest funders. And, last but not least, AFP can afford to send a custom-painted luxury coach on a highly-publicized road trip, even as the price of gas goes through the roof. The "star" of the road show was Ohioan Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher who gained some degree of notariety during the 2008 presidential campaign.

PR Disaster on Wheels

Governor Walker has repeatedly attempted to dismiss the hundreds of thousands of protestors who have visited the Capitol over the course of the past month as out-of-towners. Judging from thousands of hand-made signs seen in the crowd around Wisconsin's Capitol building, many people see the billionaire Koch brothers (one lives in New York City and the other in Kansas) and the Washington-D.C.-based AFP as the real "out-of-town" political interference in Wisconsin politics.

Count AFP's road trip as a flop. Below is a selection of media from around the state.

La Crosse Tribune - Hundreds turn out at pro-Walker event -- some in support, more to protest: Several hundred protesters chanted and waved signs Saturday night outside the Radisson Hotel. Inside, about 100 people in a meeting room heard state Sen. Dan Kapanke, Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher and others express their support for Gov. Scott Walker... "I think (Walker) is basically sending Wisconsin over the cliff with what he is doing," said former La Crosse County Circuit Judge Roger LeGrand of La Crosse. He also is acting chairman of the Wisconsin Tax Appeals Commission, which decides disputes between taxpayers and the state Department of Revenue.

Channel 2 WBAY - Walker Supporters Meet in Eau Claire: Outside officials say about 1,600 people gathered to protest the governor's budget plans. The crowd was so thick one of the republican representatives scheduled to speak at the pro-Walker event couldn't make it inside. Instead protesters stopped to ask Representative Warren Petryk questions, one woman breaking down in tears over her concerns about the budget. "I felt like he listened to me. He said he was going to call Scott Walker," says Rozanna Bejin of Eau Claire. "My request was that Petryk talk to people in the Assembly and the Senate, all of his colleagues, to people sit down and talk to the 14 Democrat Senators who are in Illinois.

HudsonPatch -Americans for Prosperity's Pro-Walker Bus Tour Stops in Hudson Amid Pro-Union Protests: More than 100 Walker supporters attended a rally at the Best Western Hudson House Inn while more than 300 protestors demonstrated outside.

Wausau Daily Herald - Pro-Walker, Pro-union Rallies Square off at the Plaza Hotel: About 200 people gathered Friday in Wausau to support Gov. Scott Walker... As the governor's supporters rallied inside, an equal number of union supporters from the Wausau area chanted, waved signs and drew honks of support from passing cars on the sidewalk outside The Plaza Hotel.

Fox 11 - Walker Supporters Hit the Road, Anti-bill Protesters Outnumber Supporters: The group's stop in Ashwaubenon drew local Walker supporters inside the Holiday Inn, and anti-bill supporters outside. "Americans for Prosperity, like, who isn't? I think that they're wrong and their hearts are probably in the right place as well, but I think they're wrong and misguided on what they're doing," explained anti-bill protester from Ashwaubenon, Nancy Daniels.

Wisconsin State Journal Pro-Walker bus tour ends in Madison as protests at Capitol continue: Outside the Alliant Energy Center, the number of anti-Walker protesters appeared larger than the pro-Walker crowd indoors, a point Seaholm did not contest. Talon Williams, 24, of Madison, a non-union carpet cleaner and anti-Walker protester, called Sunday's Alliant Energy Center rally a last-ditch effort to generate support for a bill the vast majority of Wisconsin doesn't want. "They're trying to create the illusion of grass roots support," he said.

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The Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy tracks corporate spin and front groups. We are live reporting from the Wisconsin protests daily. Click here to learn more.

Anne Landman

Anne Landman is the Managing Editor of the Center for Media and Democracy. She previously served as the editor of our TobaccoWiki project on our SourceWatch.org website. She has degrees in Environmental Restoration/Waste Management Technology and Communications.

Wisconsin 14 Homecoming

Wisconsin's 14 Democrats are returning home to join a Saturday rally and the move to recall Republicans who supported Walker. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has opened an official recall campaign; donate here.

WI Firefighters Spark "Move Your Money" Moment

by Mary Bottari

On the day that the bill passed the Wisconsin Assembly effectively ending 50 years of collective bargaining in Wisconsin and eviscerating the ability of public unions to raise money through dues, a new front opened in the battle for the future of Wisconsin families.

Bagpipes blaring, hundreds of firefighters walked across the street from the Wisconsin Capitol building, stood outside the Marshall and Ilsley Bank (M&I Bank) and played a few tunes -- loudly. Later, a group of firefighter and consumers stopped back in at the bank to make a few transactions. One by one they closed their accounts and withdrew their life savings, totaling approximately $190,000. See a video clip. After the last customer left, the bank quickly closed its doors, just in case the spontaneous "Move Your Money" moment caught fire.

The sedate, old fashioned M&I Bank on the Capitol Square has gained some notoriety in recent weeks. Oddly, a tunnel in the M&I parking garage links to the capitol basement. Dubbed the "rat hole" to the Walker palace, the tunnel was used by Governor Scott Walker to ferry lobbyists into the capitol building to hear his budget address during a time when the capitol was in a virtual lock down in defiance of a court order and after Sherriffs has quit the building refusing to be a "palace guard."

Now the bank is getting caught up in the controversy again. Word is beginning to spread that M&I is one of Walker's biggest backers. Top executives at M&I Bank have long been boosters of Walker. M&I Chief Executive Dennis Kuester and his wife gave $20,000 to Walker in recent years. When you package individual and PAC contributions by employers, M&I is number one -- at $57,000 dollars. The firm apparently uses a conduit to bundle much of its money to Walker. Flyers, webpages, and Facebook sites have popped up encouraging WI consumers to boycott Walker campaign contributors and "Pull the Plug on M&I Bank." Other banks whose employees have donated large sums to Walker,  such as Associated Bank and North Shore Bank may also be seeing their customers soon.

Economic Transparency

Joe Conway, President Madison Fire Fighters Local 311, explained to CMD  that the action was totally spontaneous, but that "economic transparency" was going to be a big theme in the fight ahead. "Groups will be sending letters to Walker's major donors giving them the opportunity to support the teachers, firefighters and police in their community."  Conway is well aware that new polling shows that  74% of Wisconsin families support collective bargaining rights for public workers.

Two of these letters are already in the mail to M&I Bank and Kwik Trip. "The undersigned groups would like your company to publicly oppose Governor Walker's efforts to virtually eliminate collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. In the event that you cannot support this effort to save collective bargaining, please be advised that the undersigned will publicly and formally boycott the goods and services provided by your company," the letter says. "However, if you join us, we will do everything in our power to publicly celebrate your partnership in the fight to preserve the right of public employees to be heard at the bargaining table."

The letters are signed by the heads of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 311, Madison Teachers Inc., Dane County Deputy Sheriffs Association and the Madison Professional Police Officers Association.

Just the Beginning

Walker's list of campaign contributors is already in wide circulation on websites like "Scott Walker Watch" and fast-growing Facebook pages like "Boycott Scott Walkers Contributors". These grassroots efforts are backed up by solid names and numbers extracted from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) database, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks money in politics.

The WDC data shows that Walker's major contributors include a diversity of national and state-based firms including Koch Brother Industries, AT&T, Walmart, John Deere Tractor, Johnsonville Brats, Miller/Coors, Kwik Trip, Sargento Cheese, and SC Johnson & Sons (producers of Windex, Glade, Pledge etc). The letter writing effort is being undertaken not to put people out of work, but to encourage workers to let their bosses know it is time to reconsider their support for Walker's newly revealed radical agenda.

Sam Hokin, a Wisconsinite and small businessman who started the Facebook page in the early days of the protest, put the strategy bluntly: "The only thing the Republicans care about is money. The only way you can touch them is through their revenue. They don't care about signs and protesters. They don't care about the opinion of the majority of the people in the state, their bottom line is money." Unions, pension funds, cities and counties and average consumers bank at these banks and support these firms by buying their products and services. They have tremendous clout in Wisconsin's small economy.

Greatest Heist in History

Wisconsin workers are keenly aware that they are part of a historic push back that is spreading from state to state.   After $14 trillion dollars of housing wealth, wages and retirement savings were taken from the middle class during the 2008 financial collapse, workers are being asked to take it on the chin again. Michael Moore put it best: "We aren't broke. Wisconsin is not broke. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It's just that it's not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the über-rich."

M&I Bank is in the process of being bought by a Canadian bank. It took $2 billion in TARP bailout money from the taxpayers and have yet to pay it back. "They [state Republicans] came in like the Grim Reaper to drive a knife into the heart of labor," yelled Jim Garity at a recent rally. Garity is a unionized Jefferson County Highway Department worker and leader. "But we are going to stand and we are not going to bleed. Governor Walker's plan is to give more money to Wall Street, but we are going to take back our money from Wall Street and put Main Street to work!" Walker's recent moves include over $200 billion in tax cuts for corporations while stripping $1 trillion from Wisconsin schools and local governments.

The "take it back" movement is gaining steam. At the federal level, AFL-CIO, SEIU are joined by consumer groups in a fight to apply a small [financial transaction tax] to damaging Wall Street speculation in order to recoup over $100 billion dollars a year for job creation and other essential needs.

It's About Power

Walker's collective bargaining bill not only seeks to gut a 50 year tradition in the state where public unions started, but by doing away with automatic check off for union dues he seeks to cripple the the ability of public sector unions to hire employees to organize, grow and be a force in Wisconsin politics. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, one of Walker's closest allies in the legislature, admitted as much to FOX News. "If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you're going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin," said Fitzgerald.

While some hold out hope for a general strike and vigorous recall efforts are underway, others remain focused on leveraging the power of the "sleeping giant" to force Walker to back down and to prevent devastating cuts to schools and municipalities. Stay tuned. This fire might be hard to contain.

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy's Real Economy Project and editor of their www.BanksterUSA.org site.

Which Mob Are You In?

by Douglas Haynes

At a recent protest against Governor Scott Walker’s so-called Budget Repair Bill in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, a 61 year-old woman waving an American flag told me her grandfather came from Russia to work in Oshkosh’s now-defunct Paine Lumber Mill.

“With no union then,” she said, “if you lost your arm in a saw, you were out-of-luck, laid-off the next day, and not getting anything from the company.”

She went on to tell me that she had never protested publicly before in her life.

“I never saw the reason to,” she said, “but now, this is too big to not stand up against.” 

Big, indeed, because unions guarantee the ability of individuals to assume a voice more powerful than their own. Without them, we are left to advocate alone for our interests against often faceless employers that increasingly span continents. Unions—and social movements like the one Wisconsin has spawned in the past month—are the few collective voices left in the United States loud enough to resist corporate executives and politicians manipulating the market to their own advantage. This explains why many politicians all over the country aim to weaken them.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker’s administration has also simultaneously tried to restrict access to public spaces such as Wisconsin’s Capitol building. The ubiquitous chant of “Whose house? Our house!” at Madison protests is not just sloganeering. It is rooted in the concrete way the Capitol symbolizes shared experiences of public services that benefit all citizens, not just those who can pay for them.

If free market ideologues have their way, however, de-regulation and privatization will allow corporations to colonize public institutions. In Wisconsin and Michigan, for example, legislation is being considered that would permit corporations to run multiple schools and municipalities. Such laws are promoted in the name of a very limited definition of freedom that privileges the unrestricted liberty to make profit over the liberty for citizens to participate in community decisions.

Corporations, because they are only responsible to the profit motivations of stockholders, have little incentive to be democratic or to self-regulate: to provide safe working conditions, to pay their workers a living wage, or ensure their activities don’t spoil the ecosystems that all life depends on. American history makes this clear. Safer working conditions, fairer wages, and more ecologically responsible business practices have arisen when unions and social movements forced companies and the government to grant and enforce these changes.  

The deregulated, union-less economies that Scott Walker and his cronies desire exist in so-called developing countries all over the world. I have lived in Central America and witnessed the misery that the lack of labor and environmental regulations creates. A sewage-ridden lake you can smell from half-a-mile away. A family living on rice and beans in a dirt-floored, sheet-metal shack because the Coca-Cola bottling plant only pays the father $100 a month for full-time work. Banana plantation workers with deformed babies because Dole forced them to use a pesticide known to cause birth defects with no protective gear.   

All Americans can agree that this is not the kind of society we want. Unfortunately, this agreement gets often overlooked in the controversy over unions, though unions are one of the few means we have left to collectively prevent a spiral back toward such a future.

Supporters of anti-union laws and de-regulation assert that we no longer need to be concerned about the abuses of people and land that were commonplace in the 19th and 20th centuries. We have laws that prohibit such abuses, they say. Yet many of these same people are currently proposing the curtailing of the Environmental Protection Agency and the ability of unions to negotiate their working conditions. Furthermore, these advocates for de-regulation overlook the many recent examples of corporate exploitation in the U.S.: the BP oil disaster, the economic crisis-profiteering of Goldman Sachs, Walmart’s failure to pay a living wage. The list could go on and on. Not because corporations are evil, but because they simply fulfill their primary purpose to improve their bottom lines. Therefore, they require public oversight and a strong collective voice for people and places affected by corporate activities.

Unions provide this voice, and perhaps just as importantly, they offer a bulwark of communal purpose in an otherwise relentlessly fracturing culture. Where else but a rally defending union rights can you see social workers and police, snowplow drivers and professors, shouting the word “We”? But the Main Street Movement that emerged in Wisconsin has also become about much more than unions. It has reasserted the importance of the public sphere in a democracy and citizen participation beyond voting. 

In recent weeks, opponents of the Main Street Movement ranging from Wisconsin U.S. Senator Ron Johnson to Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have dismissed the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors in Wisconsin as a “mob.” Johnson and Fitzgerald join past opponents of the five-day work week, minimum wage, women’s suffrage, and civil rights on the wrong side of history. All of these goals were accomplished by nonviolent protesters claiming rights now considered central to American life.

The word “mob” derives from the Latin phrase mobile vulgus, “changeable common people.” When politicians like Johnson and Fitzgerald utter “mob” to scare middle-class Americans from joining together, they epitomize the word’s condescending, classist roots. Now, as always, such mobster union-busters and de-regulators use the deep-rooted tension in American life between individualism and community to pit worker against worker. They blackmail us by threatening to take our jobs if we don’t give up our rights.

But the spreading resistance shows gangster government isn’t working. First in Wisconsin, then Ohio, Indiana, and onward, citizen togetherness is gathering steam, as it did during the Progressive movement, the women’s suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement. Which mob am I in? Count me with the 61 year-old, flag-waving granddaughter of an Oshkosh mill worker, shouting to keep a voice at all.

Fitzwalkerstan: Wisconsin GOP Denies Democrats Vote in Legis.

Greetings From Fitzwalkerstan: Wisconsin GOP Denies Legislative Democrats Voting Rights

by John Nichols

Not content to deny state, county and municipal employees and teachers a voice in the workplace -- with legislation that takes away collective bargaining rights -- Wisconsin Republicans have now moved to deny Democratic legislators the right to vote on legislation as it is being considered by state Senate committees.  

For the better part of a month, 14  Democratic state senators denied Republicans the quorum they sought to pass Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's anti-labor legislation -- and, in so doing, provided the time for the development of a mass movement that last Saturday drew more than 100,000 union supporters to the Capitol. The Democratic senators have returned and the legislation has passed.

But Republican poll numbers have collapsed. And they are furious.

How furious? 

Walker and his legislative consigliere, state Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, have now moved to deny the dissenting Democrats the right to participate in the legislative process. 

On Monday afternoon, Fitzgerald, who has publicly admitted that he and other Republicans advanced the anti-labor legislation in order to strengten the position of the GOP in 2012 elections, sent a letter to senators that read: "Dear Members: With the return of the Senate Democrats this weekend, questions have arisen regarding Democrat members’ participation in Senate standing committee public hearings and executive sessions. Please note that all 14 Democrat senators are still in contempt of the Senate. Therefore, when taking roll call votes on amendments and bills during executive sessions, Senate Democrats’ votes will not be reflected in the Records of Committee Proceedings or the Senate Journal. They are free to attend hearings, listen to testimony, debate legislation, introduce amendments, and cast votes to signal their support/opposition, but those votes will not count, and will not be recorded." 

In other words, the 14 Democrats who refused to go along with legislative moves that have sparked multiple lawsuits and raised serious constitutional questions will now be denied their ability to represent 2.2. million Wisconsinites who live in their districts.

This was the latest authoritarian move by Fitzgerald, who last week spoke of having the Democrats arrested and openly discussed expelling them from the Senate as punishment for their dissents. The majority leader's over-the-top actions have led one senior legislator, state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, to begin referring to the Wisconsin as a "third-world junta" state that he calls: "Fitzwalkerstan."

While that line gets a laugh, the assaults on representative democracy are serious.

“Sen. Scott Fitzgerald isn’t content with illegally passing a bill which takes away the rights of 175,000 working Wisconsinites and now has expanded his attacks to disenfranchise the voices of 2.2 million more Wisconsin residents and taxpayers," declared Scot Ross, the executive director of the One Wisconsin Now advocacy group, who referred to Fitzgerald's latest move as a "tantrum."

"Considering how the Republicans plan to slash $900 million from our public schools, cut health care for 1 million Wisconsinites, raise prescription drug costs for countless seniors, raise taxes on the working poor by $51 million while at the same time handing $200 million in tax breaks for the wealthy and corporate special interests," said Ross. "Sen. Fitzgerald might better spend his time convincing his fractured caucus that Gov. Walker isn’t sacrificing their majority in pursuit of higher office."

State Senator Fred Risser, a Madison Democrat who is the senior member of the legislature, was aghast at what Fitzgerald had done.

“Who does Senator Fitzgerald think he is? Just because his brother is the Speaker of the Assembly and his best friend is the Governor of Wisconsin does not give him the power to decide who can and cannot vote in the State Senate," said Risser, whose Senate service began before Fitzgerald was born. "His statement that Senate Democrats can no longer vote in committee is the height of arrogance. In my tenure in the legislature, I have never seen any attempt to deny duly elected legislators their right to vote.”

Scott Fitzgerald and Wisconsin GOP Pull Back From the Brink

by Brendan Fischer

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has backed off a March 14 announcement that he would effectively eliminate Senate Democrats' right to vote during committee hearings and sessions. At first glance, it may appear that Fitzgerald and company are retreating from weeks of out-of-control decision-making, but the more likely explanation is that blocking votes may be unconstitutional and illegal. Plus, the move was completely contrary to Fitzgerald's prior claims that he was only trying to force the fourteen back into Wisconsin and "back to work." In a temporary win for legislative sanity, Fitzgerald seems to have backed down for now.

Because citizens speak in the legislature through their elected officials, the 2.2 million residents of Senate districts represented by Democrats would have been silenced by Fitzgerald's new rules. At least one Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice has argued that, because citizen speech flows through their elected officials, voters' First Amendment rights are violated if a representative's vote is "cancelled by the acts of others."

While Fitzgerald would likely respond that residents in Democratic senate districts were already disenfranchised when their senator fled the state, that assertion is easily rebuffed: those senators, acting on their own volition, took an affirmative act to delay passage of a bill they believed would adversely impact their constituents. Fleeing the state is analogous to a filibuster or a decision to abstain from a vote. Democrats denying quorum was intended to influence the outcome of legislation and to shape public debate to favor their constituency's interests. In contrast, Fitzgerald's refusal to count Democratic votes would be prohibiting any action on behalf of the Democrat's constituents.

Additionally, Fitzgerald's decision raises 14th Amendment Equal Protection issues, as it will disproportionately silence the state's African American and Latino populations. Wisconsin's populations of color are concentrated in Senate districts represented by Democrats, particularly the 6th District (Spencer Coggs) and the 4th District (represented by Lena Taylor). A right-wing Majority Leader silencing the politicians who represent people of color sounds eerily similar to the Jim Crow era.

If Fitzgerald blocked Democratic votes, he himself could have been found in violation of Wisconsin's contempt laws.

Fitzgerald's March 14 memo asserted that votes from the fourteen Senate Democrats will not be counted because they remain in contempt. The original contempt order may not have been subject to legal challenge because it was passed under Senate rules, which courts will not enforce or review. It also did not mention any sanctions related to voting, instead effectuating unprecedented warrants calling for the arrest and return of the fourteen. Wisconsin Statutes have separate contempt laws for public officials, and Fitzgerald may have violated those laws had he actually blocked the voting rights of the Democratic Senators ( the contempt statute would also have been triggered had the arrest warrants been acted upon, according to a legal memo from Cullen, Weston, Pines & Bach).

Wis. Stat. § 13.26: "Each house may punish as a contempt, by imprisonment ... for one or more of the following offenses: (1)(d)… attempting by menace or other corrupt means or device to control or influence a member's vote or to prevent the member from voting."

Luckily for Fitzgerald, he did not follow-through with his threat to "prevent the member[s] from voting" by use of the arguably "corrupt means" of an impermissible punishment for a trumped-up contempt finding. While "corrupt" is not defined in this statute, it appears to refer to dishonesty or other generalized misconduct (like "menace") rather than quid pro quo corruption.

Faced with declining poll numbers and massive opposition protests, Scott Fitzgerald and Wisconsin Republicans have been panicking and making a series of legally problematic decisions (including a seventeen-second roll call in the Assembly, a committee meeting not properly noticed under the state's open meeting law, and violating court orders by conducting legislative action while the Capitol building was in virtual lockdown). While they pulled back from the brink this time, we'll see what they do during the budget debates.

WIGOP Clerk "Finds" Votes Reversing Defeat of Conservative Judge

by John Nichols

Suppose the Democratic governor of Illinois had proposed radical changes in how the state operates, and suppose anger over those proposed changes inspired a popular uprising that filled the streets of every city, village and town in the state with protests. Then, suppose there was an election that would decide whether allies of the governor controlled the state’s highest court. Suppose the results of that election showed that an independent candidate who would not be in the governor’s pocket narrowly won that election.

Then, suppose it was announced by a Democratic election official in Chicago that she had found 14,000 votes in a machine-controlled ward that overwhelmingly favored the candidate aligned with the Democratic governor. And suppose the Democratic official who “found” the needed ballots for the candidate favored by the Democratic governor had previously been accused of removing election data from official computers and hiding the information on a personal computer, that the official’s actions had been censured even by fellow Democrats and that she her secretive and erratic activities had been the subject of an official audit demanded by the leadership of the Cook County Board.

Now, suppose that the number of additional votes tabulated for the governor’s candidate was precisely the amount needed to prevent the independent candidate from demanding an official recount.

Would even the most naive Illinoisan simply accept at face value that the new count was “legitimate” or that the governor’s candidate should suddenly be presumed to have been “elected”? Not likely.

Wisconsinites should respond with equal skepticism to the news that Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, a former Republican legislative staffer who worked for Prosser when he served as Assembly Speaker and with Walker when he was a GOP rising star, has found all the votes that justice needs to secure his reelection and that the governor needs to claim a “win” for his agenda.

There is no need for a conspiracy theory. The facts raise the questions that lawyers, campaigners and activists are now asking.

The clerk, who has a history of secretive and erratic handling of election results, says she forgot to count the votes of Brookfield, the county’s second-largest city, in the total for Tuesday’s Supreme Court election.

Nickolaus claims that it was “human error” that caused her to “lose” the Brookfield results on her personal computer where she had secreted away the data. Yet, she apparently knew of the “mistake” for 29 hours before reporting it and then handed the information off to conservative bloggers and talk-radio personalities.

But what is most important to note are the numbers. With Governor Scott Walker’s candidate, Justice David Prosser, essentially tied with his independence-and-integrity challenger, Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, it was all but certain that a recount would be required. And the final unofficial count, as tabulated Wednesday afternoon, put Kloppenburg ahead by several hundred votes, giving the challenger an advantage gloing into the thje count.

Then, two days after the election, Nickolaus found the 7,582 votes needed to put Prosser outside the zone of a state-funded official recount.

Former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager says she’s the developments require inquiry and explanation.

She’s right.

The Kloppenburg campaign has demanded “a full explanation of how and why these 14,315 votes from an entire City were missed.” As part of the search for that explanation, the campaign plans to file open records requests for all relevant documentation related to the reporting of election results in Waukesha County, as well as to the discovery and reporting of the errors announced by the County.”

The open records highlight concerns about the credibility of Nickolaus -- whose secretive and suspicious activities led the Waukesha County Board’s executive committee order an audit of the clerk's use of election equipment and her controversial approaches to counting and tabulating votes.

That’s appropriate. But these requests do not go far enough.

Weeks ago, state Rep. Mark Pocan, the former co-chair of the legislative Joint Finance Committee, suggested that the lawless actions of Governor Walker and his legislative consigliere, state Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, had remade Wisconsin as a rogue state he dubbed “Fitzwalkerstan.”

After a snap 17-second tally that denied most Assembly Democrats a chance to vote on Walker’s anti-labor agenda, after the threats to deny Democratic state senators legislative voting rights, after the attempts to close the Capitol to the people of Wisconsin, after the violations of open-meetings laws, after the flagrant violations of a judges temporary-restraining order, the “Fitzwalkerstan” label seems increasingly apt. And the idea of leaving an inquiry into the Waukesha County scandal to authorities who bow to the governor’s is simply untenable.

The circumstance lends legitimacy to the call by the advocacy group Citizens Action of Wisconsin for “an immediate federal investigation and immediate impoundment of all computer equipment, ballots, and other relevant evidence needed to verify a fair vote count in Waukesha County. “ Citizen Action says this investigation should include an accounting of all communications by “Kathy Nickolaus and anyone in the Waukesha clerk’s office with all outside actors, and all interested parties to the election dispute.”

It also demands a full recount, no matter what the ultimate margin of victory or defeat. Whether David Prosser or JoAnne Kloppenburg is elected, the only way that the high court will retain even a shred of credibility is if every ballot is recounted, every tabulation is reviewed and every citizen is certain that this election was legitimate.

John Nichols

John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again and Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy. Nichols is also author of Dick: The Man Who is President and The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism.

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