Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is so determined to shut down debate on his proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from state, county and municipal employees and teachers that he has effectively locked down the state Capitol.
A judge has ordered the governor and his aides to open the Capitol.
Obviously shaken by the popular rejection of his proposal—which has sparked protests across the state, including one that drew more than 100,000 people to Madison last Saturday—the governor and his aides have failed to comply with the order. Instead, they have restricted access so severely that, in the words of former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, they make a mockery of the state’s tradition of open and accessible government.
“Opening the Capitol to the public does not mean letting one person in every three hours, as then restricting the movements of that one person once she is inside,” explains Lautenschlager. “The governor and his aides are not respecting the judge’s order; they are in contempt of it.”
As Lautenschlager and her legal team attempt to open the Capitol, some legislators have grown so frustrated with the governor’s lawlessness that they have moved their desks out of the building in order to be accessible to their constituents.
On Wednesday, a number of Democrats state Assembly members began meeting with the people they represent along the outside wall of the Capitol, beneath a banner that read: “Assembly Democrats Are Open for Business.”
“We are out here because our governor and the Department of Administration are ignoring a judge’s court order,” said Assembly minority leader Peter Barca, who was joined by state representatives Fred Clark, Nick Milroy and Cory Mason.
With them was former US Representative Dave Obey, a Democrat who began his political career as an Assembly member.
Obey said that, on Wednesday, he was denied entry to the Capitol for the first time in his five decades of public service and active citizenship.
“I think the governor is a political bully and a political thug,” Obey said, who urged the governor to stop locking citizens—and in some cases legislators—out of the building and begin negotiating with the fourteen Democratic senators who fled to Illinois when it became evident that the governor and his cronies were not going to allow an honest debate on the union-busting bill.
“I think the governor has needlessly divided the state,” explained Obey. “I can’t think of a bill that will do more to weaken the future of Wisconsin. This is an anti-education, anti-union budget, and people ought to understand that.”