On Monday, January 3rd, 2011, Scott Walker was sworn in as Wisconsin's 45th governor. Three months earlier, he'd been elected with 52 percent of the vote in the governor's race.
On the afternoon of Friday, February 11th, 2011, after alarming details had been leaking out all week, Walker released what he named his "budget repair bill," and has proceeded to tell approximately 20 lies about the nature of the legislation. The bill was supposed to be about filling a budget deficit, one created by Walker's tax cuts for the wealthy and big business, but has been revealed as a vehicle for petty political retaliation and a far-reaching power grab in favor of the idea that no one should ever feel secure in their job.
After historic public protests brought thousands to demonstrate at the Capitol in Madison that weekend, the bill's passage through the legislature slowed to a crawl. When it was clear that none of the state government's Republicans were willing to negotiate, the 14 Democratic Senators left the state the following Friday to deny quorum, and therefore a vote on the bill, in the Senate.
Throughout, Walker also made himself scarce, refusing to return phone calls from Senate Democrats asking to negotiate. Yet on February 23rd, it was revealed that he'd spent 20 minutes on the phone with a man he thought was David Koch, but was in fact a blogger looking for a story. Koch is a conservative billionaire who, along with his brother & business partner, Charles Koch, is infamous for his companies' environmental pollution, his funding of climate denial front groups and the Tea Party, making billions from special deals with the US government and having spent $1.2 million in 2010 to elect union-busting governors.
Some three weeks on, Wisconsin is in a state of unusual unrest. The first two weeks following the release of the bill saw a 24 hour-a-day occupation of the Capitol building in Madison, which was held open as Assembly Democrats continued round the clock hearings, and record-breaking rallies in the Capitol Square. A day has yet to go by since the beginning of the standoff without a demonstration of some kind. During sunny days and snowy, through rain, sleet and slush, people from all walks of life have showed up at the Capitol to voice their opposition.
In a series of dramatic twists and turns over the past week, Gov. Walker closed the building to the public in what was found to be a violation of state law, but even this couldn't stop the public from showing up. The marches and rallies continued this past weekend, with two separate rallies on Saturday, alone, while the Capitol Square had to be closed for hours as tens of thousands marched through the streets with signs expressing disagreement with the governor and his budget.
Though various conservative media outlets have attempted to portray protesters as 'thuggish,' or otherwise violent, none of the tens of thousands who showed up to object to Walker's budget in person have been arrested, nor issued citations. Indeed, off-duty members of the Madison police force, with company from other state police and sheriffs' departments, have been regular participants in protest marches and even Capitol sleep-ins. Madison's police chief has declared himself troubled, not by the protesters, but by comments Walker made about planting troublemakers in the crowd.
Conservative activists' response to this widespread public outcry, aside from a handful of relatively sparsely attended Tea Party rallies sponsored by the Koch Brothers, has been to ask for teachers' attendance records so they can call for them to be fired if they might have taken a day off to protest.
Further, as protest continues at the Capitol, the fight has been shifting steadily out to the rest of the state. Eight Republicans and eight Democrats in the state senate, all who are eligible, have had recall petition drives launched against them. However the politics plays out, it will end up coming at large expense Walker's allies in a year when no one was expecting to have to campaign. While there has been discussion of recalling Gov. Walker, himself, he can't be legally subject to recall until he's been governor for a year. By now, that must seem like a lucky break, indeed.
Walker's approval ratings now stand at 43 percent approving, 57 percent disapproving. More people strongly disapprove of Walker's performance, 48 percent, than approve overall. In households where children are attending a public school, 67 percent disapprove, with 54 percent strongly disapproving.
And while even conservative polling has found that Wisconsin residents would like Walker to make concessions, he's declared that he "can't compromise" on the workers' rights issues that first sparked strong public opposition. On a national level, the hard line taken by Walker and some of his fellow Republican governors has begun to shift public opinion in favor of unions and appears to have started a long-delayed national discussion about the role of union organizing and the economic interests of working families.
For a story about a state budget, released in what's often called a 'Friday afternoon news dump,' when reporters are often thinking more about their weekend plans than the next report to file, the repercussions have been stunning. Walker's budget has gone from tanking his own popularity, to raising money for his opponents and unifying labor, to weakening the position of Republicans nationwide as they gear up for their own fights against unions.
Today, Senate Democrats have asked Walker for a meeting near the state line to negotiate. They're still willing to talk, in spite of the fact that Walker's Republican friends in the state senate have threatened them with arrest and harassed their staff, and the governor has threatened to fire state workers if they don't come back, as Walker had discussed doing when he thought he was on the phone with David Koch.