Area residents join rally at Capitol in Madison

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Sunday, March 11, 2012
— Dave Selck of Janesville missed the opening day of deer season last November. He hadn’t missed an opening day since 1966.

Instead of hunting deer, he went to a recall-the-governor rally.

“Ol’ Scotty got me riled up,” Selck said.

He was referring, of course, to Gov. Scott Walker.

Selck, a retired Teamster, was one of thousands of people with similar feelings who rallied in a “Reclaim Wisconsin” rally at the state Capitol on Saturday.

Also in the crowd was Janesville teacher Cecilia Hladky, who said she joined the cheering throng “because I wanted to be a part of something that’s going to change our whole state.”

Whether those thousands of demonstrators will translate into hundreds of thousands of votes to recall the governor remains to be seen, but the ralliers showed a strong core of support under sunny skies.

Some were angry, some sad, most determined and hopeful for the recall effort. They were marking the one-year anniversary of the Legislature’s vote for Act 10, which cut away much of the negotiating powers that most public-employee unions enjoyed for decades.

Proponents said the changes helped state and local governments balance their budgets at a time of declining revenues.

The mostly union crowd Saturday saw Act 10 as an attack on themselves, their families and the middle class. The crowd included public-sector and private-sector workers alike, from librarians and firefighters to steamfitters and plumbers.

“The governor needs to work for the 99-percenters, not the 1 percent,” said Steve Woodstock, a mechanic at the Rock County Highway Department. “They’re representing the ultra-rich, who don’t need any more help. They put all the blame on the teachers.”

Woodstock carried an American flag as he marched around the square with fellow union members.

“We need to let everybody know that we’re not going away,” said Janesville schoolteacher Stephanie Kortyna, who carried a sign touting Kathleen Vinehout for governor in the probable recall election later this year. Others were backing another Kathleen, Falk.

“We’re still here and still fighting and not going to stop until all the people who passed the laws are gone,” Kortyna said.

Another Janesville teacher, Sue Shotliff, said she sees the results of cuts to school funding every day, with fewer staff members asked to do more and low morale.

“There’s got to be a better way to make things work for our children,” Shotliff said.

Asked why the contract-protected Janesville teachers didn’t agree to start making pension payments that could have saved jobs, Shotliff noted that the state teachers union offered to negotiate concessions, but they were ignored.

“Barbara Fett, a retired school counselor from Janesville, said she would never forget how laws were passed at night, without hearings and what she believes was without proper notice.

“That was wrong. It was deceptive. It was deliberately secretive. The process was ignored,” Fett said.

Asked whether she thought Janesville teachers should have volunteered to make pension payments, she said:

“It seems a lot of people want to see us lose benefits, when in fact everyone deserves a good pension. Everyone deserves health care.”

Dave Selck, a retired Teamster from Janesville, had similar thoughts. He said he is benefiting from retirement benefits that were won by union members before him who fought for them.

“I tell you what, I got a darned good pension because of it, and I think everybody should have one,” Selck said.

Laurie Bauer, who was a librarian at Parker High School last year, is working in the Madison School District this year because of the staffing upheaval in Janesville.

“I am mad because I loved what I did there and I built a good program (at Parker),” Bauer said.

Bauer said she is commuting to Madison and is selling her house in Janesville.

Speeches were filled with references to spring and the renewal or rebirth of what one speaker called “the Wisconsin we know and love.”

Signs in the crowd took their digs at Walker and other Republicans, but few descended to vulgarity. One man was seen carrying a piece of paper showing Walker with a Hitler mustache.

No counter-demonstrators or angry confrontations were apparent to observers, although no one could tell with the widespread crowd. Police seemed at ease, and access to the Capitol was not restricted as it was during demonstrations one year ago.

Dona Palmer, a retired teacher from Lake Geneva, said she was on her union’s committee that bargained for wages and benefits with the school board. It was the ultimate in democratic decision-making, she said, but then the governor wiped all that away with Act 10.

School boards now will be able to get rid of high quality, experienced older teachers and hire teachers with no experience at half the price, Palmer complained.

“People will be losing jobs to save money,” she said.

Roger Anclam, a retired UAW General Motors worker and chairman of the Turtle Town Board, said he was upset that Walker made changes without allowing input from the other side.

“It was simply: ‘We’re taking this away from you.’ I don’t think this is the way we do business here,” Anclam said.

“I know families that can’t sit down to Thanksgiving dinner together anymore,” Anclam continued. “People are so polarized that you can’t have a regular conversation about it.”

A few of the signs at the rally called for healing that rift, but most were intent on simply reversing a year of Republican rule.

But if the union coalition in evidence Saturday is to win this year, it will have to do better than in 2010, said Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, who addressed the crowd Saturday.

Mitchell admonished the demonstrators, saying that 39 percent of union members actually voted for Walker in 2010.

“Will we make the same mistake twice?” Mitchell asked.

“No,” the crowd responded.

Lawmakers defend Act 10 action

Republican representatives Joe Knilans of Janesville and Evan Wynn of Whitewater stand behind their votes for Act 10 last year, wiping out much of the power that public-employee unions had to negotiate benefits and working conditions.

The legislators speak for many who were not represented at the union-organized rally Saturday at the state Capitol.

“We can all sit back and debate the method that was used, but in the end I think it was the right thing to do,” Knilans said.

Schools and other local governments were able to save on employee costs, and some even set aside money for merit pay for those who work hard and deserve a raise, Knilans said.

Wynn said the problem was that unions could organize very effectively to elect the very boards or councils that they would later negotiate with, and that led to abuses.

Some workers were getting excessive benefits, Wynn said.

Wynn said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Falk has pledged to restore collective bargaining, but she hasn’t said how she would pay for it. The only choices would be to cut the workforce or raise taxes on people who are already strapped, Wynn said.

Without referring to the rally, Gov. Scott Walker posted this on Twitter on Saturday morning: “Some want to drag WI backwards and rehash debates of the past. We want to move WI forward.”

Those who oppose the aims of Saturday’s Capitol rally will have their turn as the year progresses.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation plans a “Defending the American Dream Summit” on March 24 in Milwaukee, and a tea party rally is scheduled for April 14 at the Capitol.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Last updated: 7:58 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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