Supporters, detractors shout different messages in Madison SaturdayThe state capitol building in Madison had two faces Saturday. On one side, the union supporters gathered. On the south side of the building, the Tea Party rally was beginning.
By: Anna Holmquist , New Richmond News
The state Capitol building in Madison had two faces on Saturday.
It’s estimated that 70,000 people gathered at the Capitol that day for and against Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget repair bill that would limit collective bargaining rights for public employees and require them to contribute to their retriement/pensions and health insurance.
On one side of the building, the union supporters gathered. People with megaphones chanted and pontificated.
“It’s time to stop these budget cuts,” one man yelled. “It’s time to tax the rich.” A speaker led the crowd in a song.
“We are the union, the mighty, mighty union.”
On the south side of the building, the Tea Party rally was beginning.
In the coffee shops surrounding the Capitol, supporters of both sides gathered to grab a bite to eat and a hot drink to warm their hands.
Amy Almendinger and Ann Scharfenberg, two New Richmond High Hchool teachers, arrived in Madison on Friday evening.
Scharfenberg, who teaches economics, said that she thinks what’s happening at the Capitol is too important to watch on TV.
“I’m fighting for my community,” she said.
Alemndinger, an English teacher, agreed.
“It’s an issue for everyone. It’s going to affect everyone,” said Almendinger, who was attending the rally with her son.
Scharfenberg said that she thinks Gov. Scott Walker still isn’t listening to what the union supporters are saying. She says he is still talking about money, but to her, it’s not about the money. It’s about the ability for meaningful negotiation, she said.
To have a voice taken away hurts everybody, Almendinger said. She mentioned that the protests during the past week have had a bigger turnout than the Vietnam War protests.
“This is an education right here,” Alemendinger said.
Steve Hamill, Hudson, is a stock analyst for a mutual fund and a supporter of the Tea Party movement.
“I’ve been involved in Republican campaigns in the past,” he said.
He’s a big supporter of Walker and his campaign. He helped to organize a trip to Madison to show his support for fiscal reforms.
“There are very few options when you look at how big our deficit is,” he said.
He said he believes that the benefit packages for union workers have gotten too large and supports them being cut.
“I appreciate and understand that this is going to cost the union workers money,” Hamill said. But, he added, taxpayers can only afford so much. He said he believes they have reached the limit.
Ray and Suzette Lenzen, River Falls, are both self-employed. He works as a contractor and landlord, and she’s a medical transcriptionist.
They took a bus to Madison on Saturday morning with Hamill to join with the Tea Party supporters.
“We’re watching democracy in action,” said Ray.
He said that the people in political office in Madison are carrying out what voters sent them there to do. His wife agreed.
“Our state is basically bankrupt. Something has to give a little,” she said. Her voice was drowned out as supporters began to chant.
“Pass the bill! Pass the bill!”
Kerry Kittel, a social studies teacher at New Richmond High School, attended the rallies on Thursday and Friday, both times taking personal days off from school.
“I wanted to do what I could,” he said.
Kittel opposes the budget repair bill, saying it would be a “tremendous drag on the local economy.”
“I truly would not have opposed short-term limited salary reductions,” he said. The permanence of the cuts concerns him, he added.
Kittel said the biggest fear is that young people will leave the field of education. He saw students holding signs that said, “Governor Walker, my parents won’t let me be a teacher,” and “Governor Walker, thanks for helping me change my major.”
Kittel said he fears that since salaries will be so low in the field of education, students won’t be able to have a job and still pay off their student loans.
Protests and rallies in Madison have been going on since last Monday. Jesse Jackson came and spoke on Friday, and Saturday saw Herman Cain and several others speak at the rally in support of Walker.