With a lot of the media pulling up stakes yesterday in Madison as protests entered their third week, and with one day until Governor Walker’s budget presentation to a joint session of the legislature, it was an opportune time for a serious crackdown on access to the Capitol. And that’s what happened today. Capitol police only allowed in constituents with appointments with members of the legislature, and refused access for anyone who wouldn’t show ID, including a state Representative.
State Rep Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, says she was denied access to the Capitol at several entrances this morning because she refused to show her Capitol ID card.
“I said I’m a representative, but I don’t feel you have any legal basis for restricting my access whether I have a Capitol ID or not,” she says. “And they said, ‘Our orders are that no one gets in this building unless they have a Capitol ID.’”
She eventually got in by tagging along with a member of the media.
Roys was not the only Democratic Assemblymember who had difficulty today. And even those who entered the building were subject to pat-downs and metal detectors, which never occurred previously. There were even police dogs out front. This sounds like a totally different place from the one I left yesterday.
Protest organizers have been negotiating with the Capitol police for access for their colleagues throughout the day, as well as an increase in access to supplies, but to no avail. The rules kept changing – first people wouldn’t be allowed in, then a few negotiated individually. But in general, the Capitol was closed to visitors and protesters, the opposite of what organizers were told Sunday night, and in violation of the state Constitutional allowance for peaceful assembly. Even as Democrats held a “public” hearing on the budget repair bill, the public could not get to the Capitol Rotunda, and were escorted to and from the hearing room. Protesters have dwindled to anywhere from a dozen to a hundred, depending on what you read.
The Wisconsin ACLU wrote a letter to the Department of Administration making these same points. “Prohibiting protesters on either side of the debate from entering the Capitol during normal business hours or during legislative hearings or sessions, while allowing others with ‘business’ in the Capitol to enter, is manifestly content-based and hence presumptively unconstitutional,” a letter from the group to Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said. You can read Huebsch’s response. It’s nonsense. He’s saying that the Capitol remains closed to additional protesters, when that’s not what he told activists yesterday.
“It’s definitely different from what they were saying last night,” says David Wasserman, who was at the Capitol Sunday night, but who was back at his teaching job at Sennett Middle School this morning.
Wasserman says police told protesters Sunday that the Capitol doors would be open for business as usual this morning.
“Our understanding was the general public would be able to access the Capitol based on the regular hours and they actually specifically said that at 8 o’clock the doors would be unlocked,” he says.
Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) said in a statement, “Governor Walker and the Republicans are trying again to shut down freedom of speech and assembly, core Constitutional values. This is part of Walker’s plan to ram the budget despair bill through without letting 28 other Representatives vote. Now he is taking away your rights and freedom to visit the Capitol.”
You can add to that the petty measures to make it difficult for Democratic Senate staffers to get their work done, like revoking their photocopying codes and charging for printing paper (really).
I don’t see how this does anything but raise the anger among the protesters, hundreds of whom chanted and demonstrated outside the Capitol today. Maybe that’s the point, to get them to do something stupid. But I don’t think that will happen. The protest movement is far smarter and more focused in their activities than to do that. They are saying that this is an illustration of how Governor Walker has tried to silence the voices of Wisconsin citizens, and an extension of Walker’s effort to silence public employees. As the co-president of the Teaching Assistants’ Association, Kevin Gibbons, said, “Governor Walker is blatantly abusing his power to quell the public dissent and discourse around the Budget Repair Bill and the impending release of the state budget. The citizens of Wisconsin should not accept such blatant disregard for our rights to be inside of the Capitol, peacefully demonstrate, and voice our opinions.”
You can add your voice to the protesters here.