Sources in Wisconsin offer their impressions of recent protests, issues behind them


Editor's note: We asked Wisconsin residents in MPR's Public Insight Network for their experiences and perspectives surrounding the recent protests there. Here are excerpts from their responses.

"I am extremely disappointed in the behavior of the protesters who have called in sick for work. They certainly have a right to protest, but only after work hours unless they have been excused. The school shut-downs were the event that made me unsympathetic to their position. ... Millions of people support Gov. Scott Walker's bill." -- Gail Sklodowska, company administrator, Milwaukee.

"As a UW-Madison student, I live two or three blocks from the Wisconsin capitol. I can hear the protests at almost every hour of the day. Cars are honking and people are yelling constantly.

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"I work for the student government, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM), which has officially endorsed these walkouts, but the vote to do so was by no means overwhelming. Tensions are high because there is constant debate over what ASM's role in all of this is. ... I'm not on the student council, so I don't have a vocal position on these issues, but my boyfriend is. As a staunch Republican, he's been in a perpetual state of anger at what he calls "mob rule." It's hard for us to talk about this because he's very passionately against what the protesters (and ASM) are doing, and while I'm not particularly passionate, I mostly agree with the protesters.

"All in all, I've never witnessed anything like this before in my life. Regardless of the side I take, this has been an amazing experience to see first hand. It feels like being on the edge of history, with all eyes of the nation on us." -- Kate Fifield, student, Madison.

"My wife and I helped organize a group of parents and students to show support for local teachers and school staff outside our children's elementary school. We feel that to expect high quality public schools and municipal services we must treat these employees with respect rather than try to strip them of collective bargaining rights. ... We are very proud of the way public employees around the state have made their voices heard in respectful, peaceful protests not only in Madison but in cities and towns across Wisconsin." - Craig Johnson, attorney, Whitefish Bay.

"I believe the governor did the right thing. You teach because you see it as a calling -- like Catholic school teachers do. The unions have outlived their usefulness. There are plenty of protections for workers. They hold the taxpayer hostage.

"Gov. Walker will save many small school districts if this passes. Isn't it time public employees give a little instead of taking? They can join the taxpayers who pay their salaries and benefits and don't have the benefits they enjoy. What makes them so special?" -- Judith Kerr, substitute teacher, Cornucopia.

"I worry a great deal about the 85,000 kids who attend the Milwaukee Public Schools, which closed on Friday. Teachers ought to be ashamed of taking away any days of instruction.

"The protests are a frustration, but not completely surprising or without merit. The complete desertion of the state capital by the Democratic senators is, at best, a stunt, and at worst, a total abdication of the senators' role as elected officials. Eventually, they need to sit down and talk. And vote. Running away and hiding in Illinois is childish behavior." -- Cindy Zautcke, policy analyst, Mequon.

"As a state economist and policy analyst, I was surprised that no one asked me about this proposal. I analyzed it for its economic impact. If public employee salaries are cut (through increased withholdings as proposed) by enough to fill the $137 million budget gap, the resulting drop in consumer spending will lead to: 1) a loss of over 1,200 nongovernment jobs; 2) a loss of about $100 million in business sales statewide; 3) a loss of nearly $35 million in personal incomes of nongovernment employee households; 4) ironically, a loss of nearly $10 million in state tax revenues." -- Robert Russell, economist and analyst, Madison.

"I went to Madison Thursday morning early to protest the likely removal of my right to collectively bargain. I'm a teacher in Milwaukee; our superintendent said there would be disciplinary action for any teacher who didn't report to work. There was a strong intimidation factor that made many teachers decide not to demonstrate. I was very nervous, still am. But I could not stay away.

"The issue is not money for me; it is the right to negotiate a contract. What is left in this country if contracts are meaningless? ... State employees are hard workers who have paid health benefits, have accepted furloughs, and have survived pay freezes. Stripping them of collective bargaining is not an acceptable way to balance the budget. It's not enough of a savings anyway." - Susie Welsh, teacher, Milwaukee.