Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Stories From the State Capitol

Six vignettes tell the story of how the Senate passed the Right-to-Work bill.

By - Mar 2nd, 2015 09:56 am
Wisconsin Capitol Protests. Photo by Patti Wenzel

Wisconsin capitol protests during the passing of the controversial Act 10. Photo by Patti Wenzel

Republican lawmakers returned to what now looks like unfinished business from the Act 10 controversy that curtailed collective bargaining by public employees in 2011. Last week, they curtailed private sector union power, passing a right-to-work bill that says no one could be forced to join a private-sector union, or be forced to pay union dues, in order to get or keep a job.

Seventeen Senate Republicans sent that bill to the Assembly, whose GOP leaders promise to put it on the desk of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who will sign it, by Friday. Six vignettes help tell the story.

*Republican Sen. Jerry Petrowski, of Marathon, said his vote against the bill was a matter of consistency and not, as Democrats may claim, a profile in courage. He was the only GOP senator to vote against it. In a statement, Petrowski said he promised to not vote for any right to work bill in his 2012 and 2014 elections, and must honor those pledges.

Petrowski, whose official biography says he is a former member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1791, added, “I am not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy. I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican, and like President Reagan, I was a union member for many years. Under the law as it stands, unions are formed by a majority vote and everyone gets to choose where they work.”

*Senate President Mary Lazich passed her first controversial test. The emotional right-to-work debate was the first test for the first woman presiding officer of the Senate, a non-partisan role. Lazich had to respectfully deal with Senate Democrats and gallery protesters, whose shouts often interrupted seven hours of debate. Lazich stayed at her new post, put her GOP partisanship aside, and didn’t lose her temper while asking officers to remove disruptive protesters and not make her clear the galleries of all observers.

*Number of “Walker” references in Wednesday’s labor rally: Just Four. One veteran state official offered this theory: Union leaders who held two noon rallies against the bill couldn’t let every speaker repeatedly denounce Walker. If they did, it would give Walker’s presidential campaign powerful new sound bites that could win even more support among conservative Republicans nationally. Maybe that was why six union leaders spoke at Wednesday’s rally, and only two of them took Walker’s name in vain.

*How will four Assembly Republicans who had closest elections vote?

Of the 63 Assembly Republicans, four won with 54 percent or less of the vote, and three of them were elected for the first time. This week’s expected vote on the right-to-work bill will be their first major test of the session, so freshmen may wonder if it will be a vote that defines their first term and hurts their 2016 re-elections.

Those four, and their winning margins, are: Rep. Todd Novak, of Dodgeville, 47.4 percent; Rep. Dave Heaton, of Wausau, 50.1 percent; Rep. Kathy Bernier, of Chippewa Falls, 52 percent; Rep. Romaine Quinn, of Rice Lake, 54 percent. Novak, Heaton and Quinn have been in office eight weeks. Republicans don’t need their four votes to pass the bill, however. Even without them, given a 63-36 margin of GOP control in the Assembly, passage of the bill seems inevitable.

*Troopers guarded lawmakers who won’t OK their wage contract. This story is pure irony: Platoons of state troopers were in the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday for committee and Senate actions on the right to work bill. Troopers and Capitol Police officers escorted Republican senators out of a committee meeting Tuesday, for example, and kept angry protesters away from the Senate on Wednesday.

But days earlier, the same Republican leaders rejected wage agreements negotiated by Walker aides with the troopers union two years ago, calling the pay raises of up to 17 percent “unreal” and too high. The head of the Troopers Association, however, says they have not received a pay raise since 2009, so the raises are more than justified. The association’s website says troopers start at $19.95 per hour; after eight years, $20.05, and, after 12 years, $22.45.

*No snakes, please. Having learned many lessons from the Act 10 takeover of the Capitol by protesters for several days in 2011, Capitol Police last week posted a list of 25 items not allowed into the building. Item 24 of banned items: “Animals/Snakes (Except Service Dogs)”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at

14 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Stories From the State Capitol”

  1. Frank Galvan says:

    Once more, Scott Walker, courageous
    spokesman for Wisconsin co-Governors Charles and David Koch, steps into the breach to do battle with the terrorists!

  2. Kyle says:

    It’s starting to feel like “Koch” and “ALEC” are the new “Hitler” and “Nazi” of comment sections. Once they’re mentioned, all rational debate is over.

    Can we at least admit that some of these things are the priorities of Vos and Fitzgerald and not Walker taking direct marching orders? Walker’s aides negoiated the raise for State troopers, it’s the Senate that shot them down. They’re also the ones who appear to be pushing the right-to-work legislation in the first place.

  3. PMD says:

    Yeah I second that Kyle. This tic of referring to Koch and ALEC in every anti-Walker comment is just like WCD’s habit of referring to every liberal as a racist. It’s so tired and it makes it impossible to take the comment seriously.

  4. Tim says:

    I don’t think you can equate Koch & ALEC with racist. Are all liberals racist? Does ALEC write legislation that is submitted & then passed by the Republican party of WI? Does Walker walk lock-step with Koch?

    Am I the only one that sees a difference?

  5. PMD says:

    Absolutely right Tim. Just blurting “Scott Walker, ALEC, and the Koch Brothers” is a really compelling and well-reasoned argument that should be taken seriously.

  6. AG says:

    I get goosebumps with Kyle and PMD agree. You know a point is valid when that happens! I’ll jump on this bandwagon and agree with both of you as well.

  7. Kyle says:

    PMD, there are absolutely similar terms from the other side. I only limited myself for brevity. In addition to WCD’s repeating bit about white liberal racists, I find the endless permutations of President Obama’s name (i.e. – NObummer) to be equally telling of the quality of the discussion to follow.

    And to address Tim’s point:
    “Are all liberals racist?”
    “Does ALEC write legislation that is submitted & then passed by the Republican party of WI?”

    I see a difference, but you introduced it. ALEC does write some legislation which is used in part by the Republican party. Some liberals are also racist. All liberals aren’t racist. ALEC doesn’t write every word of every piece of legislation use by the Republican party. But the point was never to equate the severity of the two claims. The point was that they are imflamatory claims that do nothing to advance any discussion on any issue, and are often used with little to no contextual reason.

  8. Big Al says:

    When is the Legislature going to remove the unions for the police and firefighters? Why are they still unfairly forced to pay those terrible union dues just to keep their jobs?

  9. Tim says:

    Kyle, I still see false equivalence… you’re examples don’t sway me. People like “Frank Galvan” above aren’t saying that Koch(s) & ALEC write all legislation; I’m seeing people upset that they have such a heavy influence. Bills written by those groups are being used verbatim in the bills introduced by Republican legislatures.

    To compare that to WCD (“All liberals are racist”) is innane in a way that borders on dishonest.

  10. PMD says:

    Saying “Walker is evil because all he does is shill for the Kochs and ALEC” over and over and over again is inane. And I am no fan of Walker, to say the least.

  11. Tim says:

    The same person saying that over & over again is silly. However, pointing out the facts that Koch(s) & ALEC write bills proposed by WI Republicans & their strong ties to Scott Walker is not.

    It is not a “gotcha” or some type of liberal trick, it is reality.

  12. PMD says:

    @Tim… I am not suggesting that ALEC and the Koch Brothers have no influence on Wisconsin politics. They do. I was never arguing otherwise. What I am saying is that when an anti-Walker post from certain individuals consists of nothing more than “Walker is evil and does nothing but shill for ALEC and the Koch Brothers,” and they repeatedly post a variation of that statement, it adds nothing substantive to whatever the topic is and gets old in a hurry. I hope the difference is clear.

  13. Kyle says:

    Tim, it’s phrases like “spokesman for Wisconsin co-Governors Charles and David Koch” and “Walker walk lock-step with Koch” that directly contradict you when you claim “People … aren’t saying that Koch(s) & ALEC write all legislation”

    You may be right, that instead of one person saying that over and over, it’s lots of people that insist on saying it a few times. But what good does it do to pit villain against villain? Do we really want to discuss the Koch brothers versus Gruber’s statements on the ACA? Or should we actually address the contents of the legislation instead of the presumed source?

    Personally, I don’t care for right-to-work legislation. And I find the political strategy behind both the Republicans and the protestors interesting. Yet all we’ve done is discuss the phantom source of this legislation (which I doubt you can actually verify).

  14. Tim says:

    So, now the question has shifted? Before it was “All liberals are racists” is the same as something like “Walker is figuratively in bed with ALEC & the Koch brothers”.

    Now, we’re arguing over whether someone repeating something like “Walker’s policies are bought & paid for by the Kochs & ALEC”, now we’re arguing over whether that is ineffective.

    Huh, interesting turn of events. Obviously, it’s not very effective… Walker keeps winning elections. The question is “why don’t voters care?”… is it because the voters don’t believe that or because they don’t care that it’s true about their candidate?

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