Thursday, March 3, 2011

This is not what I would consider an "open" Capitol

For those not following closely, the Wisconsin state Capitol was been closed since Sunday night, Feb 27. People had been sleeping in the building to protest the Governor's "budget repair bill," and the Capitol Police decided that they wanted those people out - likely to spiff up the place for the Governor's formal budget address on Tuesday. Don't want to have any pesky opposition in there, with their protest signs, when the newly purchased puppet governor speaks to his masters and wealthy followers the public.

When people left peacefully on Sunday night, they were promised that the building would be reopened on Monday at 8 am, for "normal business hours." Well, come Monday morning, the building has remained shut. People lined up outside, but they couldn't get in. Because the state Capitol is required to be open any time state business is being conducted, and because it is a public building, a judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to force the Capitol Police and Department of Administration (DOA) - who oversees all state buildings - to allow people in.

In a show of chutzpah that took my breath away, the DOA claimed that they were complying with the TRO, and the building was open. Well, if you want to stand in line for hours on end, tell the cops exactly which office you will be visiting, be escorted by armed officers to and from the office, and even be followed when you use the bathroom, I guess you might say it is "open." But most people would not say that.

Every year for over a decade I have gone to Washington, DC to meet with our Senators and Representatives during the National Bike Summit. We can enter the Senate and House office buildings freely, after a security check. You can walk up to and into the offices of any member of congress, even those that may not represent your state. I cannot imagine busy people - such as those that often want to meet with their elected officials - waiting outside for an armed escort and then going back outside to wait for another escort in and out for each meeting.

I have lived most of my adult life in Madison, and have been in and out of the Capitol so many times that I can't even think if it is hundreds or thousands of times. I have visited friends that work there, taken a tour, used the bathrooms on every floor, attended hearings, made official visits to legislators, taken pictures of this beautiful building, and just walked through the first floor as a shortcut. I know what it means to be "open," and the building is not open.

Yesterday, former Congressman Dave Obey, who represented northern Wisconsin for over 40 years, and previously served in the Wisconsin legislature for 6 years, tried to enter the Capitol, and was told to stand in line. Reps Peter Barca and Donna Seidel came out to talk to him. The video shot of the encounter makes me want to cry for my state. Obey took a very principled stand and insisted that he wasn't going to go in if the rest of the public couldn't also go in, but he had harsh words for Walker.
"I think the governor is a political bully and a political thug," Obey said, adding that Walker "should quit flexing his muscle" and work out differences with Democratic legislators, including the 14 senators who left the state to prevent a vote on the bill.

"I think the governor has needlessly divided the state," Obey said. "I can't think of a bill that will do more to weaken the future of Wisconsin. This is an anti-education, anti-union budget, and people ought to understand that."
That video tells a huge story. I wish the local and national media had given it more play.

Even staff cannot move about freely. Today Vicky Selkowe, a Capitol staffer for Rep. Cory Mason, posted this memo on her Facebook page:

To:                  WISCONSIN LEGISLATURE
From:             CAPITOL POLICE
RE:                  UPDATE:  CAPITOL ACCESS
Date:              March 2, 2011

Constituent Escorts & Badges
We have been attempting to improve constituent access to legislative offices, as best we can, while maintaining adequate security in the Capitol building.  The procedure to allocate eight badges to each legislator’s office has worked fairly well, but there have been problems with escorted visitors discarding their badges while en route to or from legislative offices so they can join visitors in the rotunda.  This defeats the purpose of the procedure and we are asking your assistance.
On Monday and Tuesday we utilized staff to assist with escorting visitors, however we received feedback that some representatives felt their staff members were overwhelmed with escort requests.  So on Wednesday we attempted to use police instead to facilitate escorts.  However, we received feedback that this method also had limitations.  Therefore, beginning tomorrow, Thursday, March 3, we are requesting a legislative staff member to meet your constituent visitors at the King Street entrance and escort them to your office along with a law enforcement officer.
Any of your office’s eight badges that are not used for the purpose for which they were issued will be taken from your office’s allotment of badges for the day.  Continued loss of badges or abuse of the badges’ intended purpose may further limit the availability of badges for your constituents, and after three incidents your office may forfeit its badge allocation altogether until conditions at the Capitol change.
Thank you for your cooperation with procedures that will allow constituents to continue visits to your office and for us to provide a safe and secure environment in the Capitol.

Key Card Access
As you know, key card access for Capitol staff was disabled on Monday.
We realize that Capitol staff members have been inconvenienced by the disabling of key card access, however this step was made necessary because a small number of staff members were seen to be abusing the key card access system by allowing some visitors to bypass building entry procedures.
If Capitol staff members can demonstrate they are willing to follow the procedures for building access that are currently in effect, we will consider temporarily restoring key card access and will monitor compliance to determine whether key card access can be permanently restored.

Arrangements for Lobby Days and Similar Events
The following plans for lobby days and similar events have been established to be in keeping with the existing queuing and badging procedures.  Lobby groups that wish to meet with legislators should reserve a hearing room via a legislator.  Lobby group members will queue and be badged at the King Street entrance as are all other visitors, and will be escorted to their reserved hearing room.  Because non-staff are not currently permitted free rein of the building, legislators will need to visit lobby groups in the hearing room (rather than the typical practice of lobby group members traveling from one legislator’s office to another).  Lobby groups may choose instead to visit individual legislators via the Constituency Visit procedures listed above, but must return their original badges to the King Street doors and obtain new badges prior to visiting a subsequent office.  Groups may also wish to consider hosting lobby days and similar events at a location other than the capitol if these access procedures are expected to result in undue inconvenience to attendees.

This is completely ridiculous. My emotions about this situation have fluctuated between anger, outrage, depression, sadness, and pain. The protesters have been peaceful and well-behaved. The excuse that the DOA has given for not allowing people inside is that some people have not come out. Well, if they won't come out, arrest them, and then let others come in. But the Walker administration won't do that, because they know that having peaceful protesters carried out of the Capitol will look bad. 

The building is not open, and the DOA Secretary and Governor are in contempt of a court order. They are the ones that should be arrested. 

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