Capitol Chaos: Protests Called 'Holocaust'

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MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A senior Wisconsin agriculture official described the weeks of pro-union protests at the state Capitol as a "holocaust" during a speech on Wednesday, before apologizing hours later.

Ben Brancel, the new secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, made his remarks during a speech to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation hours before Republican legislators passed a contentious bill stripping public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.

"They (lawmakers) came to town with a lot of ideas and a lot of concepts they could really work on and then they got stuck in the middle of a holocaust and a horror story that was going on in town," Brancel told the crowd. WKOW-TV first reported about the comments.

Capitol Chaos: Related content
Click here to read a Legislative Fiscal Bureau document about the union collective bargaining bill that the Senate passed Wednesday night

Raw Video:
Senate Passes Collective Bargaining Bill
Fireworks Erupt in Conference Committee

Stories:
Protesters Take Over Capitol Building
Senate Republicans Pass Collective  Bargaining Changes
Erpenbach, Barrett Warned of Collective Bargaining Vote
Union Asks MPS Teachers To Teach Thursday
Ag Official Calls Protests 'Holocaust'
Senate Democrats Stay in Illinois
Teachers Furious

Reaction: 
Governor Scott Walker
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald
Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller
Senate Democrats, Others 

In a statement put out by his office later, Brancel said he should have chosen his words more carefully.

"I apologize today for my unfortunate choice of words about the budget controversy," he said. "I meant to portray the sense of turmoil in the past weeks, but I chose an inappropriate word in the context."

He stood by his description of the legislative standoff as a "horror story."

"It is a horror story in the sense that there is not a(n) orderly process of debate to resolve the issues," he told WKOW-TV.

Walker, who appointed Brancel to his post, said at a news conference in Green Bay that he hadn't heard about Brancel's comment but that it "would be unfortunate. I'm assuming it's taken out of context," he said.

The majority of the rhetoric from both sides has remained civil, but there have been instances in which the governor was likened to Adolf Hitler, including by a Teamsters Union official shortly after Walker introduced his anti-union bill.

"He burnt books while you burn rights," Gene Gowey wrote in an open letter to Assembly Republicans.

And state Sen. Lena Taylor, one of 14 Democrats who fled the state to forestall a Senate vote on the bill, has said that Walker is trying to abolish unions the way Hitler did.

"I don't want our history now to be, related to workers, the history of Hitler," she said in a video posted on YouTube. "In 1933 he abolished unions. And that's what our governor's doing."

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The WKOW-TV report and video can be found at http://bit.ly/e3KuQJ

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)