Capitol Chaos: Protesters Say They Won't Quit
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Police carried dozens of protesters from a hallway leading to the Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday morning as Democratic representatives pounded on the locked door of the chamber, demanding to be let in before a historic vote on an explosive bill taking away public workers' collective bargaining rights.
The chamber was locked while police did a security review in the crowded Capitol. Later Thursday, protesters who remained outside the chamber thanked the Democratic representatives who voted against the bill. As the lawmakers left the Assembly, the protesters exchanged high-fives with the Democrats and chanted "thank you" as they wound through the crowd.
The Republicans left the Assembly under heavy guard as protesters shouted "Shame!"
Rallies against the bill have attracted thousands of protesters to the Capitol over the past several weeks. A vote on it had been held up after 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois three weeks ago, leaving that chamber one short of the 20 members needed to take up any measures that spend money.
Republicans got around that Wednesday by using an unexpected but simple procedural move to remove all spending measures from Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining legislation and voting to approve it without Democrats present.
About 200 people spent the night in the Capitol in protest over the Senate's swift and unexpected passage of the bill. In the morning, at least 50 protesters were carried out by police, and the building was locked down briefly.
Danny Spitzberg, 26, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said officers gave protesters little explanation for why they had to leave. He walked out on his own after being ordered to leave, but others were dragged through the hall.
"This is grossly undemocratic, it stinks up the whole process," Spitzberg said.
At least 100 protesters who remained packed the hallway, pounding drums, while Democratic representatives gathered in front of the Assembly's locked doors. They were originally scheduled to vote at 11 a.m.
"What more egregious, illegal, unethical step can be taken to prevent democracy in Wisconsin?" asked Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau, as she pounded on the door along with her colleagues.
With the Assembly empty, it was not clear where Republican lawmakers were. They showed up and began to file in after the doors were opened just before 11:30 a.m.
Then protesters packed the Assembly gallery, sitting quietly as lawmakers prepared to vote.
At a news conference at the Wisconsin State Fair grounds in suburban Milwaukee, Gov. Scott Walker said he was traveling and hadn't been to the Capitol on Thursday, but he was concerned about problems he had been told were being caused by a handful of protesters. He did not specify what those problems were.
Walker said the judge who has been deciding access to the building also was being apprised of developments, and he asked the protesters to remain peaceful.
"People can have a civil, passionate debate about this. One doesn't have to offset the other," Walker said. "It is my hope and my request to the people of the state is that they comply. My worry is frankly people coming in from other states who aren't as interested in complying with the civility we've shown here in the state, not only lately but throughout out state's history."
About 15 protesters stood outside the fairground's gates chanting "Recall Walker" during the news conference. They held signs, including: "United We Stand."
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer and Todd Richmond in Madison and Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)