Monday, March 21, 2011

A Visit to the Capital - Let's Move Forward

I had the opportunity to visit the capital last week and I have a few photos to share along with some notes about the changes I noticed from when I was down for the TEA parties the last few years and now, in (What I sincerely hope is) the aftermath of these protests. The first thing I noticed is that there were more people than usual walking around outside the building itself. Many were carrying signs and stopping to engage in conversations with those they met as they were walking. Then I crossed the street and saw my first annoying thing. The sidewalks were covered with anti Walker, anti budget repair bill and pro-union graffiti. (Thankfully in chalk, at least I'm pretty sure most of the ones I saw were in chalk.)Perhaps that why the lawns were so torn up, people must have been attempting not to smudge the artwork of their fellow protesters. Yes, I'm sure that must be it, after all, what's a few million in sod and landscaping costs compared to chalk drawings on the sidewalk reviling our legislators?

Next was a man with a bullhorn walking around and around the capital building. His comments, at that time were addressed to Governor Walker, asking him to come out and speak to the people. (As I left after my visit, his tone had changed, he was taunting the governor, calling him a coward and saying:"Hey, why don't you hold your breath for 25 minutes?" Must be some of that new civility stuff.)

Then, it was time to find which door was open. (Another change, as during and after the TEA party rallies and pretty much for all of my life, the capital has been open to the people to come and go at will through all the doors during normal hours.) As I entered, it seemed much darker than I remembered it. and then there was the next shock, a metal detector with a table and bins for all pocket contents. Okay, a reasonable precaution given the death threats to our legislators, I went through it, it wasn't a virtual strip search machine after all. The beeper went off. After a thorough search of an otherwise empty, but deep pocket and three more beeping scan results from the wand, I found the errant penny and was allowed to pass into the capital building itself.

The hallway seemed unusually dim as did the rotunda chamber. All the usual lights appeared to be on and it was a sunny day, yet the hallways branching off the rotunda seemed dark and forbidding. Most with velvet ropes across them, not truly blocking, but definitely giving the impression that people weren't welcome to go that way. The capital has always been a rather solemn place for me to visit, but not like this. I don't know if it was some adjustments to the regular lighting, the obvious police presence throughout the building, the attitude of the other people inside the building or what, but it seemed very forbidding and dark, not at all like the capital I was used to. In the center of the rotunda chamber there were people laying out fliers in a circle as though someone on one of the other floors would be photographing them even though I was informed that the upper levels were closed to visitors at this time. As I looked around for the hallway leading to Representative Kestell's office, I saw a man sitting on the floor chatting cheerfully with the woman beside him. At his side was a sign saying he was on a hunger strike until the bill was thrown out or something. It said he was on day 11. He seemed awfully cheerful for someone who had gone without food for 11 days, but I often feel better when I'm fasting, so maybe he does too. In any case, I don't think that's going to work, since I hadn't seen or heard anything about someone on a hunger strike at all. I found Rep. Kestell's office fairly quickly and was greeted by Sara Mikolajczak, one of Rep. Kestell's staffers. I had been running late, so I had the opportunity to chat with this delightful young woman for a few minutes while Rep. Kestell finished up a meeting. She was able to confirm many of the more disturbing things I had heard about or read about the protest. (Things like the smell, the noise, the overall nastiness of the protesters towards anyone on the opposing side.) She showed me the budget and said that they expected it to get just as bad when the time for the vote on that comes around. We talked about the difficulty of removing the signs and tape from the many different, old and rare types of marble used in the capital building. Then I was able to see Rep. Kestell. I asked how he was doing and whether or not he was rethinking his career in public service. He said that he didn't think there was a single legislator on either side of the debate that hadn't been wondering if they really wanted to have this job after watching the behavior of these protesters over the past weeks. In my opinion, that is one of the biggest challenges that has come out of all this. How can we get good people to run for and hold office if the citizens are going to behave like spoiled little brats when they don't get their own way? When former Governor Doyle was in office, and doing some really egregious things, conservatives did not come and tear up the capital. Conservative citizens and legislators did not attempt to hold the entire state hostage. We did the right thing. The people contacted their legislators, expressed their opinions and voted in the next election. Conservative legislators held their noses and voted against horrible bills that they knew would pass anyway because that was their job. That is the way it is supposed to work. No disrupting offices with constant drumming, no pounding on doors and windows and certainly no spitting on those who have been elected to serve us. That is not how a REPUBLIC works. but then, perhaps the protesters can be forgiven, since they clearly believe we live, not in a republic, but in a democracy-poor things. Perhaps they'll learn some manners when they become informed about the difference between the two and why a republic is better. Then we talked about the fiscal issues facing the state. Rep. Kestell expressed great respect for the budget office, saying that the head of it treats having accurate numbers almost as a religion. This man will not fudge the numbers for anyone and he has been trying to get the legislature to cut spending for a number of years now with no luck. Now we are at the tipping point and all the hard decisions have to be made now, because no one was willing to make any of them earlier. He expressed a confidence that both the budget repair bill and the budget, while cutting a number of things that people will not like, are the right thing to do to get WI into a place from which we can start addressing some of the more serious and larger issues that face us. State Sovereignty education and health care came up as a few of those areas.

He then urged me to share the facts with people. Because we cannot continue to spend like we have been and no amount of protesting will make money fall from the sky. Nor will any amount of protesting about fiscal realities relieve us of the burdens placed on our economy by the hoops we are jumping through to get money from Washington.

The bottom line is that many of the demands placed on us, as a state, by Washington are costly and ineffective. In other words, my grandmother was right when she used to say that government money always costs you more than you get. The feds give us money(our own money) for our schools and other things - as long as we jump through their hoops and don't squawk about how much of the money that we could have had for our schools is going, instead, to the layers and layers of bureaucrats who spend their time thinking up ways to prevent us from getting more of our own money to put towards our schools. (And this, when the federal government has no Constitutional authority to have anything to do with the education of our children. That is supposed to be left to the state and local levels.)

After thanking Rep. Kestell and his staffers, I went to see Sen. Leibham, but he wasn't in. So I left a note on the sign in sheet and thanked his staffers for their service. Then I went to visit Sen. Grothman. Now Sen. Grothman is not from my district, but I felt so bad upon viewing the video of him being mobbed that I felt I must visit him and thank him for his service, particularly. Sen Grothman has been a staunch supporter of conservative values, fiscal responsibility and Constitutional government for many years and he deserved better from the citizens of WI than to be mobbed like that. Public sector union members aren't all thugs(Although, I now think a goodly number more than I would have ever credited before this protest began are very badly behaved indeed.)and the taxpayers are not robber barons out to enslave the "poor little union workers. (Who are apparently unable to stand up to their employers without unions-although they can take days off from work and engage in medical fraud and other less savory activities to defend their wish to have someone else to do it for them.How does that work?) I think it's time for us to remember that we are all in this together. "We must hang together or we will assuredly hang separately" if we cannot get our state back onto solid fiscal ground. If we can do this, then we can assert ourselves as a state and really make the changes that need to be made to make our state what it needs to be as our federal government runs amok and courts hyperinflation and ruin. Let's get our own house in order and then go after Washington. Because it's not about who's in the oval office or the legislature so much as it is about sustaining our nation. The time for hard decisions is now. Let's make them and move forward. That is our state motto as embodied by the statue of Lady Forward on the top of our capital building is it not?

"And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea."~ Exodus 14:15-16

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