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As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the state's Department of Administration continued to refuse to comply with a court order to allow the public back into the Capitol Building in Madison, Democratic lawmakers literally climbed out their windows to meet with constituents on the Capitol lawn today.
Several members of the state assembly and their staff whose offices are located on the first floor—including Representative Nick Milroy of the Northern Wisconsin 73rd district, Representative Cory Mason of Greater Racine, Representative Josh Zepnick of the south side of Milwaukee, and Representative Fred Clark of Baraboo—pushed desks, chairs, and telephones over their windowsills, and set up temporary offices in the ice and snow right below their windows, outside the Wisconsin Avenue entrance to the building.
"We literally climbed out because we can't get to our constituents," said Rep. Mason of Racine. "It's taking a long time for me to get in. We're going to take our responsibilities outside and listen to what the public has to say. Even if the governor doesn't want to hear it, we do."
Representative Fred Clark of Baraboo, who also climbed out, said, "There is absolutely no reason for the kind of lockdown that is happening now in the Capitol. My constituents can't get in to see me. People couldn't get in to attend hearings, to see us, or to see the Governor's budget address last night--there were empty seats in the gallery. There's no excuse for that. I had to climb in the window to get in here yesterday, because I left my I.D. at home."
Despite the frigid weather, with the temperature hovering around 24 degrees, "We are going to have office hours out here as long as we have to," he added.
Kimberly Rinke of Pardeeville stopped by to talk with Rep. Clark and urge him to protect public lands. "Besides the labor issue, I hope you won't sell off our public lands, and we can continue to protect them, because that would be great for hunting," she said. Governor Walker's budget eliminates the DNR's ability to pay local governments to make up for lost property taxes for land it buys through the state Stewardship Fund, and says the agency cannot buy development rights.
"Absolutely," Rep. Clark said. "When we saw that no-bid contract provision for the power plants--that was the beginning. This is too important to give up on."
A few desks down, three IBEW electricians were talking to Rep. Mason of Racine. "We know we're next," Mike Ray, an electrician from Eau Claire told Mason. "This is about working and earning a living. It's not about somebody giving you something."
"What he's doing, I applaud," Ray said of Mason's outdoor office. "If we had a whole bunch of representatives like him, Wisconsin would be a better place."
"We believe this state is ruled by law," said Rep. Clark. "And the secretary of the Department of Administration needs to abide by it. The fact that our Department of Administration would ignore a court order to open the building is outrageous. It's anti-democratic. And they are threatening to precipitate the very kind of crisis that would give them the justification for this kind of action in the first place."
Brian Schroeder, a staffer for Rep. Zepnick, was handing out copies of a booklet about the Wisconsin legislature entitled "How a Bill Becomes Law." Zepnick was back in his district, he said, but wanted to participate in the outdoor office hours.
"You guys couldn't get into our offices,” he told the people who stopped by, “so we're bringing our offices to you.”
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Sudden Retirements Wreak Havoc in Wisconsin."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter