Temperatures drop in Madison, but the political pressure heats up

TEMPERATURES DROP IN MADISON, BUT THE POLITICAL PRESSURE HEATS UP…. Last Saturday’s massive protests in Madison against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) union-busting measure brought tens of thousands of activists to the state capitol. Yesterday, by some estimates, the crowd was twice as big.

Peaceful and passionate, the pro-union crowd rallied against a bill that has left the Legislature in gridlock and triggered a walkout by 14 Senate Democrats, who fled the state for Illinois and left the Capitol in political chaos.

The crowd heard from labor leaders, religious leaders, teachers, an actor and a snowplow driver. Thousands of people stood on snow and ice and poured onto two blocks of State St., while thousands more kept up a steady parade around the Capitol Square.

It was Angela Aldous, a 30-year-old nurse from Madison, who drew the loudest cheers. She sought to cast doubt on Walker’s suggestion, made last week, that many people from out of state were joining the large protest crowds in Madison.

“Governor Walker, I’m not faking this Wisconsin accent,” Aldous said. “I was born in Wisconsin. I live in Wisconsin. And I came back early from my ice-fishing trip to tell you, ‘You are not going to crush Wisconsin.’ ”

She then led the crowd in a chant: “We are Wisconsin.”

According to estimates from local law enforcement, upwards of 100,000 protestors were on hand yesterday, roughly double the totals from a week ago. What’s more, Eric Kleefeld noted some noteworthy context to this — last weekend the weather was fairly nice, whereas yesterday it was 17 degrees and snowing.

“[T]ake this as a clear sign that even if the Wisconsin Assembly has passed Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, with its anti-public employee union proposals, the passion of demonstrators here is not dying down,” Kleefeld added.

Howard Fineman, meanwhile, has a good item noting the anti-labor crusade, inside Wisconsin and elsewhere, in the context of the 2012 campaign.

For all of the valid concern about reining in state spending — a concern shared by politicians and voters of all labels — the underlying strategic Wisconsin story is this: Gov. Scott Walker, a Tea Party-tinged Republican, is the advance guard of a new GOP push to dismantle public-sector unions as an electoral force.

Last fall, GOP operatives hoped and expected to take away as many as 20 governorships from the Democrats. They ended up nabbing 12.

What happened? Well, according to postgame analysis by GOP strategists and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi — who chaired the Republican Governors Association in 2010 — the power and money of public-employee unions was the reason.

“We are never going to win most of these states until we can do something about those unions,” one key operative said at a Washington dinner in November. “They have so much incentive to work hard politically because they are, in effect, electing their own bosses — the Democrats who are going to pay them better and give them more benefits. And the Democrats have the incentive to be generous.”

This is how top Republicans see the matter: a vicious cycle of union-to-Democrat-to-union power that they are determined to break.