Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Evening At The Forum

Last Friday, shortly after my appearance on The Sara Schulz Show, I received  a phone call.  Apparently, there was going to be a forum debating the merits of the Scott Walker recall.  The person who was to be pro-recall part of the panel was called away for business and would not be able to participate.

The event was scheduled for Tuesday evening and was going to be held at the beautiful facility of St. John's on the Lake.  The host and moderator of the panel was Tony Busalacchi.  Tony was featured in this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article from a couple of years ago, and yes, his collection o art is gorgeous.

The anti-recall pundit was Rick Bass (pronounced boss), who had a very impressive bio, including being a member of Homeland Security and being a ranking officer in the Republican Party of Milwaukee County.  (That's the same group that had members like Darlene Wink and Tim Russell also as ranking officers.)

The other member of the panel was Professor Edward Fallone of Marquette University, a most learned man with whose work I was familiar and for whom I had a great deal of respect.  Professor Fallone would be a neutral participant there to explain the legal and historical background for recalls in Wisconsin.

Would I be willing to stand in as the pro-recall part of this panel of distinguished men?  I almost burst out in open laughter at the thought.  Who was I to be on stage debating the future of Wisconsin with these distinguished gentlemen?  But after a few minutes of cajoling and flattery ("Who else knows all the issues as well as you?" is like kryptonite to a blogger), I squelched the voice of reason and suppressed the drive of self-preservation and agreed to take part.

Later on, Tony called me and explained the format to me.  He would introduce the panel and then Professor Fallone would speak for a few minutes to explain the history and legal issues surrounding recalls.  After that, the panelists would be able to ask each of the other panelists one question.  After that, the panel would answer questions from the audience.

Seemed easy enough.

But then I spent the weekend obsessing about what questions I should ask.  I contacted some trusted friends to use as sounding boards and to get their input.  (Thanks for your patience, guys!)  I neatly wrote out the questions that I had in my notebook.  I reviewed the things that I had written and what others had written regarding the recall to prepare.

Tuesday morning finally came. I was as ready as I'd ever be.

I got dressed in the same ensemble that I wore last year when I participated in a panel discussing the role of social media and the protests.  I wanted to remember the support I received from my #wiunion brothers and sisters that day and use those memories to help carry me through this day.

After work, I went straight to St. John's.  I got there a little early, so I figured I'd take the time to review my notes in preparation.  But there was one slight hitch to that plan.

I forgot my notebook at home.

Feeling the panic rise, I did what came naturally.  I cried.  OK, not really.  What I did do was get on Twitter and tweeted about my nervousness.  The response was immediate and overwhelming.  Despite the fact that they couldn't be there in body, my #wiunion family was with me in spirit.

I took that strength and went in.

I met Tony and my co-panelists.  Tony then went over the format again.  He said that after Professor Fallone  gave his introduction, Mr. Bass and I would each have five minutes to speak towards our cause and then we would go to the questions.

Mentally, I started screaming.  A speech?!  A bleeping SPEECH?!?!  No one told me about a speech!  First I forgot my notes and now I had to ad lib a speech?!  Well, wasn't that great?

I then remembered having written a post about the five reasons to recall Walker.  I tried to remember all of the reasons and try to figure a way to put in a shortened version.

The crowd came in.  There was about 50 people there, almost all of them residents of St. John's.  They were a charming group of kind senior citizens with a reputation of being very active in their community and having a consistently high turn out in the polls.  But Tony had advised us that, like the rest of the state, this was a community divided, with very strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

My nervousness was starting to climb again.

As it turned out, Professor Fallone was a life saver without meaning to be.

In his introduction to recalls, he gave a brief history on how the recall process was introduced into the state constitution.  He said that at the time this law was being written and made part of our heritage, the people were outraged.  He told the group that the people felt that the businesses were having too much influence on the government.  The people felt that the politicians were being controlled by these businesses and that they were no longer paying heed to the citizenry.

Gee, now who does that sound like?

I won't bore the reader with a blow by blow account of the discussion, but I do want to give you some of the highlights.

My question to Professor Fallone dealt with all of the money that Walker was collecting, purportedly for the use of defending himself against the recall (but got the taxpayers to pay for).  As I had surmised, Walker gets to keep collecting unlimited amounts until a recall date has been set, which explains why he is pulling all these stalling tactics.  (On a side note, I called it - the teahadists are going to sue to prolong the process.  I guess legal defense attorneys don't come cheap.)

My question to Mr. Bass was to explain why it was OK for Walker to come into the Milwaukee County Executive position on a single-issue recall and to call for Doyle's ouster in 2006 for supposed corruption by his administration but it was wrong to recall Walker under the same offenses.  He dodged answering that one.

Mr. Boss' question for me was whether there would be the protests or the recall if the unions had not been harmed.  My answer was an unequivocal yes.  I pointed out that many of the protesters and recallers were non-union, private sector workers.  I added that it was people from all walks of life that were at the Capitol for months on end and it was this same wide sampling of Wisconsinites that braved this winter to collect the nearly two million signatures to trigger this round of recalls.  I added that as far as I was aware, there were no public sector unions that consisted of senior citizens, or of children, or of housewives, parents and/or grandparents.

I think that the most moving and inspiring part of the night is that each and every question was directed to Mr. Bass and challenged him on the current state of affairs.  That told me that everyone was seeing through the standard talking points offered by Mr. Bass and by WISGOP as a whole.

Mr. Bass took an interesting approach by stating that he's not there to defend Scott Walker and that Scott Walker could defend himself.  The other thing that I noted was that during the question and answer time with the audience, he often deflected the question to me to answer first.  It was as if he was more comfortable reacting and attacking my points rather than to try to defend or even endorse Scott Walker's actions.

I would say that I scored one of the biggest points of the evening when I, in response to a question about the mining bill, pointed out that it was the mining company that had written the bill and tied that into what Professor Fallone had taught us about the origin of the recall procedure in Wisconsin.  Another big point, judging from the reaction of the audience, was when I pointed out Walker's ever-present hypocrisy and made a comment to the effect of, "In Scott Walker's world, every day is Opposite Day."

After the event, Tony invited us all up to his apartment for a nightcap and a riveting conversation.

I would like to thank Tony and the others at St. John's on the Lake for a lovely evening and a warm reception.  I also thank them for the bottomless coffee cup.  I think I will by making more use of that than I'd care to admit.

I would also like to thank Professor Fallone and Mr. Bass for a lively discussion and making the nice a success.

I would most like to thank my brothers and sisters of #wiunion, who gave me support and cheered me on, and gave me their strength to successfully meet this challenge.  If I were to name each one, it would double the length of this article.  But at the risk of alienating all of the others, there is one person I'd like to thank for the strength lent to me and the inspiration to be as good as I could be: Thank you, Diane.


  1. Good piece! My only contention is your statement,

    "Mr. Boss' question for me was whether there would be the protests or the recall if the unions had not been harmed. My answer was an unequivocal yes."

    I don't believe that had Walker not gone after the unions there would have been another force that would have been able to step in and pull it off. What other group had the power to organize 100,000 people? No, not all of them were union members (myself included), but we all knew union members; teachers, police, social workers(!), etc. The offense to the unions was the lens that focused all the other unfocused anger at the GOP.

    IMVHO, the unions were the catalyst for the entire 2011 protest movement. That's not to say there weren't other issues that came up, but without the offense given to tens of thousands of hard working public sector workers (like yourself), I don't believe Walker would be in jeopardy now.

  2. When I answered Mr. Bass, I did not deny the involvement of the unions or the Democrats. But I did point out that the people were calling the shots and pulling the triggers, which is, of course, an accurate statement.

    But I also pointed out that most of the people I personally knew that was doing this weren't public sector workers or even unionized.

  3. First, congratulations, Capper, on a fabulous performance, representing the many of us who, day-by-day, continue to work to oust an out-of-control Republican Party in Wisconsin (and send outside corporate interests packing). And, I'll confirm for readers...this is not just about collective bargaining. I am not union, but I am horrified by what I see as a trampling of rights for me and for my family. So horrified that I see now, this will have taken 2 years of my life by the time the recall elections have occurred. And, Walker and Wis GOP should know...I'm now a former Republican. Based on the actions of people like Walker, Fitz brothers, Darling, Ellis, Grothman, Vos (I could go on and on)...I don't think I can ever again, in good conscience vote Republican. The GOP has done too much damage and there is too much work to undo what these people have done in the name of greed. Their unholy partnership with corporations is the very definition of fascism.

  4. I'm with Phil, here. Certainly a lot of the muckraking and pavement pounding has been done by non-union people, who made no bones about not being union and therefore it not being "their fight"-- but the union attacks were what sounded the charge.

    Really, what Bass's question was asking, is "isn't it true that only the unions stand to benefit from recalling Walker? Aren't they the ones pulling all the strings? What a bunch of crybabies, manipulating people to serve their own interests."

    A more unequivocal sucker-punch in response to his question might have been: People didn't organize to recall Walker because they were starry-eyed and twitterpated over union leadership, or any one currently-recognized union's contract. Walker didn't go after union contracts-- he went after the IDEA of unions as a means of achieving greater dignity in the workplace, and telling people they don't deserve respect for their work is a dangerous, fool-hardy way to get your ass booted out of office. Even if that wasn't enough, and you could make a case for why maybe it's not-- it wasn't just the attacks themselves, it was the actions of the administration in regard to people's reactions, that said: Not only do you deserve no dignity in work, but you deserve no voice in government either.

    THAT, is what spurred a movement to recall and joined disparate unions and non-union workers and unemployed workers, students and retirees together out of common interest beyond factional motives. It is fundamentally offensive and abhorrent to the sentiments of a free nation and a democratic government, both to the people of Wisconsin and the nation as a whole, be so robbed of dignity, respect and voice. People have gone to war over such things.

  5. I'll join Anonymous above in congratulating you, Chris, for rising to the sudden challenge and representing us so well -- but I'll also add **Thank You** for doing that, on behalf of us all.

    Your devoted work on this blog has clearly honed your rhetorical skills, as well as drilled you in every detail of Walker & Co's sordid politics. Given your success, you might want to consider taking up public speaking in favor of the recall, on tour in other communities around the state. Time permitting, of course. Ask United Wisconsin and the other pro-recall orgs if they've got plans for such talks.

  6. I also want to thank you and say that I read your tweet here on the blog. Thanks for doing that on your free time, for us. (And, by the way, I am non-union also, one of those housewives you mention, although perhaps I am better known as ...SuperMOM!

  7. Thank you for all the kind words, everyone.

  8. Wow Capper, you had your work cut out for you! How did you forget your notebook? Anyone who spouts that the Recall is all about teachers and union members needs to dig a little deeper. I'm not a union member or a teacher, yet, I was at the Cap more in the winter of 2010 than in my entire 4 years of college in Madison. I can't sit by and watch hard working people lose their hard earned rights. Unions are not a quaint function of days past. They more important each day, especially in this environment.

  9. I agree with whoever said, "Who is better versed in this stuff than you?" I read your blog regularly to keep up to date on the latest developments. Thank you for taking on the speaking engagement. This year has challenged many of us to take on roles we never imagined we would.