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More than They Bargained For

Scott Walker, Unions, and the Fight for Wisconsin

Jason Stein and Patrick Marley

Publication Year: 2013

When Wisconsin became the first state in the nation in 1959 to let public employees bargain with their employers, the legislation catalyzed changes to labor laws across the country. In March 2011, when newly elected governor Scott Walker repealed most of that labor law and subsequent ones—and then became the first governor in the nation to survive a recall election fifteen months later—it sent a different message. Both times, Wisconsin took the lead, first empowering public unions and then weakening them. This book recounts the battle between the Republican governor and the unions.
            The struggle drew the attention of the country and the notice of the world, launching Walker as a national star for the Republican Party and simultaneously energizing and damaging the American labor movement. Madison was the site of one unprecedented spectacle after another: 1:00 a.m. parliamentary maneuvers, a camel slipping on icy Madison streets as union firefighters rushed to assist, massive nonviolent street protests, and a weeks-long occupation that blocked the marble halls of the Capitol and made its rotunda ring.
            Jason Stein and Patrick Marley, award-winning journalists for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, covered the fight firsthand. They center their account on the frantic efforts of state officials meeting openly and in the Capitol's elegant backrooms as protesters demonstrated outside. Conducting new in-depth interviews with elected officials, labor leaders, police officers, protestors, and other key figures, and drawing on new documents and their own years of experience as statehouse reporters, Stein and Marley have written a gripping account of the wildest sixteen months in Wisconsin politics since the era of Joe McCarthy. They offer new insights on the origins of Walker's wide-ranging budget-repair bill, which included the provision to end public-sector collective bargaining; the Senate Democrats' decision to leave the state to try to block the bill; Democrats' talks with both union leaders and Republicans while in Illinois; and the reasons why compromise has become, as one Republican dissenter put it, a "dirty word" in politics today.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Quotes

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

More people helped us in the writing of this book than we could ever adequately thank. We thank the editors at the University of Wisconsin Press as well as the ones at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who not only allowed but encouraged us to write this book: Marty Kaiser, George Stanley, Tom Koetting, Gary Krentz, Mike Juley, Becky Lang, Eric Aspenson, ...

Actors in the Events

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pp. xiii-xiv


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pp. xv-xx

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1. “Put Up or Shut Up”

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pp. 3-14

The television cameras were rolling in the top-floor hearing room of Wisconsin’s Capitol, and every Republican was smiling for them. The members of the GOP’s newly elected majority in the state Senate whooped and applauded as Scott Kevin Walker, a trim figure of medium height in a dark suit and red tie, took a triumphant turn through the room. ...

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2. A Preacher’s Son

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pp. 15-21

Scott Walker’s rise to governor was set up by a fall. It started with the young star of his party delivering a message of disappointment to boosters at a suburban Milwaukee hotel in March 2006. Walker dropped out of the GOP primary for governor, but by deferring his ambition that day he created a far better opportunity for himself later. ...

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3. “Open for Business"

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pp. 22-34

Scott Walker talked frugality as he dropped a ham-and-cheese sandwich into a paper bag, explaining that he brought his lunch to work every day to help him afford Wisconsin’s taxes. He was starring in one of his first ads of the campaign, and his message was clear: I pack my lunch to save money, so why can’t state government do the equivalent? ...

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4. “The First Step”

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pp. 35-48

Named for the Roman god of wine and excess, the Bacchus restaurant had dark wood trim and shining hardwood floors, making it a fine place for the powerful and influential to celebrate. Six days after winning the governorship, Scott Walker dined at the downtown Milwaukee establishment with some of the people who had helped him ...

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5. “Dropping the Bomb”

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pp. 49-60

A blizzard was bearing down on Madison on February 1, 2011, and a political storm was gathering inside the Capitol. Out of the clutches of the cold, Senate President Mike Ellis was tucked away in his elegant office just off the Senate floor, where the pictures on the walls told of his lifetime in politics and past encounters ...

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6. Laboratory of Democracy

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pp. 61-70

The next morning, a pair of Democratic lawmakers strode through the first floor of the Capitol’s east wing. It was 9:30 a.m. on Friday, February 11, and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, and their chiefs of staff were headed to see the governor. ...

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7. First Protests

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pp. 71-92

Clustered in twos, threes, and fours, university students marched up State Street over the noon hour. Spray-painted on a banner that led their parade was “ This Is What Democracy Looks Like”— a phrase that became an anthem in the weeks and months ahead. That bright, clear February 14 they gave their demonstration a Valentine’s Day theme ...

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8. The Interstate to Illinois

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pp. 93-114

On the cold Madison morning of February 17, Senator Mark Miller walked down King Street toward a meeting that might decide the fate of Walker’s bill. The Senate was scheduled to convene at 11 a.m. for the sole purpose of considering the measure, and already crowds were gathering outside the statehouse. ...

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9. First Assembly Vote

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pp. 115-127

The next day would end in an uproar and recriminations in the other house of the Legislature. In the morning, the massive crowds returned and grew by the hour. By the end of that Friday, February 18, the throng of tens of thousands of people had grown even larger, with their shouts and drumming once again producing a deafening din inside the Capitol rotunda. ...

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10. A State Divided

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pp. 128-143

On the miserable, slushy day of February 21, as Jack Craver later described it, the Madison blogger was walking near Wisconsin Avenue and the Capitol square on his way to the gym when he heard a worker at a bratwurst stand say, “Is that a fucking camel?” Craver assumed the blue-collar type was talking about some kind of machinery. ...


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pp. 144-149

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11. The Beast from Buffalo

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pp. 150-162

The phone call was a long shot, but Ian Murphy wasn’t afraid of those. The blogger and self-described art school dropout telephoned Governor Scott Walker’s office on February 22 and said he was David Koch, billionaire businessman, donor to conservative causes, and arch-bogeyman of the left. ...

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12. Lost Sleep and “Hallucinazations”

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pp. 163-176

It was no ordinary debate that had so exhausted Representative Brett Hulsey. After the last Assembly session, when Democrats had re - acted angrily to Republican efforts to shut down discussion on Walker’s proposal, Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said Republicans would cut off debate to make sure Democrats didn’t drag it out to unreasonable lengths. ...

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13. The Capitol in Lockdown

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pp. 177-194

Alight snow and a sense of tension fell on the Capitol square on Saturday, February 26. The largest crowd yet swamped the sidewalks and lawn; official estimates put the number of the throng at more than 70,000, though some said it was larger. Madison was seeing its biggest sustained demonstrations since the Vietnam War. ...

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14. “Seven Thousand People in the Statehouse”

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pp. 195-205

For the two days of court testimony, Judge John Albert wore a black robe and a look that alternated between concern, exasperation, and bemusement to find himself at the center of a case that he called “the largest expression of free speech and addressing the government in the history of our state.” ...

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15. No Deal

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pp. 206-220

The absent Democrats in Illinois were meeting daily at constantly changing locations as they sought to stay ahead of the media scrum and Tea Party activists. On February 26 they were told to meet at an unusual spot—the Illinois Education Association office in Libertyville, about ten miles away from their hotel in Gurnee. ...

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16. End Game

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pp. 221-239

Hours after Mark Miller sent his letter asking to sit down with Governor Walker, top Republicans and nonpartisan staff of the Legislature met privately across the street from the Capitol at the Legislative Fiscal Bureau office. In attendance on Monday, March 7, were Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald, Fiscal Bureau Director Bob Lang, ...

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17. Rebukes and Recount

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pp. 240-246

Judge Maryann Sumi, a red shirt poking out from beneath the neckline of her black robes, took her seat at the bench. Although Sumi is short, her raised seat gave her both height and authority. As she spoke to the lawyers in her courtroom, she occasionally glanced down at her notes and a book of statutes. ...

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18. A Court Divided

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pp. 247-262

By the time Scott Walker arrived before a congressional committee on April 14, he needed no introduction to its members or the country. During his short tenure as governor, Walker had become a national figure, both loved and loathed. Now he had a chance to make his case to the nation before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ...

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19. Recalls

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pp. 263-273

Richelle Zimmerman’s left hand gripped the blue plastic tub as she and another recall volunteer marched down East Washington Avenue, each carrying half the load. A throng of supporters cheered them on as they neared the offices of the state Government Accountability Board. ...

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20. Recalls Redux

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pp. 274-294

By the evening of March 11, 2011—the day that Walker signed the union legislation—the United Wisconsin website had 142,200 signatures of people who said they would sign petitions to recall Scott Walker and his lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch. The wild success of the website was creating an immense amount of work, and stress, for Michael Brown. ...

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pp. 295-302

On the sunny afternoon of September 14 Jenni Dye crossed the Capitol square to join a demonstration of the Madison teachers union to show solidarity for striking educators in Chicago—a reminder that even states retaining collective bargaining were not immune from labor unrest. Waiting for the 5 p.m. rally to start, Dye checked her Twitter feed. ...


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pp. 303-322


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pp. 323-328

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About the Author

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pp. 350-351

Jason Stein has reported on the Wisconsin Capitol and other news in Madison since 2002, working first for the Wisconsin State Journal and then the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He holds master’s degrees in journalism from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and in linguistics from the University of Strasbourg in France. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299293833
E-ISBN-10: 0299293831
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299293840
Print-ISBN-10: 029929384X

Page Count: 350
Illustrations: 12 b/w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Labor movement -- Wisconsin -- History -- 21st century.
  • Protest movements -- Wisconsin -- History -- 21st century.
  • Collective bargaining -- Government employees -- Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin -- Politics and government -- 21st century.
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