"I have never been politically motivated before, other than to vote,' wrote the man from Hixton. "I have never contacted a politician before because I never felt so threatened by a piece of legislation.'
The man asked that I do what I can to stop a "budget repair' bill that ignited a firestorm of protest across Wisconsin and the nation.
The man continued, "If this bill passes I fear Wisconsin and the nation will be further divided between the rich and the poor. This is about so much more than the budget and public employee unions; you are truly standing up for what is truly the right and moral thing to do.'
Over the past two weeks nearly 20,000 people contacted me through emails, phone calls and letters. Sixteen thousand contacts are from local people - my constituents. Of our Western Wisconsin neighbors, ninety percent of people are opposed to the "budget repair' bill.
Many of my constituents have concerns about changes to workers' rights. Some oppose the no-bid sale of power plants used to run state institutions like prisons and universities. Other people fear the sweeping changes to Badger Care and the Medicaid program. Still others worry about the dangerous centralization of power this and previous bills give our governor and his unelected cabinet.
Our area is not intensely partisan; many people vote for the person not the party. I heard from many people who voted for the Governor hoping for change. But this is not the change they expected. As one man from Eau Galle wrote, "I voted for Scott Walker...I want some fiscal conservation in this state....but I feel ending collective bargaining is going too far.'
Another wrote, "I am behind cutting the deficit and having public employees pay more for their benefits, but, there is no need to abolish unions and make all public employees look like thieves.'
Many people asked if I could separate the financial issues from the policy issues - get the money we need to balance the state's check book but don't crush workers' rights or sell off state assets in no-bid contracts. This made sense after state labor leaders agreed to all the financial concessions the Governor requested.
One constituent wrote, "Please end this feud...separate the budget repair bill....make a bill that restructures the debt and has public employees paying for health insurance and pension. If collective bargaining needs to be revisited...it always can.'
On behalf of Senate Democrats, our Senate Democratic Leader sent letter to the Senate Majority Leader asking that policy items be removed from the bill. The offer was rebuked.
While negotiations continue, the Governor repeated that he needs to repeal workers' right to organize as a "tool' for local government to deal with the budget cuts.
But local officials are being given a "tool' they did not ask for and do not want.
Mike Huggins, Eau Claire City Manager said in a prepared statement, "Eliminating public employee collective bargaining is not a tool we requested and definitely not one that will help the City provide cost-effective, quality public service. The proposal to eliminate collective bargaining will be a disaster for local governments and for the families and businesses we work so hard to serve."
Members of the Eau Claire City Council hand delivered a resolution opposing the Governor's bill. All units of local government in Eau Claire as well as many other local elected officials followed suit in the past few days. A petition in opposition to the Governor's "budget repair' bill has been signed by over 300 local elected officials.
Local leaders are also frustrated the Governor exempted fire and police from the mandatory contributions to pension and health insurance and any changes in bargaining rights. As one county board members said, "A large chunk of cost counties and cities are facing has to deal with law enforcement. If you are struggling with deep budget cuts, these two big budget items are not even covered.'
Others stated the current labor situation is "vital for stable cost effective operations in local government,' and doing away with employee unions is not in the "best interest of our communities.'
This week the details of the Governor's Biennial Budget will become public. We will learn what type of new budget realities we will have to address. Stay tuned for what will be a bumpy ride.