Several hundred protesters chanted and waved signs Saturday night outside the Radisson Hotel. Inside, about 100 people in a meeting room heard state Sen. Dan Kapanke, Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher and others express their support for Gov. Scott Walker and his budget repair bill that would curtail public employees' bargaining rights.
It was the next-to-last stop for the Americans for Prosperity organization's "Stand With Walker" bus tour around the state. The tour, which began Thursday and ends today in Madison, asks people to show their support for Walker by signing a petition.
Along sidewalks on both the east and west sides of the Radisson, protesters held signs with slogans such as "Hey Walker Can You Spell Union Busting?" and "Kill the Bill."
"I believe Scott Walker wants you to be afraid to say you work for the state of Wisconsin," said Colleen Kirschner of Black River Falls, who carried a sign saying "Stop the Attack on Worker Rights." She said she was protesting to support her husband, who is a state employee, and other government employees.
"I think (Walker) is basically sending Wisconsin over the cliff with what he is doing," said another protester, former La Crosse County Circuit Judge Roger LeGrand of La Crosse. He also is acting chairman of the Wisconsin Tax Appeals Commission, which decides disputes between taxpayers and the state Department of Revenue.
Meanwhile, La Crosse County Republican Party Chairman Bill Feehan told the pro-Walker group inside that the governor is trying to protect the rights of taxpayers.
"I can tell you as a La Crosse County supervisor, collective bargaining is a stacked deck," Feehan said. "It's stacked against the taxpayer. So this is not about workers' rights. This is about restoring a balance between the public and the private sector."
Senate Republicans "didn't roll over and say ‘OK, whatever,'" to Walker's proposal, Kapanke, R-La Crosse, told the group. "We asked a lot of tough questions in our caucus to get to the answers that we were looking for, that made us stand tall with the governor in supporting this bill," he said. He added too many previous governors and legislators have not gotten the state's financial house in order.
Kapanke said he is listening to people and is taking their concerns to Madison. "Because there are things that we can address," he said, "and I know that we will."
The tea party movement has sprung up "because we love the words accountability, individual responsibility and education," said Wurzelbacher, who lives in Ohio and is on the bus tour.
"I don't want to be too divisive here because there's a lot of great people over there, too," Wurzelbacher said of the protesters. "They're just ignorant, they're misinformed, they're fear-mongering. They scare their own people into doing things. And that's just wrong."