Education, jobs, mining and lingering tension over Act 10 dominated a listening session held Tuesday in La Crosse by Democratic lawmakers.
The session was part of a series of statewide town-hall style meetings touted as a “middle class values tour.” Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson of Milwaukee contrasted the meeting’s style with Gov. Scott Walker’s recent “Talk with Walker” tour, in which the governor met with workers and other guests at manufacturing sites around the state.
“No one here is excluded,” Larson said. “We want to make sure we’re hearing from everyone.”
Besides elected Democrats, the meeting was attended by about 40 members of the public.
Lawmakers’ initial pitches focused the typical Democrat talking points of this year’s legislative session. But as the public began to speak, it quickly became clear that Act 10 — the GOP-backed law that stripped most public workers of collective bargaining rights — is still a major public concern.
“We took from education and we balanced (the budget) on the back of our children and the backs of our public employees,” said Crayton Hause, a corrections worker. “I don’t think those are Wisconsin values.”
Margaret Wood, a retired teacher, expressed concern over a proposed mining bill that Democrats say would weaken environmental protections.
“Those kinds of jobs are not sustainable; at some point they’re all going to end” she said, arguing that the proposed mine would “desecrate our land.”
David Langer, another retired teacher, agreed.
“The idea that you can build wetlands somewhere else is just ludicrous,” he said, referring to proposed changes that may weaken wetland protection.
Langer also expressed education concerns.
“It seems that education became a little political ball to toss around,” he said, citing controversy over voucher schools, Act 10, and plummeting per-pupil spending.
Slow economic recovery and job growth was the primary issue for Andy Compton.
“We’ve got to get back to making things here (in the U.S),” he said.
Compton also argued for a higher minimum wage, saying that low-paying jobs don’t stimulate economic growth.
Bipartisanship was another common theme.
Holmen High School student Briana Schwabenbauer advocated for changes to the redistricting process.
“That is one thing that causes such great partisanship within our state,” she said.
Reps. Steve Doyle of Onalaska and Jill Billings of La Crosse also attended. Democrats plan to have similar meetings across Wisconsin.
“We thought it is important to have these dialogues with community members to see if there’s common themes around the state,” Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse said.