Wineke: Have Sympathy For Scott Fitzgerald

By Bill Wineke Special To Channel 3000

Believe it or not, I do have some sympathy for Scott Fitzgerald, the Juneau Republican who is majority leader of the Wisconsin Senate.

Four months ago, it must have appeared that this would be his time to shine. Fitzgerald and his fellow Republicans had just won major victories in the November election. Scott Fitzgerald would lead the Senate. His brother, Jeff, would be speaker of the Assembly.

That was even before Gov. Scott Walker named their dad, Stephen Fitzgerald, head of the State Patrol. Things were going well. The two even received a glowing feature story in The New York Times — and that was even before Gov. Scott Walker named their dad, Stephen, head of the State Patrol.

Things were going well. Then, Walker “dropped the bomb.” At least, that was the term the new governor used when he thought he was talking to billionaire David Koch.

The Republicans would crush employee unions, put Medicaid under the control of the governor, demand that government employees “contribute” about 8 percent of their incomes to pension and health care and transfer money from public schools to private schools ? all within a week.

Jeff got the job done. Scott didn’t. In the Senate, the Democrats determined that if they all just left the state, the Senate couldn’t pass the bill. So, they went to Rockford.

That gave people — especially union members — the opportunity to respond and, for weeks, tens upon tens of thousands of people filled the Capitol Square in protest. The entire government of Egypt was toppled by demonstrations that attracted fewer participants. Fitzgerald’s fellow Republicans were getting anxious.

Now, at this point, Fitzgerald would have been wise to regroup. Instead, he figured out a way to drop his own “bomb.” He stripped the financial provisions from his bill, called a joint Senate/Assembly meeting to debate it, giving his fellow legislators less than two hours notice, marched the Republicans into session and stripped the union rights from government employees all within a matter of minutes. The Senate adjourned and the deed was done.

Except, of course, it wasn’t that simple. For some reason, those who opposed the measure felt that Fitzgerald had tricked them and, rather than admiring his cunning, they swarmed the Capitol again, some of them so angry they showed up even without coats.

Within days the demonstrations had attracted 100,000 protesters, perhaps as many as 175,000 depending on how far down State Street one counted. And, by this time, farmers had determined the new budget would threaten their health insurance and school boards and village administrators had figured out that the budget couldn’t just be balanced on the backs of their employees.

And a Dane County judge, appointed by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, said the legislative trick might just have violated the state open meetings law. She ordered Secretary of State Doug La Follette not to publish the law until she could evaluate the arguments.

Now, at this point, Fitzgerald again would have been wise to regroup. Instead, he once more found a “bomb.” He convinced the Legislative Reference Bureau to “publish” the bill on its web site. Then he, and the administration, announced that the bill was now law.

Surprisingly enough, the judge took issue with that interpretation. She started talking about contempt citations and the administration backed down.

So, we don’t yet know how things will turn out. But we do know that eight Republican senators are now the subject of recall petitions, that a politically conservative Supreme Court justice who, a few weeks ago was considered a shoo-in for reelection, is now in the fight of his life, and that some Republican senators are now issuing press releases explaining they won’t back the governor on some other crucial issues.

And Scott Fitzgerald really looks like a major league jerk.

I do kind of feel sorry for him.