Write a nice note to a Wisconsin Representative

by Harry on February 18, 2011

I chatted last night with a friend who is a Dem Representative (so not a Senator holed up wherever they are now), and my wife saw him an hour or so later, and said he looked as exhausted as he sounded. The Dem Reps are in the building round the clock basically, and excited but also tired. My friend says it really gives them energy to get messages of support, from old friends and new friends. Honestly, pretty much wherever you are, a short encouraging email will help keep their spirits up, and obviously if you’re in Wisconsin a nice note to your own (Dem) Rep is appropriate (Phelps – send a nice note to a bunch of them, ok, you’re almost uniquely capable of writing a letter that will encourage in this situation). An extremely polite note to your (Rep) Rep explaining why he or she should be opposing the bill, and making whatever pledge of support you can bring yourself to make, conditional on him/her contributing to the bill’s defeat, is also in order. Here’s the list of home pages, addresses, etc. I’m off now to see my mate and find my daughter.

Oh, by the way, its looking as if Tuesday’s budget speech will announce the de facto privatization UW Madison, so that’ll be fun too.



Glen Tomkins 02.18.11 at 3:05 pm

How about some sticks?

Carrots to the Dems in the state legislature is a nice idea, and certainly I’m not suggesting that people not do this.

But the problem here seems to be the R legislators and the R gov, not the Ds. I’m not suggesting nasty notes to them, that would be counterproductive. I’m not suggesting literal sticks, that would be way counter-productive.

Start the recall process. I understand that the recall election has to be a full year after the assumption of office, so the gov can’t be replaced until 1/12. Was the entire legislature just re-elected? How about local officials, and I’m thinking mainly DAs? (because I’m thinking of opening as many new fronts as possible until the definitive remedy is available) The actual recall petitions can’t go out on officials sworn in in 1/11 until 11/12, but right now you could be seeing if you can get to the threshold of 25% in key Senate districts on a some sort of “intent to recall” petition. You would do a registration drive at the same time.

This isn’t going to end like Egypt. This gov and this legislature were elected in actual free elections. The problem was that most people didn’t vote, and many of those who did and voted the wrong way thought that they were just getting your standard issue cautious windbag politicians. They just wanted to send a message, not actually bring us back to 1886.

The only thing that will work is winning the next election. Even in the near-term, your best chance of converting the other team back into your standard cautious windbags is to present them with as credible a prospect as possible of losing the next election, and having that election be as soon as possible. If you don’t succeed at the near-term, that only increases your chances of winning that next election.

More importantly, we are much more likely to get Ds elected in that sort of fighting-for-our-lives situation who will actually strive to be something more than cautious windbags for our issues. I do not, even slightly, criticize the Rs for their program in WI. Finally we have politicians in this country who are doing what they have always said they believe is right. Good for them. They got the majority, and they are using it. Now we need to get the majority back, and then actually use it.

I think it is fundamentally wrong-headed to for the D Senators in their hegira to justify their actions by some idea that Walker didn’t negotiate with them. What, would union-busting be just fine if only Walker had shown them the courtesy of a palaver before using the democratically elected majority in the legislature to pass his bill? He shouldn’t have used the democratically elected majority to do what he thinks is right, because that would hurt the fee-fees of the D Senators? That’s weak. He and his fellow Rs don’t need to be negotiatied with, they need to be replaced. They have finally been forthright enough to act on their windbag words. This is no time to criticize them for the harshness and lack of sensitivity involved in finally doing what they have long said is the right thing. It’s time for our side to be equally harsh and match our words with deeds.

I fully believe that most people in WI and in this country would be behind us if we actually showed them what we stand for, if we actually presented them with an alternative. It’s a shame that the other side had to start us back down the right path. Thank the Rs for finally showing us what they stand for in deeds, not words. Time for our side to reciprocate in kind.

Mass demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns are all well and good. They are perhaps the best way to convince people our side to come out of a defensive crouch, to believe that the majority is on our side, and that is the necessary first step. But you have to do something useful with that confidence, take some real action, or people will soon conclude, rightly, that this movement is just nothing but the old kabuki that has long kept them away from the polls in droves.


Christopher Phelps 02.18.11 at 4:06 pm

Harry, front page of NYT and Wash Post Web sites today was Wisconsin (oh, and Bahrain).

People, this Wisconsin development is hugely important on a national and international scale – first time we’ve seen anything like it, a mass movement from below, that is actually spontaneous and wasn’t a Tea Party spawned by Fox News, Palin, Limbaugh, etc. Obama has even been compelled to take a stand. This is what has been needed all along in the Great Recession but that has been the missing ingredient accounting for why this has not panned out in anything like the New Deal. Wisconsin’s spirited resistance is setting a template for what will now also happen in many other states since the Republicans have decided to scapegoat public workers everywhere for a crisis the bankers – who the taxpayer has bailed out – caused. Tax breaks to the rich, destruction of unions and pensions for everyone else. But the pushback from below is at last stirring. We rub our eyes in disbelief, but there they are, in the capitol rotunda.

I will try to write.


Christopher Phelps 02.18.11 at 4:15 pm


Christopher Phelps 02.18.11 at 4:25 pm

Sample letter:

Dear Rep. Cullen

I am an American living abroad writing to say that I am inspired by the Wisconsin Democrats’ resistance to the bill before you that would destroy public employees’ collective bargaining rights and place the burden of the budget crisis on the backs of those who can least afford to pay for it.

Bravo and kudos. Keep up your spirits. Don’t give them an inch. Not one.

Christopher Phelps
University of Nottingham


lt 02.18.11 at 4:29 pm

Thanks for the information. Are they all voting down party lines ie is the “thank you” the right message for every Dem?


Christopher Phelps 02.18.11 at 4:50 pm

Here is an automated message I got in reply from one Rep. that advises additional action:


Due to a high volume of calls and emails of support for state employees and our own efforts to protect the rights of workers, my office is extremely busy and unable to respond to your email at this time. However, your thoughts are extremely important to me. Please make sure you leave your name, address and a brief message.

Rest assured, my staff and I are working tirelessly to stop this Draconian policy, but we need your help. In addition to emailing me, I encourage you not only to call Governor Walker at 266-1212, but to encourage your friends and family who live outside Dane County to call him and more importantly, call or write their own state representative and state senator as well. Your friends and family can get the phone number or email address of their state legislators by visiting this page http://legis.wisconsin.gov/w3asp/waml/waml.aspx.

If you are not contacting me regarding state employee collective bargaining rights, please note that we are doing the best we can to respond to email and phone requests as quickly as possible.


Rep. Mark Pocan
78th Assembly district


joe koss 02.18.11 at 4:58 pm

I’ve been writing since Saturday. Today’s letter:

Dear Senator Riser:

As a 2010 University of Wisconsin — Madison School of Education graduate, a 2004 University of Wisconsin — Madison Honors Philosophy graduate, a son to a retired Chippewa County Health and Human Services supervisor and social worker, a brother to both a school counselor and over-qualified middle school math teacher, a brother-in-law to a health teacher and dedicated coach, mentor and role model to hundreds of young men, a cousin and nephew to a handful of teachers (prospective, current and retired), and a friend to hundreds of teachers throughout our great state, I have never been prouder to call myself a 5th generation Wisconsinite.

However, my heart and soul has been nearly broken my times listening to my fellow Wisconsinites denigrate the thousands of teachers we have in our state, and the (near) selfless hours many of them put in during the year. I don’t understand how we got here. I don’t understand at all…

My only battle cry can be: Forward!

What is our way forward?

By coming to legislation peacefully, democratically and amicably; by recognizing that no one party or person has a monopoly on ideas or solutions; by acknowledging that compromises bring about the best possible solutions because they value all ideas and perspectives; by respecting all middle class citizens and not pitting them against each other in a trite attempt to play politics.

One of my favorite quotations of all time: “The best compromise leaves both sides dissatisfied.” That, in a nutshell, is the least we can expect from our government, that is suppose to be of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Please keep up the good fight. I continue to email, facebook/faceblog, call and pester my friends and family members about the need to protect workers collective bargaining rights.

I am hoping for a better tomorrow with you.

Yours Respectfully and With Gratitude,

Joseph Koss


Christopher Phelps 02.18.11 at 4:59 pm

lt –

Probably not every Dem is on board, but I put a header title, “Thank You, Wisconsin Dems, for Standing Up”. Figure that will make the laggards feel guilty, might as well write them all


Christopher Phelps 02.18.11 at 5:48 pm

Update: Actually received a personal response (and a friendly one) from one.


Doug Gray 02.18.11 at 5:57 pm

It took me about 43 minutes to send individual emails to each democratic representative. I also recieved several auto-responses. This is the first time I’ve done something like this. As silly as it may sound, it felt good to do it.


Shelley 02.18.11 at 7:12 pm

Good for you. I’m amazed at how many literate blogs are ignoring the crucial events in Wisconsin. As a Texas writer, I can also add that what the Wisconsin Democrats are doing (getting the heck out of Dodge to avoid a dastardly vote) is exactly what Texas Democrats did a few years ago. And the Republicans used “homeland security” funds to try to capture them.


Harry 02.18.11 at 7:29 pm

Just back from chatting with someone in the Dem caucus who assures me that every Dem is on board, and those you suspect are most inclined to waver are those who most need your support.


anon 02.18.11 at 8:22 pm

There was a night unlike any other night. The night that caused political upheaval in our country. 14 Democrats and 2 Republican Senators fled Wisconsin in order to main the Unions. The madness of the full moon now shines in the state as thousands of protestors marched. The fog began to move in where veryone was lost trying to find answers. Thus the only thing they could do is wait for the sun of tomorrow to lift the fog. The people need to maintain their rights, and will neither stop nor give up to get past this icy trail. Slippery, treacherous, and filled with snakes just waiting to strike anyone who gets off the trail. However the people’s will is enough to get off this trail, clear the fog, and scare off the snakes. In blazing glory they will have successfully defended the freedom of their people, for the only thing for this evil to truimph is for good people to do nothing.


anon 02.18.11 at 8:27 pm

I had to do a free write in a class and this was the first thing I thought off. This woke up the American Spirit inside me that is making me share this with all of you. We can all show our support for what the risk they’re taking for us.


joe koss 02.18.11 at 9:28 pm

I may have sent 100 emails today to various parties of varying influence, from family members to representatives to governors. My incredibly talented and embarrassingly overqualified middle school mather teacher sister was one of four proud representatives of the Chippewa Falls School District today, and I can almost guarantee you she has never thought about being part of a political movement before.

I wonder if you are feeling 20…30? years younger today Harry?! If they are asking, I am sure you are giving good organizing advice…and I hope they are asking.


Harry 02.18.11 at 10:10 pm

Oh I still feel middle aged. In some ways old — seeing one of my former students playing a leading role in all this, and hanging out with him today until I was able to watch him wander over to meet Trumka. Some are asking, but to be honest this is beyond the organisers, it has a completely bottom up dynamic. One story: a union organizer with a very sleepy membership in the middle of the state hired 2 busses for today, thinking he was being overoptimistic, and then his members were pissed at him and he had to hire 3 more. I’ve not seen anything like this since the Miners strike – it was bigger today than yesterday, and tomorrow, I suspect, is the key.


Glen Tomkins 02.19.11 at 2:01 am

What’s the plan?

How does our side win this one?

Let’s say a million people show up Saturday in Madison. What does that accomplish?

In Egypt, having ever greater numbers show up in Tahrir day after day accomplished something very decisive. It punctured the official myth of the popular basis of the regime. In WI, there is no such myth to puncture. The current governor and legislative majorities won the last election, a real election. If all million who voted against them shows up in Madison, well, the majority still voted for them. We’re ruled by the majority that shows up to vote on election day, not the majority that gathers in Madison on Saturday. Walker won’t be stepping down no matter how many millions show up in Madison for no matter how long, because, unlike Mubarak, he has election results to wave in our faces. No matter how many thousands gather, many more thousands voted for him.

Same deal on the Senate hegira. I understand that this union-busting scheme wasn’t attached to the actual budget, so I assume that budget still hasn’t passed. Every state I’m familiar with passes all the spending bills at the last minute. If WI is different, if the D Senators really can stay in IL forever, and no govt shutdown will result, and no other bills need to pass this session, then I guess they can just stay away until the next election. But that’s not likely. These Senators were elected to participate in the democratic process, part of which is majority rule in the WI Senate. They don’t get to end the session with its business undone just because they don’t like the majority the voters sent to the WI Senate.

Sooner or later, the crowds have to leave Madison, and the Senate has to return. What then? That R majority will still be there waiting. Why does the R majority vote any differently based on either the hegira or the mass demonstrations? Why would they not see both actions as just an attempt to forum shift? We aren’t impressed when they do that, when they appeal to states’ rights or the universal filibuster or whatever as the reason that our majority doesn’t count, doesn’t get to govern, but has to yield instead to some novel veto point they just invented. They won’t be impressed when we do it to them, when we try to say that a hegira or a million people in the streets means that the last election doesn’t count.

They aren’t changing except out of fear. They’re not going to go back on their determination to pass this union-busting scheme because either of these two actions will suddenly waken them to a sense that union-busting is wrong, or that they went about it the wrong way. This whole affair first came to nation-wide blog notice when Walker talked about calling out the National Guard to enforce the thing, even before the mass demonstrations. If you talk about bringing in the guys with the guns at the outset of a legislative maneuver, I don’t think that indicates a mood for compromise, that some deal can be struck with these draw-a-line-in-the-sand folks. They think they’re in the Alamo, and we’re Santa Ana.

The R majority will vote this plan in unless our side does something to frighten them off of that plan. The hegira and the demonstrations won’t do that unless they are just the PR springboard for some real action that might frighten them. Because they are in the minority, our side’s current crop of legislators, no matter how much they stick together, no matter how much we energize them with nice letters, can’t frighten the Rs with anything, can’t deny them anything they want. Only the voters can do that now.

But the timeline for regular elections means that the Ds have no reasonable chance of repealing any measure the Rs pass until 4 years from now, when Walker and half of this Senate faces re-election. This governor can veto until then. Four years is awfully far away to imagine that the fear of losing an election at that late date will make them budge today.

But the recall for half the Senate can begin tomorrow. You just need 25% of the number in every district who voted in the last election for governor. That’s upwards of 12,000 signatures per district, and that’s a lot. But you’ve got north of 100,000 showing up in Madison tomorrow. When they leave, and they will leave, if not tomorrow, then soon, let them carry petitions back to the targeted districts, and each get just 20 signatures for recall. I can assure you that the Rs will find those 12,000 signatures per district infinitely more frightening than 1,000,000 people milling aimlessly about Madison. They either back down or you have 16 new Senators in 60 days. And that’s just the down payment. In November, you start getting signatures for the governor’s recall, and that of all the rest of the legislators.

If you don’t think you can do it, get the petitions signed, or win the recall elections that will follow — just give up now and quit making fools of yourselves. If you don’t think you can win a single-issue election on this budget busting plan, with wall-to-wall free media, then the majority of the electorate really favors it, and you need to accede to the will of the majority. You’re not going to win this on sentiment and fine feelings, you’re only going to win it by throwing the bums out.

You need to have a plan that’s based on the assumption that we have a functioning democracy in this country. I’m not hearing that yet out of WI.


christian_h 02.19.11 at 2:06 am

Well the only possible game plan is strike. Indefinitely. To show people what they will be missing once public services are ruined. By the way, we do NOT have a functioning democracy.


Charles S 02.19.11 at 5:34 am


Spaghetti Lee 02.19.11 at 6:01 am

Glen, I hate to come down from the emotional high of these protests, but you’re probably right. Is there some sort of clearinghouse for recall info, like ActBlue or whatever?


Christopher Phelps 02.19.11 at 7:49 am

The “plan” (if one can ever ascribe such a thing to a spontaneous mass movement”) is to say No. It is to impress upon the Republicans–whose agenda was *not* ratified in a democratic election because it was not made clear in the slightest to voters who are now stunned–that they must back down or lose the next election. And then to defeat them in the next round if they push through nonetheless.

The very fact of the materialization of this mobilization has a massive value quite apart from the Wisconsin budget. It “leads the way” as the Times headline puts it today — for the whole nation.


Matt McIrvin 02.19.11 at 3:04 pm

What was the turnout in the 2010 election there? In most of the country, it had the usual pattern of midterms but to an unusual degree: it was extraordinarily dominated by elderly conservative voters, so straightforward extrapolations need to take that into account.

Was that the case in Wisconsin? It looks as if gubernatorial elections there are always in midterm years, so the same demographics might always apply–but half of the senate is up for reelection in 2012.


Steve LaBonne 02.19.11 at 3:16 pm

People who think it’s “not important” to vote in midterm elections REALLY PISS ME OFF. That is all.


Adrian 02.19.11 at 5:05 pm

What politician is really going to try to win an election with union-busting emblazoned on his chest? It is naive to listen to a politician and not think he is lying to you. Republican’s seem to have very explicit ideology, they do not need to speak about their real agenda to know they are financed by x and x billionaire. That goes for Obama too.

Glen is completely correct. The right has shown their fangs, now it is time to actually invoke the democratic process. What shred of this ephemeral scene will last in four years? Will there still be 100,000 in Madison for the next election.

Make some thing concrete… Do what Glen said.


Harry 02.19.11 at 8:43 pm

Glen — just to assure you, there are lots of calls for recalls, and I think a serious effort is starting to recall Walker. I thought this would be pointless unless someone could be found who would ultimately have a real chance of beating him. One name is floating around a lot, and its not a bad one.

Where in god’s name are the Congressional Dems? Lots of people are asking. (No-one is asking where Herb Kohl is because no-one is quite sure whether he exists).


Paul K. 02.20.11 at 1:52 am

Thanks for these updates Harry, and especially for conveying the messages about the little things that can help. I have just returned from the Capitol, where things are as remarkable as they have been for the past several days. My favorite scenes were the two teachers in different parts of the building, each sitting on the floor grading papers, one with a sign reading “Just another Saturday.”


Glen Tomkins 02.20.11 at 6:55 am

It appears that 8 of the 16 Senators who could be recalled immediately (well, the recall election would only be held after a 60-day period for gathering petition signatures that starts from when the recall is filed) are Republicans, and it is claimed that 3 of these 8 won with <51%. Three turnovers are all the Dems would need to gain control of the Senate, and this union-busting scheme is over. The credible threat of this happening would seem to be about the only real leverage we have to get R Senators to reconsider their support for the scheme.

That's the democratic path to winning this thing, it seems quite doable, and it will pretty clearly work if the people of WI really aren't behind the union-busting scheme. I can't imagine conditions more favorable to our side under which to hold an election. This one will actually be about one real issue, rather than the haze of personalities and district pork and the sort of culture war pseudo-issues that usually serves to deaden the impact of the fact that our side of the issues polls several points better than the other side. This will be a snap election, so the side with the better ground game will get a much better boost from that than in a regularly scheduled election, and our side has the better ground game. If we can't win these recall elections in at least the three vulnerable districts, then we should probably just concede the issue. This is a democracy, and the union-busting scheme, however objectionable, however bad policy, however arguably deceitful for the other side to spring such a basic change without campaigning on it last election, is clearly not unconstitutional. The existence of the recall in WI gives our side the chance to make them answer for that arguable deceit in the last election, and we need to make use of this means of redress.

There is a Facebook page group that is coordinating the recall efforts, http://www.facebook.com/recallwirepubs. I found them via dKos. I checked the Democratic Party of WI , and the SEIU of WI sites first, as the natural organizers of such an effort, but found nothing in that direction. On the other hand, perhaps it is understandable that office-holders would be reluctant to think in terms of recall, and both the party and the unions' political people tend to accommodate Dem office-holders. There is an R effort to recall at least 2 of the Dem Senators for deserting their posts, and one of the Dems targeted reportedly said, in so many words, "Bring it!". Hopefully that attitude proves contagious among our office-holders. At the very least, if the other side is going to try to recall our people anyway, our office-holders no longer have anything to lose by getting behind the effort to recall them.

Unfortunately, even this Facebook group hasn't committed to starting the recall petitions just yet. I've seen one rationalization for this as the idea that since the Senate hasn't voted on the scheme yet, that vote being blocked by the hegira, it somehow wouldn't be fair or moderate to start recalling R Senators just based on some announced intent to vote in favor of union-busting. That makes no sense. The whole point of the snap recall elections is that it gives our side the chance to get a block to the scheme, a Dem majority in the Senate, in place before that R majority can pass it. Let them have their vote on the scheme, in order to be fair and moderate, or something, and it becomes law. Once it's law, our side needs the trifecta, majorities in both chambers, plus the governor's mansion, to repeal it.

My understanding it that the budget bills have to pass by July, which means that the hegira has to end in June sometime if the Dems are not to shut down WI govt. The Dem Senators have to be able to return to a Dem majority Senate by June, or the union-busting scheme is enshrined in law, and can't be repealed for four years at the earliest. The recall of the 8 Senators has to be filed by April.

That's the plan and that's the timeline if our side is to win this thing. Mass demonstrations of people saying "no" are great. It would never have entered my head that a recall would be feasible, since the thing requires about 15-20,000 signatures per Senate district, and over half a million statewide when it's Walker's turn next January, had it not been for these inspiring demonstrations, with so many people turning out to say "no". But, at the end of the day, this isn't Egypt, and it's not the 13 colonies ca 1776. The only recourse those people had, the beginning and end of their program, was to say "no" , and bring the existing govt down. Our existing govt contains within itself the means to say "no" with far greater finality, and then to go on to all the "yeses" that our side can implement after we have used those means to effect the perfectly peaceful revolution of taking over the majority.

So sure, first step is to say no to the bums. But the key step is to throw the bums out. Throw at least three of them out by June, to be specific, so there's no time to waste.

One practical note — I haven't been able to ascertain whether out-of-state volunteers are allowed by WI law to carry these recall petitions. Here in VA, the law requires anyone carrying a qualifying petition to be a registered VA voter, but I have no idea about WI. Neither do the people running the Facebook group, which is a bad sign. The 25% requirement is going to be hard to achieve, and they're going to need help. Let's hope we're allowed to give it to them.

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