Tue May 29, 2012
Political newcomer challenging Fitzgerald in recall election
A recall election next week in the 13th state Senate District, located between Madison and Milwaukee, pits a political novice against the man who was, in some ways, the face of last year's battle over collective bargaining. Photographer Lori Compas squares off against Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
Like most Republicans, Scott Fitzgerald voted for Gov. Scott Walker's agenda. But as majority leader, he also rounded up the votes, sometimes using extraordinary tactics in unprecedented circumstances. Lori Compas says Fitzgerald's strongarm approach is why he deserves recall even more than the governor: “What we are seeing here is a pattern of abuse of power and betrayal of trust.”
But Fitzgerald says the bottom line is that the changes he pushed through have made Wisconsin better. “I believe that I would do it again, and I believe that the Republican legislature would do it again.”
Fitzgerald became a national political figure for a period after Senate Democrats left Wisconsin to block a vote on the collective bargaining bill. He was sometimes visibly angry at the situation.
It was Fitzgerald who convened the surprise conference committee that broke the logjam, calling for the vote with less than two hours notice over the protest of Rep. Peter Barca.
Shortly thereafter, the capitol flooded with thousands of protesters.
When it comes to the underlying policy that drove that fight, Fitzgerald does not pull his punches. He says collective bargaining needed to end for public sector unions as a matter of fairness to their private sector neighbors: “We can't continue to prop up this one sector of Wisconsinites that have not lost their job, have full benefits, both health and pension.”
Compas calls collective bargaining “democracy in the workplace.” She says Fitzgerald's remarks only further divide their communities, “I just don't understand what kind of leader can try to turn neighbor against neighbor. That doesn't make sense to me.”
Fitzgerald also had a big role in pushing—unsuccessfully—for legislation to rewrite Wisconsin's mining laws. The effort was started at the behest of a company that wanted to begin work on a major open-pit mine in Iron and Ashland Counties.
Fitzgerald says that once Republicans emerge from the recalls they'll push that bill again. Compas says Wisconsin's current mining laws are good enough: “I want to say that I'm not opposed to mining per se. I'm opposed to mining corporations writing mining bills in Wisconsin.”
The two share more similar views when it comes to a dispute over a business from their district that was found to be spreading potentially dangerous levels of human waste on farm fields. Political appointees at the Department of Natural Resources resisted staff efforts to pursue a larger fine against the company.
Lori Compas says those political appointees were wrong. “Laws should be enforced consistently. Inconsistent enforcement punishes the people who are affected and it also punishes other businesses who are following the rules.”
Fitzgerald puts the focus on the business that hauled the waste, saying it owes neighboring landowners. “Not only should the corporation pay to have those wells tested, but I think once again they should do a full review on why this company's permitted.”
Lori Compas organized this district's recall election against Fitzgerald. For a candidate making her first run at office, she's built up an energetic base of supporters. While she attacks Fitzgerald aggressively, there's a shyness in her delivery. Democrat Bob Schmidt is a fan: “She's down to earth and I know that she'd treat people a lot better—her constituents, let's put it that way—a lot better than she did.”
But Republican Gerald Harris likes what he hears from Fitzgerald, especially regarding collective bargaining. He doesn't buy the idea that the votes Fitzgerald took or the way he ran the Senate are worthy of recall, “No, I don't look at it as heavy-handed power at all. I look at it as time to just be fair. Somebody had to finally say enough is enough, just like Sen. Fitzgerald said.”
Harris and other Republicans were outnumbered by Compas supporters at a recent debate. But by historical voting numbers, this is a Republican Senate District. Fitzgerald received more than twice as many votes as his Democratic challenger in the last regularly scheduled election.