Public Union Strife Redefining Wisconsin's Identity

Originally published on June 19, 2011 9:47 am
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Kathy Walsh, thank you for being with us.

P: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

LYDEN: You've been actually making the survey, though, for the last four years. How much has the current division over the budget and stripping of collective bargaining rights in the governor's mandate - which has been approved by the State Supreme Court - how much has what has happened recently come up in your research?

P: Oh, quite a bit. It's very much on people's minds. And groups that I have talked to, for several times over the past few years, don't really want to talk about it at all. In a way, it actually comes up by not coming up, by people avoiding it.

LYDEN: What would you say is the difference between when you started your research and today?

P: Everybody knows a public worker. And whether it's a family member or a friend, people recognize that this issue cuts close to home. I mean, it's an instant pay cut for somebody you know, basically.

LYDEN: Well, if anything, I would have said that it was a state that sort of prided itself on an ability to get along.

P: Absolutely. I mean, you know it well. Right, Jacki? I mean...

LYDEN: I should hope so.

P: ...Wisconsinites are very good at brushing dissent under the rug, or just making it very clear that it's not welcome at the table. And there's a time and a place for dissent but for the most part, it's just not acceptable to have intense political debate out in the open - in most circles and most families.

LYDEN: Can you give me a specific story about a family that straddles this divide?

P: And he told the story to me and laughed a little bit about it. But it was clear that it was pretty - significant event in his life for his sister to tell him that she didn't want to talk to him.

LYDEN: I understand that this sort of rancor has even extended into this decade-long festival now - the world's largest Brat Festival, in Madison. What happened?

P: That's right. Well, the Brat Festival is supported largely by Johnsonville products - bratwurst and hot dogs. And Johnsonville was a significant supporter of the Walker campaign for governor. So many people decided to boycott the Brat Fest, and there were actually three alternative Brat Festivals set up this past Memorial Day weekend.

LYDEN: Did you ever think you'd live to see the day, Kathy?


LYDEN: Political brat festivals?

P: No, I have to say no. No. Brats are something that all Wisconsinites can agree upon, it seems. So yeah, it's quite surprising.

LYDEN: Kathy Walsh is a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Thank you very much for being with us.

P: Oh, you're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.