Hundreds of demonstrators continue the round-the-clock occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol building in defiance of orders to leave. Capitol Police have refused to enforce Gov. Scott Walker’s demand after hundreds of peaceful labor activists, students and supporters held their ground. We speak to Wisconsin Democratic State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, who was among those to stay overnight in the Capitol building. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Madison, Wisconsin, where hundreds of demonstrators remain in the State Capitol building protesting Republican Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation. Democratic State Representative Kelda Helen Roys joins us now, a Democrat from Madison. She stood alongside the protesters last night who defied orders to leave the State Capitol.
Welcome to Democracy Now! What happened in the State Capitol building last night?
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, thank you for having me, Amy. I’m delighted to be here.
It was certainly tense in the moments leading up to 4:00 p.m., but when they announced that the building was closed, some of the people who were there chose to leave the Capitol and did so in an orderly fashion, with other of those who were protesting cheering for them on their way out, and thousands of people continued to circle outside the Capitol. Several hundred people, maybe around 600 people, decided to stay in the Capitol. And after several hours of the same sorts of scenes that we’ve been seeing all week — singing, chanting, drumming, speechifying — the Capitol police captain, Chief Tubbs, made an announcement, and he said that the protesters that had remained in the building, they were being orderly and responsible and peaceful and there was no reason to eject them from the Capitol.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the role of the police.
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, I think the law enforcement deserves a tremendous amount of credit, along with, of course, the hundreds of thousands of people that have rallied for their rights over the past two weeks. But law enforcement has had a tremendous commitment — and it starts with the Capitol police — to make sure that the protests are peaceful, nonviolent. In fact, there hasn’t even been a single incident of theft, and people have been leaving their belongings all over the Capitol — phones, chargers, purses, sleeping bags. So I just think it’s a real testament to not only the people of Wisconsin who have peaceably assembled, but also to the law enforcement, that have also maintained that commitment to nonviolence and peace.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Wisconsin Assemblymember Kelda Helen Roys, who represents the 81st Assembly District in Wisconsin, the youngest member of the Wisconsin State Assembly. I wanted to turn —
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, I was ’til November.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, what happened?
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, I believe there’s a Republican who was elected who is younger than I am. But I was the youngest member in the last session.
AMY GOODMAN: Assemblywoman Kelda Helen Roys, I wanted to ask you about the role police officers have played overall in the Madison protests. On Friday night, hundreds of police and corrections officers marched through the State Capitol building showing support for the demonstrators.
JOEL WAGNER: Joel Wagner, the Dane County — I work for the Dane County Sheriff’s Department.
MIKE BURKE: And why are you here today?
JOEL WAGNER: Because of what Scott Walker’s doing. I’ll tell you one thing: I was a card-carrying Republican until he did this. Republicans are not this mean. I gotta believe that. I’m now an independent thanks to Scott Walker.
MIKE BURKE: And what is your message to the Governor today?
JOEL WAGNER: Stop this bill. Kill this bill. Don’t be so mean-spirited.
AMY GOODMAN: As the police officers were leaving the Capitol, Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke caught up with a member of the Madison police force.
KRISTEN DEVITT: My name is Kristen Devitt. I live in Madison, and I work in Madison. And I’m taking part of this because I’ve been a union member since I was 15 years old and I believe in the rights to collective bargaining and the right for us to organize to better our profession.
MIKE BURKE: Now, are you with the police force?
KRISTEN DEVITT: I am. I work for the City of Madison.
MIKE BURKE: And can you talk about why the police officers in Madison and around the state have been organizing around this issue?
KRISTEN DEVITT: Well, we definitely recognize that, you know, whatever happens to our other union brothers and sisters will eventually happen to us. Regardless of whether or not they say that we’re excluded from the bill, it’s going to happen to us the next time we go to bargain.
MIKE BURKE: Now, the Governor claims that he needs to make these moves for budget reasons. What is your response to that?
KRISTEN DEVITT: We’ve — I mean, I say "we" because I feel about all of the unions this way, that we all decided that it’s OK for him to take the money. Take the money, but don’t take our rights.
MIKE BURKE: Did you ever think you’d be marching through the Capitol surrounded by protesters like this?
KRISTEN DEVITT: I never thought that anyone would ever try to do this, so no.
AMY GOODMAN: There you have Mike Burke, our senior producer, speaking to police in the Capitol on Saturday. I wanted to ask you about this and also about the father of Wisconsin’s two most powerful state lawmakers just being picked to lead Wisconsin’s State Patrol. It’s done with Governor Scott Walker’s blessing. It’s an appointment of Stephen Fitzgerald that will pay him, the father of both the House Speaker, the Assembly Speaker, and the head of the state legislature, $105,000 and boost his public pension just as he presumably nears retirement. Explain the different roles of the different levels of police in this whole conflict.
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, certainly in the Capitol, the Capitol police — and on any state property — the Capitol police have jurisdiction, and they have done a phenomenal job under the leadership of Chief Tubbs of keeping the Capitol clean and orderly and, in fact, quite joyous. But other law enforcement officials have been called in from around the state — police officers from different departments, including our conservation wardens, who have police powers. The state troopers are primarily responsible for safety, traffic safety on Wisconsin state highways, so they have a somewhat different mission than the Capitol police, but certainly they have been a constant presence in the Capitol and were present on the Assembly floor during that early Friday morning session when the Republicans held an illegitimate vote and prematurely shut down debate.
AMY GOODMAN: And this issue of Fitzgerald being chosen to lead the state police, this remarkable story, given that his two sons are Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald?
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, it’s a very politically powerful and connected family, and certainly I think the Governor made probably a politically savvy move in appointing the father of the legislative leaders to head his State Patrol. I think it is interesting to note that Fitzgerald, Senior, Stephen, was roundly defeated in his effort to run for sheriff. I think he lost two to one in the last election.
AMY GOODMAN: In one article, talking about how no matter Stephen Fitzgerald’s qualifications, his appointment looks like a good-will offering from Governor Walker to the two top lawmakers Walker will need on board with his budget and policy agendas.
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Yes. I mean, I think, you know, he certainly has law enforcement credentials, and he might well be a fine appointment, but it certainly does raise questions, and I think it makes people nervous. And then, when you — when I’ve been in the Capitol and seen the coordination that appears to happen with the state troopers, it just makes me a little bit nervous, and I just question whether it’s fully above board.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about what happened early Friday morning, when Democracy Now! was there, actually, in Madison, when the Assembly held the controversial vote, passing Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill. After 15 seconds, voting was gaveled to a close. Many members did not even get a chance to vote. Shouts of "Shame! Shame!" erupted in the Assembly and were echoed by demonstrators sleeping in the Capitol.
PROTESTERS: Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!
AMY GOODMAN: Directly after the vote, the Republican members of the Assembly were escorted out of the building by Wisconsin state troopers. Kelda Helen Roys, talk about the vote and the Democrats’ plans, moving forward.
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, certainly, we were very disappointed that debate was prematurely cut off and the vote was actually not even properly put before the legislature. It was a very confusing few seconds, and I did not have the opportunity to vote. And I think it’s wrong that my constituents were not able to have their voice heard through me voting, as well as the majority of Democrats. It was clear that the Republicans had planned in advance that they were going to shut down debate early and do so in a gross violation of Assembly rules, unprecedented in the state’s history and, as far as we can tell, in the history of any other legislative body in the country. So it was really — it was a premeditated abuse of power and a perversion of our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Republicans who voted —
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Now, moving forward, we are certainly going to be —
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Republicans who voted against.
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, there were four Republicans who voted against this bill, and in the end it passed with 51 votes. I think that’s one reason that you see Speaker Fitzgerald and the Republicans so desperate to shut down debate and push this bill through, because they knew that, hour by hour, as the people’s voices were being heard and as the media was paying more attention to all the bad things in this bill, they were losing support and they were losing their votes. And I think it’s quite possible that had they allowed debate to continue until all 15 Democrats that were in the queue had the chance to speak, they may not have had 50 votes to pass this bill.
AMY GOODMAN: State Assemblymember Kelda Helen Roys, I wanted to play a clip of a speech you gave on the Assembly floor, not Friday morning, but on February 18th.
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: It appears that illegal action was taken. Action started happening before the time that we were even scheduled to be in this body. We had members that were asking to be recognized; they were not recognized. This morning, that happened again. That is outrageous, and it is not worthy of us. It’s not worthy of any one of you.
For some of you over there, your hearts are breaking, too, because you don’t want to do business this way. None of us wants to see this institution and this state take that direction. This is the United States of America. We will disagree passionately. We will raise our voices. We will protest. We will be peaceful. But by God, by God, we will give each other a basic level of respect and human dignity when we disagree. You can win on this, but do not win this way. Do not win this way. I beg of you, reconsider. You will win the vote. Strike the previous action. Let’s do this the right way. You can still do the wrong thing, but please, please, look in your hearts. Let’s do it the right way. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Wisconsin State Assemblymember Kelda Helen Roys on February 18th. And Kelda Helen Roys, where do you go from here?
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, certainly, those of us who were in the Assembly that did not have the opportunity to vote, we are exploring all of our possible options, whether they might be legal remedies to make sure that our votes are counted and that we — if there is a basis to challenge what happened in the Assembly, that we do so. Because it’s unprecedented in the history of the state, we don’t really have a clear road map. This is totally unchartered waters. But we’re certainly going to do everything we can to ensure that our voices are heard, and we’re also going to continue standing with the people to try to stop this bill, because we believe it will be devastating for Wisconsin families. That’s why we’re all wearing these orange shirts. And I have washed it since the 18th. But we are standing here in solidarity, fighting for working families. We’ll continue to do so.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your reaction to what Governor Scott Walker said yesterday on Meet the Press. He was talking to David Gregory.
Well, let me just tell you what he said. He was demanding that the state senators return home. They, of course, are in Illinois. Let’s go to that clip.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER: For us, it’s about the fact that, again, as a local official, I can tell you personally, time and time again, because of collective bargaining, when we had tough budgets in the past, when I was at the county presiding as the CO there, I tried to do modest changes in pension, I tried to do modest changes in healthcare. In fact, one year I literally tried to do a 35-hour work week to try and avoid massive layoffs and furloughs, and the union said, "Forget it." Embodied, emboldened by the fact that they had collective bargaining agreements, they said, "Go ahead. Literally lay off 400 or 500 people." And to me, laying off people in this economy is just completely unacceptable.
DAVID GREGORY: Let me —- let me ask you about -—
GOV. SCOTT WALKER: If we do not get these changes and the Senate Democrats don’t come back, we’re going to be forced to make up the savings in layoffs. And that, to me, is just unacceptable.
AMY GOODMAN: What Governor Scott Walker went on to say is that the state senators who have left and gone to Illinois, so that they won’t make a quorum for the vote to be able to go forward, that they should do what you did, Assemblymember Kelda Helen Roys. You should — he said they should do what the State Assembly members did, that the Democrats remained, you debated, and you had a vote. You don’t have to agree with each other, he said, but you’ve got to do what you were elected to do, and he used you as an example.
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, two points, Amy. First of all, we stand in close solidarity with our colleagues in the Senate. The Democrats have done a very courageous thing by leaving the state, and they have done what their constituents and the citizens of the state have asked them to do, which is to slow down this attempt to railroad a terrible piece of legislation through that strips away 50 years of people’s rights. And we believe, and the Senate Democrats believe, that people have an opportunity to learn about what’s in this bill and to stop it. If it was up to the Governor, he would have had this bill passed in five days. And that is really not a real democratic process. I find it extremely troubling that the Governor wants to railroad this through and he calls what happened in the Assembly a democratic process. It was a travesty of democracy. And I can’t imagine why the Senate Democrats would come home to participate in a farce of democracy, where their voices will be silenced.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain your response when he says they should do what they were elected to do, not leave, but debate and vote either way.
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, I think we’ve just seen very clearly that the Republicans will not allow for debate. They will not allow the democratic process to occur. They are just hell-bent on pushing through this attack on working families. And the only way to stop them and slow them down is to continue rallying for our rights at the Capitol and to make sure that the Senate Democrats stay out of the state. Otherwise, the Senate will ram this through.
And I want to point out that it’s been reported that one of the Republican senators has flipped. And I think that the more time that we have to learn about what’s in this bill and for people to really see where people are on this, the citizens of the state don’t want this, we have a chance of winning, of winning in the Senate. So, the Senate is doing their job and what their constituents are asking of them.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Assemblymember Roys, I want to ask you about the response from the White House to what’s happening in Madison. Speaking as a candidate in 2007 in South Carolina, then-Senator Barack Obama pledged to walk on the picket line with workers if their right to collectively bargain was denied.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: And understand this: if American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America, because workers deserve to know that somebody’s standing in their corner.
AMY GOODMAN: That was then-Senator Barack Obama running for president. Has the response of President Obama been sufficient?
REP. KELDA HELEN ROYS: Well, I think he’s certainly made supportive statements, and we appreciate that. One of the things that we are doing in Wisconsin is we really believe that this is not about politicians, it’s not about me or the Senate Democrats or the President or anyone else. It’s about the working people that are going to be harmed by this legislation, the children that are not going to have adequate schools, the patients that are not going to have safe staffing ratios because the nurses have lost their right to collectively bargain. That’s what the focus of this should be. So we definitely appreciate the support that we’re getting from political leaders, including the President, but really this is about people. And when you have a governor that cavalierly jokes about laying off 6,000 people and destroying their families’ economic security as a way to try to extort we, in the legislature, to do something, I think you can just see the contrast in leadership between our president, who’s doing everything he can to get people back to work and preserve people’s rights, and Governor Walker, who will stop at nothing to destroy people’s rights, including laying off 6,000 people in an effort to gain more political power for himself.
AMY GOODMAN: Assemblymember Kelda Helen Roys, I want to thank you for being with us, represents the 81st Assembly District in Wisconsin. She was the youngest member of the Wisconsin State Assembly until the last election.