OLYMPIA - Two groups staged competing large rallies Saturday on the Capitol Campus for and against the Wisconsin governor's proposal to cut state spending by eliminating collective bargaining rights for unions.
“Justice for Taxpayers,” a rally organized by the Freedom Foundation on the steps of the Legislative Building, began at 11 a.m. Opposite it was the pro-labor “Rally to Protect the American Dream,” organized by MoveOn.org.
Although the pro-labor rally eventually moved to the west campus and Tivoli Fountain, it got an earlier-than-expected start by occupying the steps of the Temple of Justice building across from the Freedom Foundation rally. About 500 people gathered on the Legislative Building steps to support Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and about 2,000 people stood in support of unions and labor groups, said Lt. Mark Arras of the Washington State Patrol, which monitored the rallies and tracked attendance.
Both rallies featured a series of guest speakers, including Republican and Democratic state lawmakers. Sen. Michael Baumgartner, a Spokane Republican, addressed the Freedom Foundation rally, saying that the rally was less about Wisconsin and more about common sense and controlling state spending here. He also offered ways in which the state could do that. He told the audience that he supports high-deductible health-savings accounts and a move from pensions to 401(k) retirement plans for state workers.
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“Let them sulk,” he said about the pro-labor rally, “and we will lead.”
David Hickman of Duvall, 60, said he supports Gov. Walker because it’s important that states and the federal government get control of fiscal issues. Hickman thinks there is an inherent conflict of interest between unions and the public sector and would like to see an end to the forced payment of union dues, although the right to collective bargaining is not an issue for him, he said.
Edmund Goodwin, 72, of Ridgefield said members of the pro-labor rally fail to understand how money gets spent.
“They have this silly idea that there’s enough money to live on forever, and that’s just not the case,” he said. “Socialism only works until you run out of other people’s money.”
About noon, the pro-labor rally shifted to the west campus, where supporters surrounded Tivoli Fountain, held signs and listened to a series of speakers. Among them was state Rep. Chris Reykdal, an Olympia Democrat, who said he wore his “Pinko-commie shirt for our tea baggers’ rights today.” He then led the crowd in a chant of “We are one! We are one!”
Supporters at the pro-labor rally said it was important to be there so Gov. Walker’s ideas don’t spread.
“We’re trying to prevent what’s happening in Wisconsin from happening anywhere else,” said Brian Cunningham of Buckley, 45, a shop steward with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 483. Cunningham said unions aren’t what they used to be, but they still have their place.
“We have Saturdays off because of unions,” he said.
Elementary school teacher Michael Siptroth, 60, of Belfair said schoolteachers are constantly under attack for the money they earn.
“We are not the cause of the problem,” he said, adding that he hasn’t had a cost-of-living raise in years and finds himself borrowing money just to get by.
Korina Knudson of Vashon Island, 42, said her family, which has ties to Wisconsin, has long benefited from unions. She, too, is worried that Walker’s ideas “could spread like a cancer across the nation.”