Walker protesters take to street in front of City Hall

Peter Zuzga
Longfellow Middle School teacher Sue Clark, of Wauwatosa, holds her sign during a protest against the proposed budget repair bill held at the intersection of 76th Street and North Avenue Thursday, March 3, 2011, in Wauwatosa, Wis,
Published on: 3/4/2011

Tim Nieskes had a job working in municipal government as an arborist. Last October, he found himself unemployed as New Berlin cut his position as part of an effort to achieve a zero-percent tax increase.

He was fortunate to find a job working in the private sector, and with it came continued representation through the electrical workers union for the Wauwatosa resident.

"I lived this out already," he said. "In a way I got a head start, so I was lucky and got a job. There will be a lot more unemployed people who won't be so lucky."

He was one of about 100 people - mostly Tosa residents - who stood Thursday evening on North Avenue in front of City Hall with a protest signs. The protest was organized by a group called Grassroots Tosa, which got its start during John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004.

"We decided it was time to regroup, giving people an outlet to speak out on the extremism of Scott Walker," organizer Greg Walz-Chojnacki said. "He's going to make a mess of the state as he's made a mess of the county. Then he's going to move on."

Trying to send a message

Walz-Chojnacki expects most of Walker's proposed legislation to pass. At this point, he doesn't see much opportunity to sway the governor. Instead, he is hoping to send a message to the state legislators who represent Wauwatosa.

"Eventually they will have to come back to the district and deal with it," he said. "We're getting organized and recognize that we have to get ready for the next (election) to prevent this happening again," he said.

State Sen. Leah Vukmir and Rep. Dale Kooyenga, the two Republicans representing Wauwatosa, weren't available for comment Friday.

Fellow Grassroots Tosa member Dale Dulberger said protesters want to show state officials that it's people from Wisconsin, not agitators coming from out of state, who are opposed to his bills. Those in the crowd said there's a feeling that limiting collective bargaining would hurt the middle class, that Walker's campaign didn't foreshadow his actions and that cuts to schools and municipalities would only lead to more job loss and deter big business from wanting to move into Wisconsin.

"I've never in my lifetime seen the state so polarized," he said.

Walker supporter jeered

One lone Walker supporter, Wauwatosa East High School student James Lewis, stood next to the crowd with his own sign.

He said he doesn't see collective bargaining as a right but as a privilege, and he sees Walker's plan as one that would start reducing debt quickly.

He was unable to further explain his opinion because one protester started to debate in a manner that was closer to yelling and belittling the teen's views. After awhile, a few more people took turns questioning Lewis, before he gave up and left.

Nieskes said he gave the boy credit to come up and voice his opinion, even if it wasn't popular.

Nieskes and wife, Lisa, have been to Madison twice to protest. Nieskes never considered himself overly political and said his views tended to run more "middle of the road, leaning toward conservative."

That has changed.

"If there is a good thing about any of this, it's that I found out who I am. I'm not rich enough to be a Republican," he said.

Among the couple's grievances are Walker's unwillingness to negotiate with unions and that the state wants to set stricter limits on local tax levy increases.

"I don't like that Wauwatosa has no choice in the matter," Lisa Nieskes said. "I'm willing to pay more in taxes so we can get the services we moved to Wauwatosa for."

Worried about services

Alderman Dennis McBride said the last thing he wants to see is a hike in local taxes, but other portions of the state budget proposal may make that more desireable. For example, if the funding cuts to schools force the Wauwatosa School District to put elective courses and extra-curricular activities on the chopping block, city residents should have the option of raising taxes to keep those programs.

"He's tied our hands," McBride said. "It's regrettable."

The alderman also opposed restricting collective bargaining topics, but said it's even worse to treat some represented groups - namely police and fire - differently than other union workers.