As The Rotunda Turns: Episode #368 – Kerfuffle in The Capitol

“On the 15th of May, in the jungle of Nool,

In the heat of the day, in the cool of the pool,

He was splashing…enjoying the jungle’s great joys…

When Horton the elephant heard a small noise.”

On Friday, February 17, Reps. David Craig and Paul Farrow sent a letter to Department of Administration secretary Mike Huebsch. In their letter, they expressed their “concerns… regarding the lack of enforcement of the Wisconsin State Facilities Access Policy.”

“So Horton stopped splashing. He looked towards the sound.

“That’s funny,” thought Horton. “There’s no one around.”

Then he heard it again! Just a very faint yelp

As if some tiny person were calling for help.

“I’ll help you,” said Horton. “But who are you? Where?”

He looked and he looked. He could see nothing there

But a small speck of dust blowing past though the air”

Craig and Farrow stated: “…it is clear that the Capitol Police have proven incapable of uniformly enforcing the security guidelines and access rules set by your department.”

“My friends!”, cried the elephant.

“Tell me! Do tell!

Are you safe? Are you sound?

Are you whole? Are you well?”

The Facilities Access Policy to which this dynamic duo are referring was updated on December 16, 2011. Shortly after the new ‘Policy’ was unveiled, the Department of Administration held three “Information Sessions” in the basement of the state capitol, led by DOA deputy secretary Chris Schoenherr. Also in attendance from the secretary’s office were Wendy Coomer Dean, Executive Assistant, and newly appointed communications director (and Karl Rove protégéeJocelyn Webster. Over the course of the three sessions, which totaled  over seven hours, not once did DOA officials bring in legal counsel to defend the department’s new rules. A veritable A-team of attorneys did show up, however, to ask questions on behalf of the public.

One of the major changes to capitol policy was the rule regarding members of the public gathering in the capitol: “All members of the general public wishing to hold an event or to display an exhibit shall apply for a permit, unless the event is a spontaneous event, as defined below.”

An “event” is defined as:

“EVENT: Any performance, ceremony, presentation, meeting, or rally held in the public areas of any State facility or building. A rally is defined as a gathering of four or more people for the purpose of actively promoting any cause. Note: “Events” covered by this policy do not include: tourist activities or families visiting the Capitol; constituents or members of the public visiting elected officials; or the passage of individuals to areas not governed by the policy, such as the Assembly, the Senate, legislative offices, the Governor’s or Lieutenant Governor’s office or Supreme Court chambers.”

A “spontaneous event” is defined as:

“SPONTANEOUS EVENT: A spontaneous event is defined as an event where four (4) or more persons gather to exercise their First Amendment rights in response to a triggering event that has occurred within the preceding calendar week, or is currently occurring. Regularly scheduled events, or events that are advertised by any means (including, but not limited to, via electronic social media) seven (7) or more calendar days prior to the starting date of the event are presumptively not “spontaneous events” within the meaning of this Policy.”

A human rights attorney had something to say about this new policy: 

A Madison attorney weighed in as well: 

Members of the public had many questions for the DOA official:

“You’re going to be roped!

And you’re going to be caged!

And, as for your dust speck – hah!

That we shall boil in a hot steaming kettle of Beezle-Nut Oil!”

From the Craig/Farrow letter: “Time and again, the Solidarity Singers, organized labor groups, and other protestor- affiliated events have blatantly ignored and outright broken the rules that were to have taken effect December 16th, 2011. For the Capitol police to continually overlook these infractions and capitulate to the demands of the disillusioned few, is tantamount to a violation of rights for the law-abiding citizens who visit the Capitol each and every day.”

“Don’t give up! I believe in you all.

A person’s a person, no matter how small!

And you very small persons will not have to die

If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!” 

Protesters gather in the capitol rotunda in February 2011 in opposition to Governor Walker's "Budget Repair Bill"

This year, Valentine’s Day coincided with the one-year anniversary of the start of the Wisconsin Uprising, which is the longest sustained protest in the state’s history — a protest that began in the capitol rotunda. But despite this momentous event, which was obviously likely to spur people to come back to the capitol to commemorate the day, three weddings were scheduled for February 14th in the capitol rotunda. The first wedding was still going on up on the first floor when people began gathering inside on the ground floor for the noon-time Solidarity Sing Along. The woman leading the Sing Along that day informed people of the wedding ceremony, and asked that they keep voices down so as not to disrupt the event. The start of the Sing Along was delayed until the signal was given that the wedding was finished. Shortly before 1 p.m., a large group of UW students streamed into the rotunda and joined the people already gathered there. They participated in singing a couple of songs, with the song leader promptly wrapping things up by 1:02 p.m. She alerted one of the student group leaders to the fact that another wedding that was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., and she also notified a group of Capitol police officers that the Sing Along was officially over for the day.

Although big events were coinciding in the capitol last Tuesday, the Solidarity Sing Along did not interfere in any way with the three weddings that were scheduled for the public space. In fact, the Sing Along has a policy of not interfering with permitted events, often taking the singing outside if necessary. Couples who want assurance that their wedding ceremony will be free from disruption often reserve the Senate Parlor for their nuptials.

Since the Wisconsin State Capitol is on the Historic Register, the function of the rotunda is clearly defined. Page 11, paragraph 1 of the Registry form states:

“More than any other space in the building, the Rotunda expresses the intended symbolism of the structure. With the Rotunda’s verticality culminating at the Edwin Blashfield painting, “The Resources of Wisconsin,” the space was intended to be morally uplifting and inspirational in a manner that references the dome’s ecclesiastical origins. Traditionally a symbol of religious expression, late nineteenth century American architects transformed the dome and its interior into one of civic celebration. The soaring rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol is designed to induce its citizenry to be, as individuals, among the “resources of Wisconsin.” Whereas some statehouses are maintained apart from the urban fabric, the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda functions, both literally and symbolically, as a city center and is fully utilized as a public space to which all have claim.”

This”, cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!

The time for all Whos who have blood that is red

To come to the aid of their country!”, he said.

“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!

So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!

(Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Suess, 1954)

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10 Comments on “As The Rotunda Turns: Episode #368 – Kerfuffle in The Capitol”

  1. Bill Dunn February 20, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Thank you for setting the record straight and refuting the MacIver Institute’s lies, which Reps. Craig and Farrow sadly relied on to state their case to Mike Huebsch. They derisively and snidely put “one-year anniversary” of the largest sustained citizen uprising in our state’s and nation’s history inside quotation marks to express their opinion of We the People’s right to peaceably assemble and petition their legislators.
    Even sadder is that the original story put out by MacIver’s spin machine that is resonating inside the right-wing echo chamber will never be corrected and will take on a life of its own.
    What kind of foresight did the DoA use in anticipating that Feb. 14 might bring large numbers to the People’s House, which is the seat of government and not a wedding chapel?

    • Janet Stonecipher February 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

      What kind of foresight did the DoA use in anticipating that Feb. 14 might bring large numbers to the People’s House, which is the seat of government and not a wedding chapel?

      Perhaps I can address that. I’m a wedding officiant. Valid officiants include public positions, such as a mayor, a Supreme Court Justice, Municipal Judges (and others). Ceremonies are often conducted in public spaces such as the Capitol, parks, or a specific room within the Capitol if reserved. I could marry a couple at the Capitol if they reserved the space. DOA didn’t make this up, nor is it unique to Wisconsin. It’s been common practice for a long time. Many nefarious practices can be attributed to DOA but weddings inside the Capitol isn’t one of them.

      • Nicole Schulte February 20, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

        “Ceremonies are often conducted in public spaces such as the Capitol, parks, or a specific room within the Capitol if reserved.” This is true. However, your own list includes three public spaces that offer possible varying degrees of peace and quiet. Can a couple who reserve a park shelter for their wedding ceremony expect the children playing on the swings nearby to keep their voices down? Can the organizers of the Concerts On the Square tell the Dane County Airport to reroute airplanes so as not to interfere with a Mendelssohn overture? There is an inherent risk in scheduling a ceremony in a public space, and there is probably no public space in Madison more likely at the moment to have members of the public congregated than the capitol rotunda. As my article points out, the Solidarity Sing Along always moves outside if their singing would interfere with a permitted event. They do this as a courtesy, not because they are required to do so. Perhaps those considering a wedding in the capitol should look to the Senate Parlor if they hope to have a ceremony free from disruptions.

  2. Ashford Wyrd February 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Wisconsin constitution Article 1 sections 3 and 4

    Free speech; libel. SECTION 3. Every person may freely
    speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being
    responsible for the abuse of that right, and no laws shall be
    passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.
    In all criminal prosecutions or indictments for libel, the truth
    may be given in evidence, and if it shall appear to the jury that
    the matter charged as libelous be true, and was published with
    good motives and for justifiable ends, the party shall be
    acquitted; and the jury shall have the right to determine the law
    and the fact.

    Right to assemble and petition. SECTION 4. The right of
    the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common
    good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof,
    shall never be abridged.

  3. Greg Gordon February 20, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Well stated, Nicole. I and the other 999,999 disillusioned few thank you.

  4. Barbara With February 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    For god sake when will the Capitol Police be getting their new gestapo uniforms? And these two joker Reps, will they be torching the capitol soon to create a false front of violence? Thanks for the great report…

  5. Jeri Jafek February 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    The Craig/Farrow letter certainly qualified as a trigger for a spontaneous event.

  6. Genie Ogden February 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    On Feb. 14 I was on the first floor with a sign. There was a small group of people behind us, which apparently was a wedding party. At 1, after the Singalong was done, there was a large group in the rotunda, because of the march, and anniversary of the rally last year, as the article states above. Chief Tubbs stood next to me, pointed at the group and muttered “They can’t do that.” Then he said something about the group behind us having a permit for their wedding. I asked if they could use the basement (since that’s only used for arrests and those haven’t happened much recently. He said no, that they had a permit for the rotunda. He made no announcement though. Then the next day he talked to a few of us and said he’d gotten lots of complaints, and that the couple had been for our cause. I asked about the wedding the Saturday before – that there was an announcement and people had moved and were very nice, even oohing an awing. He agreed, but said nothing about why he hadn’t made a similar announcement on the 14th. Maybe he was hoping to get the reaction he did, so he would have an excuse to shut things down.

    This policy is a mistake. It should be challenged in court as a 1st Amendment violation. It was only a matter of time until the Republicans would pull this.

  7. Beverly Skelton February 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    This is all so disturbing. Disturbing enough that I am at the moment, speechless.

  8. Jane J. February 20, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

    This is a leaderless movement. On Valentine’s Day there were lots of people at the Capitol for lots of reasons. The Solidarity Sing Along was taking place during the noon hour as usual. There were more people than usual at the Capitol, some inside and some outside. The TAA made their planned march up State Street to the Capitol during the noon hour, but they arrived later than expected, at the very end of the sing along. They marched into the Capitol with just enough time to deliver their valentines, chant a couple of chants and sing a couple of songs with the singers. Then it was 1 pm. There were a couple of ministers from Ohio who were introduced to the crowd. I had to get back to work, but most people had just arrived and wanted to stay and relive the events of last year. I had no idea what to expect if I stayed and I certainly didn’t know about any pre-scheduled events in the Rotunda. I came on my own and left on my own as many others did. Unless someone made an announcement to the entire crowd that there was a wedding scheduled, I would not have known. Instead of arranging things with “leaders,” the Capitol Police need to tell the crowd what’s going on. The GOP always thinks things are coordinated when many times things are spontaneous. I left before there was any conflict but all the police needed to do was to speak to the crowd, who are usually very
    cooperative. With the number of people and all the chanting and talking, how would anyone know if a wedding party was being inconvenienced unless the police announced this to the crowd? I doubt that the protestors “refused” to leave, they didn’t know that there was a good reason to leave at that time.

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