MADISON, Wis. — By all official accounts, last month’s Women’s March on Madison was a peaceful demonstration by a left-wing that has declared rhetorical war against Republican President Donald Trump and all they think he stands for.
But the march that drew an estimated 100,000 people to downtown Madison didn’t come free, and taxpayers of all political persuasions will be forced to pick up the tab.
Call it the price of protest.
While it’s hard to see the damage though a thin blanket of snow cover, the massive march on Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, did a number on the Capitol grounds.
Portions of the lawn will have to be re-seeded at a quoted price of $2,280, according to the Wisconsin Department of Administration.
A DOA spokesman tells Wisconsin Watchdog that Capitol Police incurred $467.78 in overtime wages working the event, and the Wisconsin State Patrol paid out $318.28 in overtime costs.
City of Madison taxpayers may be left with a much bigger bill, although just how much remains to be seen.
Madison Police Department spokesman Joel DeSpain said it could be a month or more before the agency’s finance unit manager has all of the numbers tabulated. Officers who work such events — and liberal Madison has had plenty of them over the years — may take paid time off in lieu of their crowd-control services.
DeSpain said there were “a lot” of officers working on regular hours, but there would be additional costs for the department’s special events team.
“The biggest thing our officers did was block a couple of streets as the march moved up from the university (UW-Madison campus) to the Capitol,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, Wisconsin Watchdog had not received information from the city of Madison regarding ancillary costs, such as assistance from other emergency services and sanitation crews.
In the hours after the event, trash — from spent protest signs to fast food bags and wrappers — littered the streets and spilled out of downtown garbage receptacles.
DeSpain and Capitol police officials did not report any arrests or citations during the demonstration.
Mainstream publications gleefully reported on the Madison march and others across the country, including what the New York Times described as a “kind of counterinauguration.”
“Rivaling the massive protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 anti-union legislation in 2011, a crowd police estimated at between 75,000 and 100,000 people marched on the state Capitol on Saturday to voice concerns over rights and causes they fear will be endangered by Donald Trump’s presidency,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
“As they marched up State Street to the Capitol for the Women’s March on Madison, women, men and children held signs in support of women’s reproductive rights, public education and the scientific consensus of global climate change, among other causes.”
Wisconsin taxpayers have seen this movie before.
Nearly six years ago, tens of thousands of left-wing protesters descended on the state Capitol to demonstrate against Walker’s public sector collective bargaining reform initiative known as Act 10. For weeks, protesters camped out at the Capitol, doing an estimated $347,500 in damage.
The cost was significantly lower than the $7.5 million the Department of Administration first reported, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Politifact team shrugged off the hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages as if the protesters had merely broken a lamp and a couple of beer mugs at an extended house party.
State Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, who was just weeks into his first term in the Legislature when the Act 10 demonstrations exploded, said the rest of the nation should be fully prepared to go through what Wisconsin endured in 2011 and 2012.
“What happened in Wisconsin six years ago is being writ large across the country,” Tiffany said.
State Sen. Dave Craig, R-Town of Vernon, said the recent damage done to the Capitol lawn underscores the need for fencing or other “demarcation alerting protesters to stay on the pavement in the interest of taxpayers.”
Demonstrators have often invoked the “people’s house” idea, that the Capitol and the institutions of government therein belong to the people of Wisconsin. True, Craig said, but the people’s house doesn’t exclusively belong to protesters. It belongs to everyone, including taxpayers who have grown tired of paying for seemingly perpetual demonstrations of duly elected representatives and policies and laws they don’t like.
“The state Capitol is a building of symbolic importance, and with that should come an elevated respect of all citizens of Wisconsin, that when they come to it they are coming to the seat of our part of the great American republic,” Craig said of the building which this year celebrates its centennial. “There is something to be said for the fact that the Capitol has endured for 100 years, but that has not come without a cost. It is the result of a lot of work from people, all of which has been funded by our taxpayers.”