As Gov. Scott Walker began his new job Monday at the Capitol, hundreds of people rallied outside in the cold, demanding work for themselves and their neighbors.
Walker, who defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to become Wisconsin’s 45th governor, reiterated during his inaugural speech a pledge to create work for the unemployed.
“We will work tirelessly to restore economic growth and vibrancy to our state,” Walker said. “My top priorities are jobs, jobs and more jobs.”
Walker’s promise, though, went unheard by the people outside who could not gain admittance to the high-security ceremony. State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, blasted the proceedings, saying in a statement, “I cannot ever recall the Capitol being locked.”
But even the protesters who already have heard Walker’s promise to add 250,000 jobs during his first term wondered aloud — with signs and bullhorns — why the new governor turned away jobs before taking office.
Jennifer Epps, a member of Milwaukee’s Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Coalition, said she spent three years organizing residents to help bring Spanish train maker Talgo Inc. to her city. The manufacturer, though, has said it will retain only a small operation in Milwaukee now that the long-planned Madison-to-Milwaukee passenger rail line will not be built anytime soon.
“To hear after three years, after all the work we’ve put in, that 1,300 jobs are going to be gone from my community, it was heartbreaking,” Epps said, “because I know the struggles people are having to try to find work.”
Epps, a law student, said she has tried, but failed, to find part-time work.
“When I’m applying at restaurants, I’m applying at Target, and I have a college degree and I can’t even get a job,” she said, “I know how hard it is for people without that experience.”
Epps rode one of five buses from Milwaukee to Madison to demonstrate outside the Capitol on Monday. Several churches and nonprofit organizations combined efforts to send a message to the new governor.
“We caught a bus here, but we will walk here, if we have to, to get a job,” said Rev. Leondis Fuller, a minister at Milwaukee’s New Covenant Baptist Church and Word of Hope Ministries. Fuller said employment training is part of his ministry, but he spends much of his time training workers who have nothing to look forward to.
“We’ve got individuals getting training in welding, machinery, forklift driving, but there’s no jobs for those areas,” Fuller said. “We need Scott Walker to be able to talk to the employers in our communities to allow us to have jobs.”
That’s just what the governor is promising to do.
Walker, who used the word “jobs” 19 times during his 2,000-word speech, said he would continue his aggressive management style, which has been on display since Election Day, to push through his employment plan.
“Our message is simple,” Walker said. “Act swiftly. Act decisively. And pass our jobs plan by the end of February.”
The plan includes dissolving the state Department of Commerce into a public-private board focused on economic development. He also pledged, once again, to reduce regulation, a big reason Walker has gained the favor of construction groups.
“Our jobs plan provides relief from taxation, regulation and litigation costs for employers,” Walker said. “And it makes it easier for workers and farmers to afford health care.”
With many state lawmakers in attendance, including Republican and Democratic leaders of both the Assembly and Senate, Walker called on the Legislature to “pass these reforms into law to unleash the power of economic freedom.”
Walker has called for a special session of the Legislature to convene this week and focus on his jobs plan.
Epps, though, said any plan sounds trivial when the state chooses to dismiss tangible jobs that had been guaranteed to start right away.
“The governor, he doesn’t understand what it’s like for people out there,” she said. “People say, ‘Just work harder, get more education and you’ll get a job.’ But that’s not the case.
“You have people who are ready and willing to work, and you’re sending our jobs to other cities.”