Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Protesters in February take part in a Solidarity Sing-Along, a daily protest at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., after Republican Governor Scott Walker declared war on public sector unions.

Michael P. King/The Associated Press

A tenuous calm has descended on the Wisconsin State Capitol. But the silence is anything but peaceful.

"There is something evil lurking in there," warns Daina Zemliauskas, pointing to the capitol building where she works. "I've never sensed this hate between people as much as I have in the past year and a half. And it's simply because of their political views."

Since Governor Scott Walker came to office in early 2011, Wisconsin has been the country's main, and much bloodied, battlefield in the Republican war on public-sector unions. With a GOP majority in the legislature, Mr. Walker stripped public employees of most collective bargaining rights, becoming a Tea Party hero in the process.

Story continues below advertisement

For weeks, state employees and their sympathizers occupied the capitol building, while Democratic state senators fled to Illinois to prevent a vote on Mr. Walker's "budget repair" bill. But the unions ultimately lost that battle. And their hopes for revenge were crushed when Mr. Walker survived a statewide recall election in June.

In Dane County, which encompasses Madison, 69 per cent voted against the Governor. With its population of state employees and University of Wisconsin students, the city has long been a bastion of liberal politics and Madison is now the centre of anti-Walker resistance.

The bitterness of the past two years has spilled over into the presidential and Senate races. Democrats had been confident of keeping Wisconsin in President Barack Obama's column and making Madison congresswoman Tammy Baldwin the first openly gay candidate to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. But since Mitt Romney picked Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Wisconsin has become a toss-up between the presidential candidates and Ms. Baldwin finds herself in a tight race against ex-Republican governor Tommy Thompson.

The Senate race, better known as "Tammy versus Tommy," is in part a rematch between the pro- and anti-Walker forces that have made Wisconsin politics among the country's ugliest and most polarized. Astonishingly, neither side appears to be tiring of the fight.

Ms. Baldwin, 50, ranks among the six most liberal members of the U.S. House of Representatives. "Tammy's so liberal Nancy Pelosi has to turn to the left to talk to her," Mr. Thompson is fond of saying, comparing his rival to the Democratic minority leader.

Mr. Thompson, 70, spent four terms as governor and won bipartisan kudos for his welfare and health-care reforms. But after stepping down as George W. Bush's health secretary, and briefly running for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, he worked as a lobbyist in Washington. Once considered a pragmatist, he now lines up with the GOP's right flank on most issues. Mr. Thompson's son was recently caught on camera saying Republicans have "an opportunity to send President Obama back to Chicago – or Kenya."

Here in the so-called people's republic of Madison, a siege mentality has set in.

Story continues below advertisement

"Tommy's become this crazy Tea Party guy," laments Ms. Zemliauskas, 54, a tour guide at the capitol. "What happened to the Republican Party?"

Retired state employee Charles Ricksecker, 64, is asking the same question. He voted for Mr. Thompson as governor but now plans to vote Democratic "right down the ticket."

"I believe Tommy's out of touch with voters now," Mr. Ricksecker offers. "Tommy's an insider and lobbyist. So, he's pretty much just looking out for himself."

In Madison, Ms. Baldwin's sexual orientation is a non-issue. Dane County voted 76 per cent against a 2006 amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. But the amendment passed with the support of 59 per cent of voters statewide.

"The people who have issues with that stuff, they're dying," insists Baldwin supporter Tammie Murray. "And I think it's going to be easier for a gay man or gay woman to be elected statewide than an atheist."


Story continues below advertisement

Madison, Wis.

Population: 236, 901 (city); 568,593 (metro)

Demographics: White 75.7 per cent, Asian 7.4 per cent, Black 7.3 per cent, Hispanic 6.8 per cent

Education: 52.2 per cent of Madison residents over 25 have a bachelor's degree, compared to 27.9 per cent nationally

Median household income: $52, 500 (U.S.); $51,900 nationally

Poverty rate: 17.9 per cent; 13.8 per cent nationally

Story continues below advertisement

Trivia: The satirical newspaper The Onion was started in Madison in 1988 by University of Wisconsin students Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson. On Friday, the paper endorsed disgraced former Democratic senator John Edwards for president.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies