UW Election Eye is on the road for three weeks, covering politics in the heartland of America. One of our points of focus is Wisconsin’s historic gubernatorial recall election, set for June 5. For some, this election is particularly personal. One union organizer in Elkhorn, Wis., isn’t shy about putting forward her views — on the lawn in front of her own home.
ELKHORN, Wis. — Mary Burpee answered the door on a sunny Thursday morning, still dressed in her robe, talking into a headset.
She didn’t seem overly surprised to see a group of four student journalists standing on her stoop. Over the barking of her dogs, we explained through her screen door: We saw your yard signs, could we talk to you?
She laughed. “Oh, you saw my ‘non-confrontational’ signs?” she responded.
One was impossible to miss. It’s a homemade, painted wood sign resting against an old oak tree. It’s pretty confrontational, all right: “If you stand by Walker, you will fall for anything.”
It turns out that Burpee is a local organizer with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). She’s lived in her home in Elkhorn for more than 20 years, and said that the area is mostly conservative. She doesn’t know her neighbors well, but her signs frequently draw a vibrant response from supporters of Governor Scott Walker and his challenger for the June 5 recall election, Tom Barrett, mayor of Milwaukee.
“They don’t have any Barrett signs. Well, I guess I don’t blame them,” said a woman who walked by Burpee’s collection of anti-Walker signs.
Comments like that don’t faze Burpee, who said that union workers feel as though they’ve been slighted by the Act 10 budget repair bill, which was proposed by Governor Scott Walker and passed by the Wisconsin Legislature last March. Among other things, Act 10 cut down collective bargaining for most public, unionized workers and was met with fierce protests at the State Capitol. Act 10 is one of the hot-button issues in the recall election.
For some Act 10 is deeply personal. For Burpee, it hits home: she comes from a union family.
Her father was a carpenter who moved to the United States from Germany. The unions, she said, helped her family “build [their] own home and a middle class existence.”
“The changes that I see that are really harmful to people are the loss of a collective baragaining agreement and a contract to negotiate for your rights,” Burpee said. “They feel as though their voice on the job has been taken away.”
There is no such loss of voice in Burpee’s yard.