More Than They Bargained For, from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters Stein and Marley, is an in-depth account of the controversy surrounding Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s first year in office.
For those who might have missed the political turmoil in Wisconsin, can you give us a quick snapshot of what your book is about?
Jason Stein: Scott Walker, a newly elected Republican governor, in February 2011 introduced legislation to repeal most of the collective bargaining for most of Wisconsin’s public union workers and tried to get it passed in one week. The protests surrounding that process involved tens of thousands of people and resulted in the Senate Democrats decamping to Illinois where they holed up for almost a month. The protests grew as Walker refused to compromise. Ultimately, there was an unsuccessful recall effort and Walker retained his position.
Did you plan to write this book or did it evolve from your articles?
Patrick Marley: Jason and I had both covered the Capitol for years and we know a good story when we see it; this one was monumental as it was unfolding. It had so many elements: a 62-hour debate on the Assembly floor, a prank 2012 phone call in which Walker believed he was speaking with David Koch, heated debates where one justice had his hands on the throat of another justice. Once this was going on for a few weeks, Jason and I had a conversation in the hallway of the Capitol and knew that we had to write this book. We continued to follow the events for the Journal Sentinel on a daily basis and spent our evenings and weekends working on the book.
The information you gathered from social media sources added so much color and depth to your book. Can you discuss that?
JS: We knew at the time that social media was playing a big role as events unfolded, but we didn’t have the time for monitoring it. We were writing constantly and couldn’t troll through the tens of thousands of tweets that occurred. Fortunately, the University of Illinois at Carbondale created an archive of tweets. Their researchers recognized the historical or research value of those tweets and followed the #WIUnion. We went back through those archives and they were very useful. They helped us get a sense of what the crowd was saying.
Do you think the volume of the protests and protesters could have happened without the assistance of social media?
PM: I think there would have been large protests but social media amplified them tremendously. The Unions were active. They created advertising campaigns, organized buses to transport people, and organized phone trees and email. But certainly Twitter allowed other groups to become involved and engaged.
The role of social media had its most profound effect at the end of the process. The Democrats had been out of the state for more than three weeks when the Republicans sent a bill to the Conference Committee. By doing that, fewer senators would need to be present on the floor in order to pass the measure. By that time in the Capitol, the protests had died down and there were fewer people present. Within the two hour timeframe until the vote, however, so much news got out that the Capitol building became flooded with people protesting. That would not have happened without Facebook or Twitter.
The events leading up to the Walker recall vote elicited strong opinions from both Republicans and Democrats. How difficult was it for you in gathering information and writing the book to consistently present both sides of the situation and remain objective?
JS: Things were happening so quickly, our focus was on reporting things correctly. This situation was so unprecedented—we had never seen anything like it before—that we would go home in the evening and just try to understand, “What happened?”
PM: A reporter’s bias is more on whether or not you have a really good story and we knew we had a really good story.
What is the message you hope readers take from the book?
JS: To me, the book is about the tremendous way in which state governments are trying to confront the biggest financial challenge in a generation, and how we will reorganize and pay for government in the next generation.
PM: I hope people will realize that although this is a Wisconsin story, it has national importance.
JS: A hundred years from now, when people look at labor history, this will be one of the seminal events—along with the (Haymarket) riot in Chicago or the air traffic controller strike—that people will look at.