Monroe County dairy farmer Joel Greeno works 90 to 100 hours a week. He and his wife, who works at a Wal-Mart distribution center, have a 4-year-old daughter and are expecting their second child at the end of April. Despite the fact that both are working, they qualify for health-care coverage through the state-funded BadgerCare program.
"It's just sad," says Greeno, 44. "I work hard and my wife works for one of the largest corporations in the world. Where we are right now scares me."
Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_cef20214-4bff-11e0-b67d-001cc4c03286.html" target="_blank">which he signed into law Friday, and his recently released budget proposal haven't exactly eased Greeno's mind.
In the name of narrowing the state's projected $3.6 billion budget deficit, Walker has proposed sweeping changes to Medicaid-funded programs including BadgerCare, cuts in state aid to public schools by nearly $834 million and a $96 million cut in aid to local governments, including cities, towns and counties.
All those cuts have Greeno wondering what kind of health coverage he will have when his newborn arrives and if the school where his daughter had her kindergarten screening a few weeks ago will still be open when it's time for her to start school this fall.
"It's a lot on one person's mind when you are trying to farm and take care of things," Greeno says.
On Saturday, Greeno and other state farmers, with roughly 50 of them planning to bring their tractors, will descend on the Capitol to protest what Greeno says are Republican proposals to "tear down, not build up" local communities.
Organized by Family Farm Defenders and the http://www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com/" target="_blank">Wisconsin Farmers Union, the Farm Labor Tractorcade http://familyfarmers.org/" target="_blank">begins with a parade from 10 - 11 a.m., followed by a rally at 11:30 a.m. at the Capitol.
The parade and protest come three days after Walker addressed nearly 500 state farmers at the Monona Terrace Convention Center for the annual Ag Day headed by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
The fact that small farmers like Greeno have decided to protest Walker's budget is an indication not all is well in America's Dairyland. So is the handful of e-mails, phone calls and messages the grassroots Family Farm Defenders have received over the past several days because of its involvement with the event.
John Peck, the group's director, says the calls and messages he has received have one common message: farmers participating in Saturday's protest are being "duped" into supporting the unions.
"This isn't us versus them, with farmers siding with union employees," says Scott Schultz, executive director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. "In rural farm communities, Walker's budget is hitting home in a number of ways."
Although unions and collective bargaining have strong roots in the farm industry -- the Wisconsin Farmers Union began in the 1930s -- Peck says Saturday's rallies are about more than preserving union rights.
Peck says many of those coming to Madison are upset by the realization that Walker's agenda is "sacrificing Wisconsin's quality of life for everyone, not just unions."
"There are other things going on here. If BadgerCare is wiped out or scaled back, a lot of these people won't have health care anymore," Peck says.
Roughly 11,000, or one in seven, farmers and their family members receive health coverage through BadgerCare, according to the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
The groups' concerns are valid, says the spokesman for one of the state's largest farm organizations, but he adds that their approaches differ.
Paul Zimmerman of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation calls Saturday's rally a "publicity approach."
"We think it is more effective to have our members go over to the Capitol and talk to lawmakers versus driving their tractors around the Capitol on the weekend," he says.
In particular, Zimmerman says the federation has supported BadgerCare "as a way to help out with children," but he adds that the federation has adopted a member-approved policy opposing universal health care and says that "BadgerCare should not be a long-term solution."
Zimmerman says agriculture has historically fared well as an industry because most lawmakers have farmers in their districts, giving politicians from both sides of the aisle an understanding of agriculture-related issues.
While Greeno says he typically votes for Democrats, Peck says many of the farmers coming Saturday are Republicans, just not "Walker-style Republicans".
"These are Dale Schultz-style Republicans coming to Madison," Peck says.
Dale Schultz, who represents the Richland Center area, http://host.madison.com/ct/business/biz_beat/article_9794c2aa-4bf2-11e0-bd09-001cc4c002e0.html" target="_blank">is the only Republican senator who voted against the controversial bill signed Friday by Walker that stripped public union workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.
"These are people who are starting to realize Walker's agenda is sacrificing Wisconsin's quality of life for everyone, not just labor unions," Peck says. "That's why they are rallying in Madison."