DODGEVILLE — Sen. Dale Schultz may know how he will vote if the state Senate takes up Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill Tuesday but he refused to let his intentions be known to the 450 people who jammed the bleachers at Dodgeville High School Monday night.
Schultz, R-Richland Center, took part in a community forum and panel discussion that also included a farmer, nurse, utility worker, business owner and pastor. He reiterated that his position has not changed and he would not say how he will vote when the bill, passed by the Assembly last week, is called to a vote.
"I have not told people how I'm going to vote because I'm trying to bring people together," Schultz told the crowd. "When you draw a line in the sand and you are definitive of what you say, people tend to move away from you, closer to the abyss. I want to bring people together."
There was little doubt how the crowd felt. When one panel member suggested Schultz vote against the plan, the crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Earlier in the day in Schultz's hometown, the controversy that has engulfed the state for more than two weeks drew passionate discussion at Papa's Donuts, where a sign on the wall states that "friends and coffee are the perfect blend."
"Everyday we have people on both sides in here," said Scott Coppernoll, 31, who has owned the shop for the past two years. "It gets very emotional. I understand that, but I'm amazed at how much people have personalized this issue."
But this isn't just any Wisconsin community.
It's the home of Schultz, who has proposed, but not introduced, a compromise plan that would provide a sunset provision in Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill. The proposal by Schultz, elected to the Assembly in 1982 and the Senate in 1991, would reinstate full collective bargaining rights in 2013, but so far, Walker has shown no interest in a compromise.
And with the absence of the Senate's 14 minority Democrats — presumably the members most likely to support the amendment — Schultz said last week there was no point in pursuing it.
The governor's unwillingness to compromise and Schultz's plan both get mixed reactions in this community that is now separated by more than just the flood-prone Pine River.
"I just don't understand why it's this extreme," said John Tennant, who was among seven people who gathered around a table at the donut shop Monday to talk about the issue of the day. "I think concessions could be made. He put himself in perfect position to negotiate and he refuses to do it."
Tennant, an insurance agent whose wife works for the city, voted for Walker and agrees that public employees need to kick in more for their benefits. But he says he doesn't understand the governor's stubborn position that could result in layoffs.
Bill Kloehn, a school bus driver who owns his construction business, sat next to Tennant. Kloehn, who is also on the city council here, said negotiating with unions is always difficult because "you hit so many roadblocks," but it's unclear what impact Walker's plan will have on the city.
"We're going to end up sacrificing something," Kloehn said.
Kim Luckey, another Richland Center insurance agent, said he agrees with Schultz's plan and said it could also benefit the legislator.
"I think what he's doing not only makes a lot of sense but it puts him in a good position," Luckey said.
Schultz, whose wife, Rachel, is superintendent of the Richland Center School District, lives just north of the downtown in a corner brick house. "Walker or Workers" signs dot his neighborhood.
Allicia Woodhouse, who lives near Schultz, said she didn't vote for him but is hoping he can persuade fellow Republicans to compromise. "I've become impressed by his reasonableness," Woodhouse said. "He really follows his conscience."
Bruce Kaasa, who has owned the Thrifty White Pharmacy since 1983, said he supports Walker and understands what difficult decisions are about. Kaasa's 25 employees went two years without a raise. In order to give them a raise this year, Kaasa cut his own salary because sales were down almost 5 percent in 2010.
"There needs to be a way to control expenses," Kaasa said of Walker's plan. "I think it's a natural way to go (for governments) to have greater flexibility. We have to be more fiscally responsible."