Protesters who have turned out en masse for the past two weeks to oppose Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill are now fighting a second battle: Just getting through the Capitol doors.
On Tuesday, several dozen protesters slept outside the Capitol in a camp they've dubbed "Walkerville." They urged others to join them Wednesday and to donate supplies for the cold night ahead.
Also on Wednesday, testimony continued for a second day in Dane County Circuit Court to determine if current restrictions on public access to the Capitol are legal. The hearing will resume Thursday afternoon, after both sides rejected a compromise order floated by Judge John Albert that would have increased access to the Capitol if the 107 protesters still inside began to leave.
UW-Madison Police Chief Susan Riseling, who is among the officials leading law enforcement efforts, testified that the protests have been "unprecedented" in their peacefulness.
But state Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch testified that law enforcement costs total $3 to $4 million through the end of February, including more than $2.1 million for wages and overtime. Keeping the status quo, he said, will cost at least $3 million a week.
Huebsch also said the current access policy is designed to attain "voluntary compliance" with normal building hours without resorting to more drastic measures, such as arrests, to clear out protesters intent on continuing to stay in the building overnight. He said police are trying to avoid "inciteful conduct" leading to dangerous confrontations between protesters and police.
But Madison police Central District Capt. Carl Gloede on Tuesday said, "It's becoming tenser because of the standoff of not letting people in."
That tension "could create issues," Gloede said, adding, "There's been exceptional cooperation from people. I'd not want to see that change."
Tensions that flared before and after Walker's Tuesday budget address — including confrontations between protesters and two Republican legislators — had visibly eased Wednesday afternoon, when the crowd at the Capitol peaked at about 500 protesters around noon, said Dane County Sheriff's Lt. Joe Sampson.
"It's pretty quiet," Sampson said. "Everybody's very polite."
Some waited in line to get into the Capitol, where officers were letting one person in when one left.
Frustrated that their constituents could not get inside, several Democratic representatives moved wooden desks out of their first-floor windows to conduct office hours outdoors under a banner that read: "Assembly Democrats Are Open for Business."
They were joined by former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, a Democrat who said he was denied entry to the Capitol for the first time in more than 50 years and had harsh words for Walker.
"I think the governor is a political bully and a political thug," Obey said, adding that Walker "should quit flexing his muscle" and work out differences with Democratic legislators, including the 14 senators who left the state to prevent a vote on the bill.
"I think the governor has needlessly divided the state," Obey said. "I can't think of a bill that will do more to weaken the future of Wisconsin. This is an anti-education, anti-union budget, and people ought to understand that."
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor "made the tough decisions needed to balance Wisconsin's budget," ensure future generations aren't saddled with debt and create 250,000 private sector jobs.
State Journal reporters Ed Treleven, Mary Spicuzza, Clay Barbour and Devin Rose contributed to this story.