Capitol tree lighting draws protesters, signs

2011-12-02T10:50:00Z 2012-05-22T17:47:55Z Capitol tree lighting draws protesters, signsMARY SPICUZZA | | 608-252-6122 | @MSpicuzzaWSJ

Protesters turned their backs to Gov. Scott Walker at Friday morning's Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the state Capitol.

Afterward, a small group of protesters hung a massive "recall" sign over the second floor railing in the rotunda with the help of rope and weighted plastic milk bottles.

Even the holidays are a little different at the Capitol this year.

The Capitol tree lighting ceremony is usually held during the noon hour, but this year the first ceremony was held at 8:15 a.m. and a second "gift of the tree celebration" was held at noon. Democrats said it was because the Walker administration hoped to avoid protesters, but Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor had previous engagements in Milwaukee.

"It was not to dodge protesters," Werwie said.

Several dozen protesters did show up at the early morning event, and some booed Walker when he was introduced, but they didn't cause any interruptions or disruptions. Some 200 people were at the tree lighting, including many members of the military who were being honored during the ceremony.

"They booed and protested a ceremony that honors our veterans and lights the Capitol Christmas tree. Every time you think they've crossed the line, it's like they invent a new line to cross," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. "Then again, they're launching recall for the awful crime of balancing the budget, so the words 'recall' and 'common sense' haven't been in the same sentence for a while now."

The tree has been surrounded by controversy since Walker first announced it as a Christmas tree rather than a holiday tree, the name it had been called since 1985. The move drew criticism from many of his opponents, and the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation called Walker's move insensitive to nonreligious people.

Controversy continued after the morning ceremony ended, when Jason Huberty and other protesters displayed huge signs of letters spelling "Recall" over the second floor railing in the rotunda.

Huberty said he was told he had to hold the sign or it would be considered a display or exhibit - which would need a permit - and was warned the sign must come down for the noontime ceremony.

Shortly before the second, noontime ceremony began, Capitol police officers removed the "recall" signs, but Huberty said he was told he would get them back.

That second ceremony over the noon hour honored the towering, balsam fir tree.

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