Shouty Wisconsin Recall Elections Preceded by Kayaking Protestors

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All over but the shouting? Not in the Badger State, where the second round of contentious recall voting is today.

On Sunday, July 17, the Republican Party of Walworth County, Wisconsin, held a pleasant cruise and fundraiser aboard Lake Geneva's "Lady of the Lake" steamboat. The heat was not the only discomfort.

To get an idea of just how intense the political divide has grown in Wisconsin since the budget battles of the winter and spring, consider this: the GOP's boat was met with a small armada of protesters in kayaks holding signs protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker, whom Democrats hope to recall from office as soon as it becomes legally possible. Yes, the Wisconsin recall effort now has a navy.

The protesters weren't done on the water though. Back at the dock, embarking and disembarking Republicans were met by a sizable crowd chanting in support of recalling Republican state senators who backed Walker's budget repair bill, along with the governor. Special guest Rep. Paul Ryan even got an earful, right in front of his kids.

As the video shows, even as his colleagues were meeting with Obama to debate the debt ceiling, Ryan was attending the annual fundraiser in his home state. Ryan even got his own Newt Gingrich "You're an embarrassment" Iowa moment when one in the crowd said to his face, in front of his children, "You should be ashamed of yourself." 

"Let's go kids," Ryan seems to say in the video, leading his kids away.

Several of those who were at the protest said that not only was Ryan the only one who took children onto the booze cruise, but that he seemed to use them as a buffer as he disembarked. Jenna Pope, a Madison resident who rented a boat along with four others to dog the cruise, accused Ryan of "using them to protect himself."

Those at the event confirmed a large police presence, including at least two police boats in the water that flanked the cruise and multiple state patrol cruisers onshore. Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefish had her own personal police escort.

The Lake Geneva event was well within Ryan's district, and could represent more trouble ahead for the congressman, who in 2012 will face Republican-turned-Democrat Rob Zerban. Zerban, while still trailing well behind Ryan, has already raised more for his campaign than any Ryan challenger. He's somebody Sara Schulz, a resident of Ryan's district and a protestor at the event, says she'll vote for and energetically support.

The protest also demonstrates how the continued Republican overreach in the state may have extreme personal consequences for state legislators who can barely go out public, even with their families, without verbal harassment. This appears to now be true even in their own "safe" zones outside of Madison. Lake Geneva and Walworth County are very Republican; Ryan won Walworth by a landslide three-to-one margin in 2010.

A day later, Governor Walker's opening of a welcome center in Beloit was overrun with protesters:

In the lake Geneva protest video, Republicans did themselves no favors.

Despite clocking in at only three minutes, the video does a better job of framing the Wisconsin GOP and Walker supporters as unsympathetic than have millions of dollars of TV ads running since February.

We begin with one of the exiting steamboat passengers raising his hands and giving the crowd both guns. Rebecca Kleefish scurries off a little later. Then, another of the event attendees answers the crowd's chant of "Wisconsin's not for sale!" with the regrettable "Yes we are! Yes we are!"

Oddly enough, Lake Geneva is the same place Ryan told a listening session three months, "Let's prove to these press people that Wisconsinites can have civil debate, that we can treat each other with respect."

The video ends with a seemingly plowed state Rep. Bill Kramer (R-97) being confronted by the video's shooter, Arthur Kohl-Riggs, about the special session the Wisconsin legislature has called to ram through a redistricting plan that would make even Tom DeLay blush. Passing the redistricting plan is currently illegal. But the Republican-controlled legislature plans to change the law standing in it way before voting on the new districts, which were drawn by the law offices of Michael Best, former employer of Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus.

The second round of voting in the ongoing state senate recall elections is today. Senate districts 12 and 22 (Ryan's territory) will see GOP primaries. Meanwhile, the first general election of the nine recalls will take place between incumbent Democratic Senator Davis Hansen and Republican David VanderLeest.

The Republican VanderLeast defended his candidacy over the weekend, telling Wisconsin Public Radio, for the record, "I don't smoke rocks."

A couple days later, VaderLeest gave a press conference and released a "transcript" of his statement. It did not disappoint (all very sic.):

"False accusations have plagued this campaign. False slander Chicago style mob politics must stop in WI. The buck stops here. We are not going to allow these tactics to destroy tangible debates on real issues which face WI. The people will stand not for it, and neither will I. I truth is I was never found guilt of Domestic Violence in the State of WI. I was given primary care of my child in a messy divorce, and was never found guilty of abusing anyone. For these reasons I will be filling a slander lawsuit..."

For more on this story, see The Atlantic's earlier report covering everything you ever wanted to know about the historic Wisconsin recall elections.

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Abe Sauer grew up shoveling cow manure and now covers politics. He is working on a book of humor about North Dakota.

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