July 11, 2015 by Barbara With
On July 8, about four hours into the 2015 Assembly budget debate, the State Capitol was evacuated for what police called a “credible bomb threat.” During the evacuation, a group of male legislators headed to a sidewalk tavern across the street from the Capitol for what the Capital Times dubbed a “bipartisan beer summit.”
Among the beer drinkers—who were officially “on the clock” at the time and whose salaries and per diems are paid for by taxpayers (technically, they’re state employees)—was Rep. Robin Vos, who happens to be a fierce proponent of drug testing for food stamp recipients, the unemployed, and low-wage earners, and who, ironically, once suggested a message be sent to benefit recipients that reads, “get yourself productive and stop asking the taxpayers to help subsidize your lifestyle.”
When the session reconvened 2 1/2 hours after the evacuation, it became apparent that not all the lawmakers had adhered to their claim of “limiting their consumption to one beer.” Eyewitnesses in the Assembly gallery that evening reported that several representatives were clearly intoxicated as they argued for what Rep. Terese Berceau called the worst budget she had seen in all her 17 years in office.
Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), another staunch advocate of drug testing low-income Wisconsin residents, was the most visibly inebriated member on the floor, as was evidenced by his slurring in the four speeches he gave over the course of the night. [07.08.15 Wisconsin Eye Assembly Floor Session (Part – 2) 1:43:47; 2:32:42; 2:47:38; 3:43:18]
In an interview last May, shortly after he voted for Gov. Walker’s drug testing proposal as part of the budget committee, Kooyenga (who should perhaps look in the mirror) stated, “The problem with substance abuse is when you have these drug problems is you’re a danger to the people around you. And most importantly, you’re a danger to yourself. And so the reason we do that is not because we want to slap someone down and punish them and make their life miserable, the reason we do that is because we care.”
The “drunken legislators” story was picked up by Crooks and Liars and many other online sites, and as of Saturday evening, the video of Rep. Kooyenga slurring on the Assembly floor had received over 12,000 hits. Yet the story of legislators drinking on the job—legislators who want to drug test food share, unemployment and Medicaid recipients—was given a pass by mainstream media.
Given the outrageous content of the budget—including a provision that removes local control in Dane County that would have required Enbridge Energy to carry $25 million in pollution insurance before it can proceed with a planned pipeline capacity expansion—many in the state feel that these legislators are not only a danger to themselves but to the rest of Wisconsin as well, drunk or sober.