MADISON, Wis. —Sometimes they cursed each other, sometimes they shook hands, sometimes they walked away from each other in disgust.
None of it — not the ear-splitting chants, the pounding drums or the back-and-forth debate between 70,000 protesters — changed the minds of Wisconsin lawmakers dug into a stalemate over Republican efforts to scrap union rights for almost all public workers.
"The people who are not around the Capitol square are with us," said Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican from Rochester and co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee. "They may have a bunch around the square, but we've got the rest on our side."
After nearly a week of political chaos in Madison, during which tens of thousands of pro-labor protesters turned the Capitol into a campsite, supporters of Gov. Scott Walker came out in force Saturday.
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They gathered on the muddy east lawn of the Capitol and were soon surrounded by a much larger group of union supporters who countered their chants of "Pass the bill! Pass the bill!" with chants of "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!"
"Go home!" union supporters yelled at Scott Lemke, a 46-year-old machine parts salesman from Cedarburg who wore a hard hat and carried a sign that read "If you don't like it, quit" on one side, and "If you don't like that, try you're fired" on the other.
The Wisconsin governor, elected in November's GOP wave that also gave control of the state Assembly and Senate to Republicans, set off the protests earlier this week by pushing ahead with a measure that would require government workers to contribute more to their health care and pension costs and largely eliminate their collective bargaining rights.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the crowds that have gotten bigger each day have yet to win over any member of his caucus.
"What they're getting from individuals back home is stick to your guns, don't let them get to you," Fitzgerald said. "Every senator I've spoken to today is getting that back home, which is awesome. It's great to hear from people who are part of a rally... (but) two people you meet at a fish fry or a person who comes up to you at a basketball game, those comments sink in."
Fitzgerald and other Republicans say the concessions are needed to deal with the state's projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall and to avoid layoffs of government workers.
The throngs of Walker supporters who arrived in Madison on Saturday for an afternoon rally organized by Tea Party Patriots, the movement's largest umbrella group, and Americans for Prosperity, carried signs with a fresh set of messages: "Your Gravy Train Is Over... Welcome to the Recession" and "Sorry, we're late Scott. We work for a living."
Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate, short of the votes needed to keep Republicans from passing the "budget repair" bill, fled the state on Thursday. They haven't been seen since, and said Saturday they are more resolved than ever to stay away "as long as it takes" until Walker agrees to negotiate.