Talking Points Memo: Wisconsin Legislature Shuts Down Comment Line After Too Many Complaints

February 21, 2011- The protesters amassed outside the state capitol in Madison, WI and their supporters across the country have succeeded in getting state Republicans to back down on at least one front: the toll-free Legislative Hotline that the legislature has kept open 24 hours a day for more than 20 years.

After a flood of calls that legislative staff tell TPM came from "unions and other non-profits," the legislature's Sergeant at Arms ordered the number disconnected Friday, a move that according to sources could save the state quite a bit of money as the protests against Gov. Scott Walker's (R) union-busting budget plan rage.

One union source said he didn't know about the call flooding, but he said that Republicans have another think coming if they believe taking down a phone number will silence the frustrated union supporters with their eyes on Madison this week.

During business hours, the Legislative Hotline is answered by a real person, a longtime staffer in the Sergeant at Arms office told me. Normally, people call to ask who their legislator is and how to contact him or her — usually so the caller can complain about something the state government's up to.

The Hotline doesn't take the complaint — it merely helps constituents find the right politician to complain to (or, in what is likely much more rare instances, offer a compliment to).

Each call to the toll-free line costs the state 10 cents, the staffer told me. And once Walker's budget proposal became news, the calls starting pouring in nonstop. Once the phone was hung up, it would ring again. Hundreds and hundreds of calls, every hour — even at 3 AM, when the Hotline transfers to voicemail.


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