Dozens of protesters, some shouting "Shame! Shame! Shame," chased Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, around the Capitol Tuesday evening as he banged in vain on closed windows and locked entrances trying to get in.
Eventually the crowd, by then numbering close to 200, cornered him in front of the closed West Washington entrance, and Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, came to the rescue with a bullhorn.
Or "kind of" came to the rescue, Grothman said when contacted at his home in West Bend later that night. Grothman says Hulsey did help him escape the crowd but he was never that worried. "I really think if I had had to, I could have walked through the crowd and it would have been okay," he said. "They're loud, they'll give you the finger, and they yell at you, but I really think deep down inside they're just mostly college kids having fun, just like they're having fun sleeping with their girfriends on air mattresses. That's the guts of that crowd."
Hulsey, who had been addressing the hundreds of people locked out of the building during Gov. Scott Walker's budget address, stepped between protesters and his Republican colleague, known around the state for his conservative views and quirky ways.
"This guy and I disagree on everything, but we're friends," Hulsey told the angry demonstrators. "This is a peaceful protest. You need to back away."
After what several observers estimate to be five to 10 tense minutes, several firefighters arrived and escorted Hulsey and Grothman to an underground entrance on another side of the Capitol, where they were able to safely enter the building.
Reached shortly afterwards, Hulsey was hesitant to comment, fearing it would inflame tensions in the precarious standoff between the Walker administration, law enforcement officials and a public eager to reclaim what it calls "our house." For two days now Walker has been trying to clear the Capitol of protesters who have occupied the building, many of them sleeping there overnight since he announced his plans to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers.
This pursuit of the senator was an exception, Hulsey said. "We've worked hard with over 200,000 people to keep it civil," he said. "It's been a very peaceful gathering up until now, but this is a very passionate crowd and they are very frustrated to be locked out of their Capitol building."
Tony Castaneda, a musician and a middle school coach, and two other observers who asked to remain anonymous, say the crowd was rushing after Grothman so quickly that several people got "squashed" and "pushed" against the West Washington doors when the senator sought refuge there.
Grothman says he "started to collect a crowd" as he kept trying to get into the locked building. Grothman says nearly 200 people were following him by the time he ended up trapped in front of the West Washington entrance. "That was the problem," he says. "It was just so dense it was tough to get around. What are you going to do? It was like trying to get through a rock concert."
Police inside that entrance refused to let the lawmakers in, even after they banged on the doors. "I'm sure it was very traumatic for Senator Grothman," Castaneda says. "They were right in his face."
Castaneda does not share Grothman's conservative views, he says, but respects him for "being one of the only senators who's been honest about what he thinks."
Castaneda was among the protesters who urged the hecklers to leave the senator alone. One of the most aggressive of the bunch, he says, was a shaggy-bearded man banging a drum who started railing against collective bargaining and the unions. "The guy who was the most violent about it turned out to be pretty right wing," he says. "He seemed a little off." All Grothman would say about him was that he was "a little mean."
Another protester watching, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was "scary." It was the first time during two weeks of protests, he said, that he worried things could have gotten ugly. Everyone interviewed said they were surprised at the lack of law enforcement officers outside the building who could have helped to defuse the situation earlier.
Yet many in the crowd, observers say, were urging calm. At one point the crowd was divided between those chanting "peaceful, peaceful!", and the hecklers yelling "Shame! Shame!"
Grothman, for his part, says the whole thing didn't faze him. When it comes to the protesters, he says, "their bark is worse than their bite." And that extends beyond what happened to him, he said, predicting that soon the protests will fizzle. "I love Madison," he says. "I went to school here. I love the Sushi restaurants, but people in Madison think differently. Back home, people are not on their side."
Part of the incident was captured in a YouTube video .