Lawmakers debating portrait of former Wis. governor Rusk featured in Assembly parlor

Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin are sponsoring legislation that would remove the portrait of a past Wisconsin governor from the Assembly parlor, because they say Jeremiah Rusk's portrait is an affront to union workers, and should be removed. It's all based on an incident that happened back in the 1800s, and after Governor Scott Walker and the legislature passed the law cutting collective bargaining, Rusk has come to the forefront of discussion again.

Way back in 1886, thousands of workers at the Rolling Mills on the lakefront in Bay View joined the movement in favor of an eight-hour work day, and they were ready to strike. Jeremiah Rusk called out the militia, with orders to shoot and kill. Seven men and one child were fired on and killed, and the eight-hour work day was born.

In the Assembly parlor, there are paintings of heroes and lawmakers, and one of the portraits features Rusk. Democratic lawmakers say, in the post-collective-bargaining environment, the portrait of Rusk should be replaced with something more appropriate, and also say they've been trying to remove the painting for years.

"It's a slap in the face to the hard-working middle class people in this state, to have a portrait like that in a place of honor in the Capitol," Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) said.

Republicans say there are more important issues to deal with than a painting.

"Obviously I wouldn't support what this past governor did, but at the same time if we went back and looked at everything through the lens of today, there's a whole lot of leaders that said things they would be embarrassed to do today, but they did good things at the time. I don't think I want to get back and re-debate every single president, every single governor, what they did wrong and right. It's a waste of our time," Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said.

The Rusk portrait belongs to the Wisconsin State Assembly - not the Historical Society, so it cannot be easily taken down and exchanged for different artwork, but with Republicans controlling the Assembly, it's likely the painting will stay put.