MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Nameless bureaucrats processing petitions to recall the governor shuffle in and out of the frame, stacking, unstacking and scanning seemingly endless piles of paper in a process carried live on an increasingly popular webcam that’s so mind-numbingly boring, it’s mesmerizing.
Welcome to Wisconsin, where even the dullest of political theater attracts tens of thousands of viewers.
The cam (
http://mirrors.5nines.com/stream/) transmits a live feed from the guarded, secret location where petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker and five other Republicans are being housed and processed. Walker has turned the state upside down since he took office last year. He proposal, now law, taking away public unions’ bargaining rights set off weeks of protests and drew national attention to a state mostly known for the Green Bay Packers and making cheese.
The cam is so popular it has a parody Twitter account and a growing cadre of followers who nickname the workers, point out when they mug for the camera and generally mock the entire process.
It ain’t exactly the sexiest of web cams. Everyone keeps their clothes on _ in fact, with temperatures hovering around zero outside, they’re bundled up _ and there are no pandas being born or eagles taking flight.
There’s not even sound.
But this is Wisconsin, a state that’s been more or less the center of the political universe for a year, and the action shows no sign of letting up. On Tuesday, organizers said they turned in more than a 1.9 million signatures to recall Walker and the others, 3 tons of paper that would extend 66 miles if laid end to end.
And someone has got to deal with all that.
Enter the ultimate in blandly named bureaucratic bodies _ the Government Accountability Board _ which has the important job of overseeing Wisconsin’s elections and determining whether recall elections can proceed.
Its task is to examine every signature and make sure that Mickey Mouses and Adolf Hitlers get caught and discarded, along with any Walker-hater or saboteur who signed multiple times. But before that can happen, all 300,000 pages must be scanned in to computers.
The Government Accountability Board, or GAB as it’s known in these parts, wants to be, well, accountable. So as the work proceeds at the secret location, it’s letting the public watch via the webcam as work is being done between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
When the cam first got plugged in Tuesday night, the image was straight on at roughly waist level. Viewers could see the back of one worker’s bald head, the scanner and the somewhat blank stare of the police officer sitting in the corner making sure security wasn’t breached.
By Thursday, onlookers were being treated to a new view of their government at work. The cam had been elevated, offering a bird’s-eye view of eight computers and four folding tables where stacks of paper with post-it notes attached were picked up, moved, set back down, and moved again. All of the action takes place against a stark, white cinder block wall.
Political junkies couldn’t get enough. They made observations on the parody Twitter account (at)recallcam, assigning personalities to the workers, establishing nicknames like “Sideburns,” “White Glasses” and “Flirty von Flirtenheimer” and creating a storyline that includes hints of office romance.
Other possible plots also have developed.
“It’s still snowing hard in WI _ you just know SOMEONE in that room has thought about who they would eat first if they get trapped in,” said a tweet posted Friday as a snowstorm hit Madison.
Much of the debate has focused on where the work was being done.
One post speculated it was Osama bin Laden’s old compound.
Others commented on what the workers were wearing, noting more sweaters and scarves on a day when temperatures dipped near zero outside.
Board spokesman Reid Magney, who has made cameo appearances on the cam, said at its busiest Friday there were 848 people watching at the same time. The total number of views doubled from 29,308 on Thursday afternoon to 58,624 a day later.
The webcam is a first for GAB and is being provided free of charge to taxpayers by 5Nines.com of Madison, Magney said. He acknowledged watching it was about as exciting as watching paint dry and was somewhat at a loss about its allure.
“People are interested in watching people do things, I guess,” he said.
Part of the attraction is just how boring it is. The GAB posted some details on the process Friday.
“A worker next to the wall is the scan operator,” the GAB website explained in its best nuthin’ but the facts Joe Friday voice. “He or she ensures that the pages are all oriented the same way before placing them on the scanner to be scanned.”
The GAB has said the location will be revealed and media invited to the room once all the documents have been scanned.
But for now, the mystery is fueling the snark, even though the business being conducted is serious and likely to be the subject of multiple lawsuits. If the process results in Walker and the others standing for recall elections later this year, that will certainly be a bigger spectacle than the webcam at the undisclosed, secure location.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)