The Republicans who control Wisconsin state government have made unions, women, workers, the middle class, ethnic minorities, voters, decency, and common sense political targets since 2011. Now, they’re making the sport of curling, a Winter Olympic sport in which teams of two or, more commonly, four players slide stones down a long, narrow sheet of ice seeking to have the closest stone to the center of a circle twelve feet in diameter (in curling terminology, this is known as the house) and having as many stones as possible closer the center of the house than the other team’s closest stone, illegal in Wisconsin.
Republican State Representatives Michael Schraa of Oshosh and Bob Gannon of Slinger have introduced legislation that would make playing the sport of curling, owning and/or operating a curling club, facility, and/or equipment, and broadcasting and/or participating in a broadcast of curling matches over radio, television, and/or the internet a felony punishable by a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment under Wisconsin law. In a joint press release, Schraa and Gannon claimed that “only glue-sniffing radical liberals” would play or watch a sport like curling and that curling needed to be banned in Wisconsin because “the vast majority of curlers and curling fans are liberal Democrats”, a claim that has not been backed up by any scientific opinion polling.
The Schraa-Gannon bill to ban curling in Wisconsin has drawn significant backlash from Democrats, progressives, the business community in Wisconsin, the curling community in the United States and internationally, the Olympic community, many in the legal community, and even some Republicans.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), the World Curling Federation (WCF), the United States Curling Association (USA Curling), and the Wisconsin State Curling Association (WSCA) issued a joint statement strongly condemning the proposed legislation, calling the legislation “straight out of medieval times” and “an attempt to criminalize a great sport played by many Wisconsinites”.
In a show of solidarity amid a heated, highly-competitive race for Chairperson of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW), all five of the candidates for DPW Chair, Former DPW Chairperson Joe Wineke, Democratic National Committee (DNC) member Jason Rae, Former State Representative Jeff Smith, Former State Representative Stephen Smith, and former business executive and state senate candidate Martha Laning issued a joint statement promising to make opposition to the Schraa-Gannon bill a key part of the DPW’s messaging in the 2016 election and that all five of the DPW Chair candidates believe that backlash to the Schraa-Gannon bill would result in a large number of Democrats being swept into elected office in Wisconsin, similar to what happened when the Republicans enacted the Bennett Law, which required Wisconsin public and private schools to teach classes in the English language only, in 1889.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, all three of Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Representatives, and every Democratic state legislator in Wisconsin have all gone on record denouncing the Schraa-Gannon bill. While most of the Democratic statements consist of strongly-worded press releases opposing the proposed legislation, Madison’s all-female state assembly delegation, consisting of State Representatives Chris Taylor, Melissa Sargent, Terese Berceau, and Lisa Subeck, called a joint press conference in which they wore curling uniforms and carried curling brooms into the assembly parlor in protest of the proposed legislation. Taylor gave perhaps the sharpest criticism of the proposed legislation, saying that the Republicans who are supporting the legislation “have no stones” and claimed that “the only reason why Representatives Schraa and Gannon are proposing this ridiculous piece of legislation is because no four people in the Assembly Republican caucus could beat us at a curling match”.
Many in the Wisconsin business community are also strongly opposed to the Schraa-Gannon bill. Lori Compas, the executive director of the Wisconsin Business Alliance, a progressive business organization in Wisconsin, authored a letter, which was signed by dozens of Wisconsin businesspeople and addressed to every Wisconsin state legislator, denouncing the legislation. Compas called the Schraa-Gannon bill “a ridiculous attempt to criminalize a sport played by many Wisconsinites” and wrote that “curling clubs are an integral part of many Wisconsin communities”.
Many in the legal community believe that the Schraa-Gannon bill likely violates the U.S. Constitution. Ed Fallone, a professor for the Marquette University Law School and former state supreme court candidate, publicly stated that he believes that the legislation would likely be struck down by federal and/or state courts if enacted. Fallone argued that the legislation appears to violate the freedom of association provision of First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, since curling is not a threat to public safety in any way, and the law would prohibit curlers and curling fans in Wisconsin from organizing to play and show their support for curling.
Even some Republicans believe that banning curling is a ridiculous idea. Four Republican state representatives (Lee Nerison, Travis Tranel, Keith Ripp, and Samantha Kerkman) and one Republican state senator (Robert Cowles) have all publicly stated that they oppose the Schraa-Gannon bill. Former Republican State Senator Dale Schultz also opposes the legislation, saying that anyone who supports the legislation is “probably hallucinating” and that “there’s no valid reason whatsoever to ban curling”.
Progressives have organized protests to the Schraa-Gannon bill in numerous Wisconsin communities, including one in Madison, where over 1,000 people protested against the proposed legislation. Many protesters wore curling uniforms and/or brought curling brooms with them to the protests, and one person was seen driving a Zamboni, a ice resurfacing vehicle that is used on ice hockey and skating rinks, but not on curling sheets, to a protest held near the Madison Curling Club in McFarland.
Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has refused to publicly say whether or not he would sign legislation banning curling in Wisconsin, and calls by numerous media outlets to the governor’s office have gone unanswered.