Tens of thousands came out in support of the returning Democratic senators, who fled the state of Wisconsin almost a month ago to avoid voting on a bill aimed at busting the unions in the state. The bill was eventually signed into law without any Democratic votes, but the 14 Senate Democrats were welcomed back in Wisconsin today as heroes.
Paul Fieber, a retired state employee carrying a homemade sign declaring “Our Heroes” said, “before all of this occurred I wouldn’t have known a lot of their names, but that has changed for me and a lot of the population.”
The New York Times reports:
At a news conference on Saturday, the senators spoke, sometimes boastfully, about their pride in the outpouring of support, their dismay at the law that passed despite their absence and their eagerness to meet the protesters who have backed their actions.
“I’m one of the Fabulous 14 and I’m so proud,” said Spencer Coggs, who was first elected to the State Legislature nearly three decades ago. “We are back to unite and fight with our supporters. We gave them hope. They gave us inspiration.”
Though officially in hiding, the Democrats had been more visible then ever, given countless interviews from “undisclosed locations” around Illinois, where they stayed out of reach of the Wisconsin state troopers dispatched to bring them back to the Senate.
Fred Risser, a senate Democrat whose nearly six decades of service makes him the longest-tenured state legislator in the country, said he had never been so widely recognized. “I’m quite amazed at the number of strangers who come up and thanked me,” he said.
With the Democrats out of the state, Republicans on Thursday forced through the bill using an option that is considered by many as illegal. The state’s attorney general, who is also a Republican, is being urged to investigate the way governor Scott Walker signed the bill into law, and to determine if any laws were broken.
After the news conference the senators traveled to the Capitol square, where one of the largest protests in what has been a daily outpouring of union employees and supporters was under way. The spectacle was enhanced by a brigade of tractors that motored around the square.
The size of the crowd was particularly striking, coming a day after the battle over the bill was lost, though legal efforts are under way to block .
For weeks now the rhythmic chanting of protestors has filled this city like a heartbeat, proof that despite the lack of political power the political left in this state was still here. At the very moment that the noise was expected to fade in disappointment that thumping proof of life — “This is what Democracy looks like,” was the most popular of the chants — continued with renewed vigor.
Many in the crowd said the effect of the legislation had been to breathe new life into the disheartened Democrats, just months after Republicans gained control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the State Legislature, and to reawaken union solidarity at a time when membership numbers have been declining.
Not surprisingly, Republicans in the state held a different opinion of the 14 Democratic Senators. The NYTimes reports the senate majority leader, Republican Scott Fitzgerald, calling the Democrats “shameful.”
“Today, the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin are going to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras. They’re going to pretend they’re heroes for taking a three-week vacation. It is an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois — with pay.”
Given the tens of thousands coming out to greet the “Fab 14″ senators, it is very obvious that the Republicans are on the wrong side here. In fact, the term ‘shameful” has been used over the last 3 weeks to describe the manner in which Republicans have rammed the bill down the throats of Wisconsinites.
Read the Times report here.