The fourteen state Senate Democrats who left Wisconsin to forestall action on Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair returned to a tumultuous welcome on Saturday, and according to their leader, a new political dynamic after just two and a-half months in office for the Republican governor.
“They want a do over, and we are joining them in that battle,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller of the state voters. “The future of our state is in the balance. I don’t think anybody knew what they were getting in this last election, and they’ve asked for a do over, and that’s what’s going to happen.”
And the thrust of the day’s massive rally on the Capitol Square did seem to be largely about efforts to recall Walker and eight Republican Senators. Milwaukee Democrat, Senator Chris Larson, said protesters have been energized over the past three weeks. “They’re going to be moving to the streets, and they’ll be trading in those rally signs for clip boards as these recall efforts really start to heat up,” said Larson. “We gave the Republicans an opportunity to hear them, to step, to stand with their constituents and show some backbone. They decided to be rubber stamps.”
Larson was referring to last week’s vote in the Senate on a modified version of Walker’s budget repair bill, which stripped most public employees of most of their ability to collectively bargain. Senator Dale Schultz of Richland Center was the only Republican to vote against the measure. “Eighteen Republican Senators stole democracy from the state of Wisconsin and the people of Wisconsin,” said Milwaukee Democrat Spencer Coggs, who said the GOP members were “walking the plank” for Walker.
The Senate will soon have to start work on Walker’s two-year budget proposal and other legislation, but the chamber faces an uncertain future because of the Democrats’ decision to decamp, the measures taken by Republican leadership to lure them back, and the mistrust those actions have engendered on both sides. Saturday didn’t start well, with Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald branding the Democrats “the most shameful 14 people in the state,” in a press release. “If he thinks were the most shameful 14 people, I would suggest he might want to visit Waupun,” said Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville, referring to the maximum security prison in Fond du Lac County. “I think there’s a possibility he may find 14 up there that have done a little bit more shameful thing than go to northern Illinois for a couple weeks.” Fitzgerald had tried a number of moves to penalize the Democrats, including levying $100 fines and finding them in contempt of the Senate. That supposedly enabled law enforcement officers to detain the lawmakers and return them to the Senate, but Cullen said he was assured by the Rock County Sheriff that his deputies would not do that. “Scott Fitzgerald does not have the authority to do anything that they did on those resolutions, absolutely none,” said Senator Jon Erpenbach. “That’s not his job.”
Fitzgerald had said the Democrats took a “three week vacation” but assistant Minority Leader Dave Hansen said it had been anything but that. “I missed my 32 year-old daughter’s birthday, my grandaughter’s birthday,” said Hansen during a press conference prior to the rally. “So people think that this was a picnic for us. They’re wrong. But we did it for the right reasons, we stood up for our working men and women of this state.” Hansen said he was very disappointed in Fitzgerald’s comments.
After the press conference, which was attended by all of the 14 Democrats expect for Senator Jim Holperin, the Democrats took part in the rally, which drew upwards of 65,000 people to the Capitol Square. Participants in this, the fourth consecutive Saturday rally in Madison, included a group of farmers who rode tractors to the event, to highlight their concerns over Walker’s proposed cuts to the state’s BadgerCare program. “The provision on Medicaid was overlooked,” in the debate over collective bargaining, said Senator Bob Jauch of Poplar.