"Governor Walker says the silent majority of people want this bill and their voices should not be drowned out by the protestors. You represent Western Wisconsin. What do the people there want?'
I was on a stage with two of my Senate Democratic colleagues in front of the bright camera lights. About 60 reporters were asking me questions.
My answer was simple: "The people, in very large numbers, overwhelmingly do not support this bill.' Over twenty-five thousand people contacted me in the past three weeks. Four out of five people who contacted me from our Senate District do not support the Governor's "budget repair' bill.
Last week we learned very clearly the "repair bill' had nothing to do with the budget.
The Republican leaders took all the fiscal matters out of the bill. In a committee vote that lasted only moments, the leaders passed the bill; took it to the Senate floor and, in another vote that lasted only moments, passed the bill out of the Senate and sent it on to the Assembly.
My Senate Democratic colleagues watched the whole charade on a television in an Illinois hotel room. We were stunned by what happened. Inventing an entirely new process for legislation, the Republican leaders passed a bill without a warning, without a hearing and without even having the draft of a bill before them on the Senate floor.
The action ended a stalemate of three weeks. The effect of the bill was to undo fifty years of labor history in Wisconsin; make sweeping changes in the Medicaid program; make into political appointments dozens of state jobs; chip away at the civil service system put in place by Governor Bob La Follette in 1905; sell off the power plants running our state institutions in no-bid contracts and centralize power in the Governor's office in way never before seen in Wisconsin.
The state erupted in protest. Hundreds of people protested in Eau Claire and La Crosse. Tens of thousands protested in Madison. People in Alma even protested.
People wanted to be heard. Over and over again in emails and phone calls people told me they felt the Governor and Republican leaders simply would not listen to what is wanted by the majority of Wisconsin citizens.
Last Saturday my Senate Democratic colleagues and I returned to Madison. Early that morning I greeted about 150 people from Western Wisconsin who traveled to Madison to join in the protest march. We gathered in the conference room of a hotel across the street from the State Capitol.
Usually when people come to see me in Madison I welcome them to my Senate office and tell them "My house is your house and this house belongs to all the people.'
But Saturday I could not have taken local citizens in the State Capitol if I had wanted - the building was locked and my keys, like every other legislator and staff, no longer worked to open it. Instead I told citizens, "my house is your house and lately I have been working out of hotels, so today we are sharing a hotel room.'
We then joined 100,000 people who celebrated a statewide movement that grew following my Senate Democratic colleagues and I leaving Wisconsin. We left to slow things down and give people time to learn about the Governor's bill. In communities all across the state people have joined this movement to protect the rights of workers, to protect our communities and to protect the values of Wisconsin.
In the past few days I have spoken, by phone, email and personal visit, to dozens of constituents who thanked me and expressed their frustration at the democratic process. They ask me, "How can laws pass that the people do not want?'
"Voters have the ultimate power,' I tell them. "That power is at the ballot box.'
Over the next few weeks we have a Supreme Court race. There is an open Assembly seat in the La Crosse area and recall petitions are being signed in several districts across Western Wisconsin.
Over the next few weeks I will be working with local leaders to determine the effect of the Governor's budget proposal on our local communities. Your input is vitally important as the state crafts its plan for the next two years.
People will have an opportunity to express what it is they want. Make sure your voice is heard.