Sen. Bob Jauch gets cheers, a few jeers in Rice LakeJust a few days after returning from a self-imposed, three-week exile in Illinois, state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, was met with a large and wildly enthusiastic audience during a forum Wednesday evening at UW-Barron County.
By: By Eric Lindquist, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis., Superior Telegram
RICE LAKE -- Just a few days after returning from a self-imposed, three-week exile in Illinois, state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, was met with a large and wildly enthusiastic audience during a forum Wednesday evening at UW-Barron County.
Though many Republicans have been critical of Jauch and the other 13 Democrats in the Senate for going to Illinois to slow the passage of Gov. Scott Walker's controversial budget repair bill, the vast majority of the roughly 200 people who showed up Wednesday greeted Jauch like a returning hero.
Jauch said going to another state to avoid giving Republicans the quorum they needed to pass a spending bill was a difficult but ultimately worthwhile decision.
"I wouldn't recommend it in the future, but I also would not recommend that the governor propose taking away people's rights in the future," Jauch said to huge applause from the overflow crowd in Fine Arts Theatre.
While Republicans won the battle last week by using a procedural move to pass most of the budget repair bill, even with the Democrats still camped out in Illinois, Jauch said it still was important to delay the process so more Wisconsin residents could understand what was in the legislation and express their opinions
After union leaders agreed to the financial concessions Walker called for and the GOP still wouldn't compromise, it became clear the bill was more about breaking the unions than about fixing the budget, Jauch said.
It wasn't until near the end of a question-and-answer session Wednesday that Jauch was confronted with questions from a couple of people who weren't supportive.
One woman told Jauch she didn't support public unions and knew members who didn't like all the political causes for which their dues are used.
Jauch responded that unions have made many important gains for workers, and in a democracy people often have to accept some compromises for the greater good.
Another woman said she was disgusted that the 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois instead of staying and debating the bill, echoing a sentiment voiced by many GOP legislators that the action represented an attack on democracy.
"We didn't weaken democracy. We strengthened it because the voices of the people were heard," Jauch countered.
Dan Johnson, a 25-year janitor at UW-Barron County who is most upset about the loss of bargaining rights, even though the concessions will be painful on his $31,000 annual salary, said he told Jauch he appreciated the senators' stand.
"You Fab 14 are actually American heroes because you brought this whole issue to the national spotlight," Johnson told Jauch. "Otherwise it would have been shoved down our throats in five days and just been a blip on the national radar."
When John Hardin of Chetek said Walker's "assault on public workers" would harm local communities by removing much spending power from working families, Jauch strongly agreed and took issue with Walker repeatedly calling what would be a loss of $650 a month for a person making $50,000 a year a "modest" sacrifice. The increased pension and health insurance contributions will cause serious financial pain for many families, he added.
Jauch said the huge protests and activism that have sprung up in response to the bill are unlikely to end anytime soon, much to the disappointment of Walker and the Republicans who support him.
"They thought they could eliminate unions and beat people down and take away people's rights, but all they've done is empower people, and this is only the beginning," Jauch said, again generating enthusiastic applause.
Copyright (c) 2011, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.