*Returning to a hero’s welcome

RETURNING TO A HERO’S WELCOME…. Quorum-avoidance tactics have been part of the American tradition for generations, but the effort launched by the Democrats in the Wisconsin state Senate has to rank near the top of the historic list.

These 14 lawmakers obviously didn’t reach their policy goal — the Republican union-busting proposal became state law on Friday* — but their larger effort was a dramatic success. Indeed, the whole point of quorum-avoidance tactics is to slow down a debate, draw public attention to a cause, and galvanize support.

As these Democrats returned to Madison yesterday, it was clear that these larger goals had been met — and then some.

They are the unlikeliest of folk heroes.

But this group of once-obscure lawmakers — a dairy farmer, a lawyer and a woman who is seven months pregnant, among others — that fled this capital nearly a month ago, returned Saturday to the cheers of tens of thousands who once again packed the streets in protest.

Many in the crowd wore buttons or held signs bearing admiring nicknames for the group: the “Fighting 14,” the “Fab 14” or, simply, “the Wisconsin 14.” They chanted, “Thank you” and “Welcome home.”

This is, of course, not the standard reception for state legislators, typically as anonymous as they are unglamorous.

No, and this is not the standard political dispute. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who neglected to mention to voters that he intended to strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights before he was elected, likely had no idea what kind of backlash his overreach would create.

But with his standing faltering , the Fab 14 seen as heroes, and national (and international) attention focused in on the controversy, Walker probably realizes it now.

Local police said yesterday’s crowd, which gathered solely to welcome home the returning Democrats, reached 100,000 people. That’s not only massive, it’s also a larger gathering than anything Tea Partiers have been able to put together.

The challenge, going forward, will be keeping up this level of intensity. Walker and his Republican allies have handed Wisconsin’s progressive base a gift of sorts; if the left can capitalize, it will change the face of politics in the state.

* Correction: The union-busting measure was signed on Friday, but won’t formally become law until the day after its publication by the Wisconsin Secretary of State, which should come late next week.