MADISON (WKOW) -- After fleeing the state more than three weeks ago, the 14 Democratic senators are back in Madison rallying together.
Republicans were outraged over the 14 Senate Democrats decision to leave the state February 17. Many GOP leaders have criticized them for "checking out" and "shutting down state government" for weeks.
But Saturday, thousands gathered at the Capitol to give those 14 senators a heroes welcome home chanting, "Fab 14, fab 14."
They will be forever known as the fab 14 to union supporters. The 14 Senate Democrats fled the state more than three weeks ago. Outside on the Capitol steps thousands turn out to rally and thank the senators. But, in their first public appearance together, it's the senators thanking demonstrators for starting a movement in Wisconsin.
Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) says, "I'm proud to be a part of this historical movement. Never has a fight for rights been lost."
13 of the 14 Senate Democrats spoke to media ahead of the rally. They say they have no regrets and stand behind their decision to leave. Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) says, "We left to protect voters. We couldn't get our voices heard here. Our absence spoke volumes."
But that absence has been criticized by their Republican colleagues. In response to their return, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said, "Senate Democrats should be embarrassed. They're going to pretend they're heroes for taking a three week vacation."
In a phone interview with 27 News, Senator Fitzgerald says, "It's a low blow to somehow return and say we did something that was good and productive and help move the state forward."
The events that have unfolded over the past month have divided the state and the legislature more than ever.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) says, "There are only two sides. This is Scott Walker's War."
But as the two sides move forward to try and tackle the state budget the toughest challenge ahead of them all will be finding a way to once again work together. Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) says, "It's good we won't be in session for a few weeks. It's time to call some of the Republican Senators, build the reputation back."
Sen. Jauch adds, "There is a lot to repair. I'm convinced, in the end, you'll see right. This isn't about a political movement, this is a Wisconsin movement."