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For Larson, a Chaotic, High-Profile and Polarizing Start to Term

Chris Larson has only been on the job for two-plus months, but his brief tenure has been rife with controversy and publicity.

Chris Larson laughed when I asked him if he ever thought the start of his first term as state senator would be this eventful.

"Yes, I had it all planned out," he says. "Every step of the way."

I spoke with Larson on Tuesday, just three days after he and 13 other Wisconsin Democratic state senators returned from a three-week hiatus in Illinois.

The last time we talked . There was no way of knowing it, but just hours after that conversation, Larson and his Democratic colleagues would gather together and make a decision that will go down in the history of Wisconsin politics:

They would leave the next day for Illinois in an attempt to block passage of Gov. Scott Walker's budget-repair bill.

There were, in perhaps the understatement of the century, a few things that went down in between our phone calls. 

No regrets

Larson recalled that Feb. 16 evening, saying none of the 14 senators had any clue they would be gone for that long. 

"I think if our leader, Mark Miller, if he would have told us from the beginning we would have been gone for three weeks ... we would have thought he was mad," he said.

You know what happened next. Wisconsin was thrust into the national spotlight, the bill would eventually pass without the Democrats present, and senators on both sides of the aisle are now facing recalls. 

Larson is unapologetic for leaving. The group of legislators successfully slowed down Walker's bill from advancing in the state Legislature, got more people than ever participating in democracy and "woke up a sleeping middle class," he said.

Their journey southward also divided the state. And Oak Creek.

While Larson lives in generally-liberal Bay View, and his district stretches north to more Democratic-leaning parts of Milwaukee County, he also represents conservative Oak Creek. 

The divisiveness of the issue clearly showed on this website. Several commentators on this site ripped Larson, calling him "" and "." He also had his supporters - by people who wanted to show support for Larson and the other Democrats. 

Larson said he still feels that based on the thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls to his office, a majority of people opposed Walker's bill.

When asked to respond to those who criticized him, Larson stood by leaving the state because, he said, the law would have otherwise passed without anyone realizing everything that was in it.

Rising profile

Larson is no stranger to media attention, having first made waves last fall by successfully challenging an incumbent in his own party, Jeff Plale.

But that was nothing compared to the bright spotlight he has been under the last four weeks. And throughout the time he and the "Wisconsin 14" were in Illinois, the profile of Oak Creek's state senator grew considerably.

Media outlets, both local and national, never seemed to have trouble tracking him down; Larson, for his part, never seemed wont to turn down an opportunity to deliver the Democrats' message.

He attributed his accessibility to being one of the younger senators (he's 30), which meant he was frequently using Twitter and Facebook. He was also quick to point out that in interviews, he always sought to keep the focus on what was best for Wisconsin, despite the situation exploding on the national scene.

"It was very important for us to get our message out," he said.

Interestingly, Larson may not represent Oak Creek much longer. With the release of the U.S. Census comes redistricting, and it's possible Oak Creek will not remain part of his district.

If that happened, it might normally seem like "here today, gone tomorrow." But even though he's only been on the job for two months, the amount of action that's transpired is enough to last for years.

Dean in O.C. March 21, 2011 at 05:38 PM
Lindsey, when you're gambling generally you need to run when you cheated so you don't get shot by the other players. If Sen. Larson thought he needed to run, it would say to me he has cheated (the taxpayers out of his paycheck). One interesting thing I would like to point out about Chris Larson. His predecessor, Sen Plale, would always ackowledge receiving my feedback on any issue. He would always send me a letter thanking me for contacting him and explaining his stance on the issue, regardless of whether I agreed or disagreed with him. It has been over a month since I contacted Sen Larson about my stance on this issue and I have not heard anything from him. To me, that speaks volume about his character. Guess he does have time for the little guy like me!
lavelle March 21, 2011 at 07:20 PM
yes you have to be in the same closet with "snake" larson to get a reply.. otherwise he just "don't" care
Debbie March 21, 2011 at 10:08 PM
FYI........ Dean and Lavelle: I wrote to Honadel and have not heard anything from him.
Juniper March 21, 2011 at 10:18 PM
Interesting...I used a list of emails from a rant on JSOnline for all 14 senators. Not only did they respond but they forwarded my comments onto Chris Larson's office. Parhaps they find the cup-of-crazy tea comments not worth responding to.
LuvOC March 21, 2011 at 10:27 PM
I have written several emails to Larson (not demeaning, just asking questions) and only got a 'standard chain' response. Every time I have written Honadel, I have received a response. The last one took about 10 days ....hes a little busy now. He will now be working on the Child Care Fraud issue that he helped organize, it was funded 500,000 and now because they cant agree...they have decided to scrap it. Mr. Honadel has promised to get on their case again.

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