The Life of a Fugitive Democrat

Lurking in hotels across northern Illinois, 13 Wisconsin senators remain on the lam, ducking in and out of the news as Gov. Scott Walker turns up the heat to beckon their return home.

"We're here for a reason," said Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach when NBCChicago caught up with him at his Chicago discount hotel room. "That reason is we believe what the governor is doing is wrong."

Last week, Governor Walker caused a stir in Madison when he proposed a "budget repair bill" that aimed to scale back public workers' benefits and eliminate collective bargaining rights for unions.

In order to delay a vote on the bill, some Democrats including Erpenbach, fled the state.

Today, Erpenbach is holed up in a cheap room with an old tube TV. The scene is bachelor-esque. His bed is unmade and last night's dinner, an almost-empty box of toffee popcorn, is cast to the side. His backpack and small duffle are on the floor, and a wrinkled shirt is tossed aside. 

"I'm paying for it right now and my dad helped me out with some of his points from a hotel chain," Erpenbach said.

This is Erpenbach's third hotel. He and his 13 colleagues go on Priceline every few days to find the best hotel room on a budget.

On Thursday, Wisconsin state troopers were dispatched to the Democrats' (real) homes in hopes of finding the group that skipped town to delay the vote on Walker's controversial budget plan.

But the senators aren't ready to leave Illinois just yet, which is just fine with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn who told a group at the City Club Thursday that he was "happy to have lawmakers visiting our state."

Erpenbach and his 12 comrades don't really want to stay. The group, scattered in other hotels, has a way to arrange in-person meetings together, but Erpenbach won't say where or how.

"We're all no more than an hour and a half away from each other," he says.

Erpenbach emphasized that Walker's Friday time limit to vote on the bill is not a hard deadline and that neither he nor his fellow Democratic senators plan to go back until the governor acquiesces on the workers rights issue. 

They believe they have until Monday or Tuesday before things get critical.

For now, Erpenbach is seeing some support from locals. Chicagoans with second homes in Wisconsin have e-mailed him saying he can bunk with them.

Still, they want to go home.

"Chicago is nice," he said. "Not as nice as Wisconsin, but it's nice. It's expensive, though."

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