WI'S PROFILE IN COURAGE
On the day Joe Knilans stood to address his Republican colleagues in a closed-door meeting, he was celebrating his sixty-day anniversary as a Wisconsin assemblyman. It was March 10, the day the assembly was set to take its final vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial bill to limit collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin.
But as the words fell out of Knilans’ mouth, it was clear he was not up for celebrating.
“I just want to say that taking this vote today will probably cost me my job,” he began. “But that’s why I came to Madison — to take votes like this. I never wanted to be a career politician — it’s about doing the right thing.”
Knilans, 46, is an old union hand who used to assemble cars at the recently mothballed General Motors plant in Janesville. In November, he won a shocking victory over the sitting speaker of the assembly, Mike Sheridan, who had been caught having an affair with a registered lobbyist. It was the first time since 1938 a sitting Wisconsin assembly speaker had lost. After such a historic election, “how can I not vote with the people who voted for me?” Knilans told me.
When Knilans finished speaking, his colleagues gave him a standing ovation. Many that watched him speak remember feeling a jolt of electricity pass through the room. They were numb from the passion Knilans exuded in his speech. Soon, more vulnerable representatives stood and expressed their resolve in voting for the collective-bargaining bill.