Democratic Primary in Recall Race Heats Up
Falk launching first candidate ad as Barrett snags Obey endorsement
By Journal Sentinelof the
Madison - The Democratic primary for governor heated up Monday, with Kathleen Falk launching the first candidate ad of the primary contest, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett snagging a key endorsement and turmoil continuing over a Web video critical of Barrett.
The developments came as the Democrats prepared to turn in 2,000 or more signatures each on Tuesday to get on the ballot.
Also Monday, Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said some Republicans may vote for Falk in the Democratic primary because polling shows she does not perform as well as Barrett in head-to-head matchups with GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
"There's nothing to keep the Republicans from messing around," Fitzgerald said.
Wisconsin has an open primary system, meaning all voters - not just Democrats - can vote in the May 8 Democratic primary. The winner will face Walker in the June 5 recall election.
The recall election was prompted by Walker's move last year to sharply curb collective bargaining for nearly all public workers. He is the third governor in the country's history to face a recall election.
Falk, a former Dane County executive, was the first in the race, jumping in just after more than 900,000 signatures were submitted to recall Walker in January. On Monday she announced she would start running a statewide ad beginning Tuesday, making her the first Democrat to do so.
A labor-backed group called Wisconsin for Falk has already been on the air for weeks touting her. On the Republican side, Walker has blanketed the airwaves with ads in recent months, and the Republican Governors Association has been blasting both Falk and Barrett.
Falk doesn't mention Walker by name in her ad, but alludes to conflict over how Republicans have run state government for more than a year.
"I was raised on simple Wisconsin values - work hard, be honest, listen more than you talk," she says in the ad. "Today our leaders have lost sight of that. They made decisions in secret and shut the people out."
Earlier Monday, former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey endorsed Barrett, who served with him in Congress. He called him the Democrats' best shot at beating Walker.
"He will be a strong governor and a fair governor," Obey said. "He will be a rubber stamp to nobody."
Obey, of Wausau, also took a swipe at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 24 for distributing a Web video to its members that suggested Barrett backed Walker's limits on collective bargaining. The attack was "incredibly off the wall" because Barrett is a friend to labor who had to make cuts to city workers because of Walker's cuts to local aid.
"Blaming Tom Barrett for the actions in the Milwaukee budget that were forced by Gov. Walker is like blaming a surgeon who does surgery after a patient is hit by a truck," Obey said in a conference call with reporters. "It's just misdirected and unfair, and it dis serves every union member who receives that information because they have a right to have accurate information in making up their own minds in who we're going to support."
AFSCME put out a statement over the weekend saying some members had raised concerns about circulating the video because it could hurt the effort to replace Walker. AFSCME said that it had used "poor judgment" in distributing the video, but that it was essential to draw distinctions between Barrett and Falk and that Barrett should not get a free pass because he is a Democrat.
"While we used poor judgment in directing our members' attention to an Internet video that went over the top to make its point, we believe it is essential to bring attention to Barrett's record on collective bargaining," the statement said. "Unfortunately, it is not a good record."
Others in race
Also running in the Democratic primary are state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma and Secretary of State Doug La Follette. In addition to those Democrats, Republican Gladys Huber plans to run as a Democrat.
That is part of a state Republican Party effort to run "protest candidates" to ensure there are primaries to allow more time for Republicans facing recall.
Under the state's recall law, an election is scheduled for six weeks after officials determine enough recall signatures have been filed. If more than one candidate from the same party runs, that election becomes a primary, with a general election scheduled for four weeks later.
Republicans were concerned that situation could lead to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Republican senators facing their general elections on the same day of the primary for governor, when Democrats would be drawn to the polls.
Even though a Democratic primary appears all but certain in the race for governor, Republicans are running Huber as a Democrat as an insurance policy, said party spokesman Ben Sparks. It is always possible all but one of the legitimate Democratic candidates would decide not to get on the ballot, he said.
Walker told reporters after bill signings in Milwaukee and Madison he had not worked on the plan to run fake Democrats. But he also said he had not discouraged the Republican Party from advancing its plan.
"I've not been involved in that, but I think everybody in the state wants the election the same day," he said.
Jeremy Levinson, an attorney who does work for the state Democratic Party, wrote a memo last week that said the tactic is a felony violation of election law because candidates must file forms swearing they are "representing" a specific political party.
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen disputed that Monday.
"It's not a violation of any election law that I know of," he said. The idea was first executed last year, when six Republican senators faced recall. They ran fake Democrats that year to give themselves more time to campaign. In that round of elections, Huber ran as a Democrat to help protect Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who ended up winning her recall election.
Fitzgerald, the Republican leader who suggested Republicans might vote for Falk in the gubernatorial primary to create mischief, did not say if he would vote for Falk. He said he was considering voting for Huber, the protest candidate.