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Why We Support Kathleen Falk for Governor, and Why Wisconsin’s Left Should Too

Originally posted on Defend Wisconsin on March 20, 2012.

By Alex Hanna and Mike Amato

Ever since February 11, 2011, all eyes have been on Wisconsin as ground zero in the battle ground of the working class versus monied interests and their populist tea party manifestations. The culmination of this, along with the mass of popular support for public employees and galvanization of labor, is the recall of  Governor Scott Walker. The Wall Street Journal has called the recall the “most important non-presidential election of the decade.” With over a million signatures gathered and the participation of thousands of Wisconsinites in the process, it’s easy to see why. With the primary set for May 5, we need to rally around a candidate that will take on Walker and stand for our values in the state house.

That candidate is Kathleen Falk.

First and foremost, Falk has made a pledge to veto any budget that doesn’t include collective bargaining, and has been the only candidate, both declared and not declared, to do so. In pure procedural terms, this is the only way for Wisconsin public employees to regain those rights that Walker stripped away in the near future. No legislative act will restore collective bargaining as long as extremist Republicans hold control over the legislature. Even if Senate is flipped in the recalls, Republicans will still control the Assembly.  And a “special session” of the legislature – the strategy espoused by other contenders – does not even necessarily bind legislators to attend, much less vote. Falk proudly repeats that she will not accept a budget that does not include collective bargaining, most openly writing an op-ed in The Cap Times.

Collective bargaining was the linchpin issue that brought hundreds of thousands to the Capitol last winter, and it should be given the same stature in the recall election. That Falk has made restoring collective bargaining one of the mantle pieces of her campaign makes our support of her a no-brainer. And this, after last summer’s election, when those running in recall races shied away from the issue.  This was a bold move for Falk, who took flak from both Republicans and Democrats.

It’s not just her unwavering support of labor that makes Falk the strongest candidate. Her strong record on environmental and women’s issues have earned the support of Clean Wisconsin Action Fund and EMILY’s List. Falk shows a strong record of transparency, cooperation, and executive initiative in her 14 years as executive of Dane County.  She has made a commitment of openness and honesty, and has laid out a plan to restore transparency to state government. This is a breath of fresh air after Walker’s repeated attempts to stifle civic participation by restricting citizen access to the Capitol, reducing voting rights, and violating open meetings laws. Furthermore, this is a violation that County Executive Falk sued over in March 2011, fighting Walker in court while our union was fighting alongside thousands of occupiers in the Capitol. John Nichols has applauded Falk’s push for transparency and made the point that Walker’s lack of transparency and attack on collective bargaining rights are closely related, something that Falk makes clear in her push for both.

Falk has come out swinging, declaring her candidacy shortly after the recall signatures had been submitted. She’s come for a fight, hiring experienced and committed campaign staff. It’s going to take that kind of enthusiasm to challenge Walker’s Koch-backed defense.

What about the concessions she got out of county workers in 2010?

 

Criticism of Falk from the Left has focused around the concessions that county workers in Dane County gave in order to balance the budget. While Falk speaks in the strongest terms about the need for collective bargaining, she likes to talk about how she was able to generate nearly $10 million in savings by negotiating with these workers. A budget shortfall is a difficult task for any executive, at any level of government. In Wisconsin, counties are required to balance budgets every time one is created. For 14 years, Falk had been able to do this without relying on tax hikes that exceeded CPI, a restriction that she set on herself and the county board. Only in the 2010 budget didshe raise taxes, which resulted in a 7.9% tax levy, about a $38 increase on the average Madison home.

The other part of closing Dane County’s budget shortfall was to negotiate with county workers and gain concessions from them in the 2010 budget. A recent Politifact article outlines in detail what was cut and what workers got in exchange. In addition to compensation and time off, the 2010 contract also included specific language making it much more difficult for the county to privatize services, a major priority of Dane County unions. The bottom line is that she negotiated with these workers during the worst recession in decades, negotiating benefits in exchange for the sacrifices and binding them only to pay decreases within that particular budget cycle. Unlike Walker, she met frequently with union negotiators and took workers’ concerns seriously.

But she’s a Madison liberal! No one will vote for her outside of Madison.

 

As more and more polling is done, that argument loses strength. In the last PPP poll, Falk led Walker 49-48 in a head-to-head race, an 8 percent increase from PPP’s previous poll. When asked how she would fair outside of Madison, Falk responds: “It’s a Republican talking point because the Republicans are worried that a Dane County Democrat can win… We elect more statewide leaders from Dane County than anywhere.”

What about other candidates?  We hear good things about …

Tom Barrett
Barrett still hasn’t officially declared, but commands a lot of name recognition from his 2010 run against Walker. He’s able to bide his time because he’s still sitting on a bit of cash from that campaign.  Even though this may position him to be more “electable,” other facts about him give us pause.

Barrett’s relationship with labor has been strained at best. According a Milwaukee union leader, he’s engendered little trust from the labor community and has sided with monied interests rather the city’s workers. He’s done little to combat unemployment or to stimulate Milwaukee’s economy, a crisis that has disproportionately affected the black population. Milwaukee stands as the 4th poorest city in the country under his tenure. Days after the Budget Repair Bill was proposed by Walker, Barrett actually criticized the Budget Repair Bill for not going far enough by not cutting the “Cadillac” (his words) plans of Milwaukee police and fire fighters.

Doug LaFollette
LaFollette has been tepid to his approach to the gubernatorial race. In an interview with Dane101, he hesitantly claims that he threw his hat in so that his name would be in the polls. But he admits he would rather yield to someone like US Senator Herb Kohl, a moderate liberal. LaFollette plays the populist position without taking any political stands or making commitments, especially regarding collective bargaining. Furthermore, he’s got no staff and hasn’t been serious about fundraising. With the primary about a month away and Walker gathering millions from out of state, this cautious approach to campaigning is worrisome.

 

Kathleen Vinehout 
The only other person who has officially declared, Vinehout, a State Senator from northern Wisconsin, has taken strong stances on environment issues and health care. However, she’s refrained from making a pledge to veto any budget that doesn’t include collective bargaining, instead suggesting that those rights could be reinstituted through the Senate. But that’s simply not possible with a Republican-controlled Assembly.

Vinehout has also taken heat with her position on women’s right to choose. In her amendment to a 2008 bill, Vinehout would have allowed pharmacists to refrain from providing contraceptives based on moral grounds.  She later backpedaled on this and now claims to have supported reproductive rights. A NARAL press release shows how her actions contradict her rhetoric:

“In 2008, while serving on the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services, SB 398 was allowed to die in committee after Vinehout indicated she was opposed to the bill. Had it reached a vote, Vinehout had indicated that she would have cast the deciding vote against the bill. SB 398 which would have repealed Wisconsin’s unconstitutional criminal abortion ban and removed criminal penalties for women who seek an abortion.”

This controversy highlights the questionable positions that Vinehout has staked out with regard to these  issues. Furthermore, it highlights a certain opacity to claims that she has made about her legislative record. Last and not least, the Senator has not had the kind of executive experience one needs to be able lead Wisconsin.

Peter Barca
Although Peter Barca, the minority leader who hails from Kenosha, has refrained from declaring his candidacy, his name has been bandied about by some notable progressive activists. Barca has made himself more visible recently, making speeches at a Wisconsin Wave-organized rally in February and speaking out against Walker in reaction to the recent jobs report that shows the state as having the nation’s worst job growth.

Barca has spoken admirably against the degradation of the environment and for a return to transparency to Wisconsin state government. However, like Vinehout, he has refrained from making a pledge to veto a budget that doesn’t include collective bargaining.  He too would attempt to run bills through the legislature to regain bargaining rights, but he would not be able to get past the Republican-controlled Assembly. The Minority Leader must surely know that. And also like Vinehout, Barca has only legislative experience and has never been an executive.

A final question that we have surrounding a Barca candidacy is this: why has he taken so long to announce? Running a successful campaign is going to take a lot of work; we know and appreciate that he has been fighting the good fight in the Assembly, but a serious campaign needs infrastructure, staff, and volunteers.  Barca has yet to establish any of these, and declined an invitation to be interviewed by the AFT-W COPE. We think Falk has put it best: “You can’t wait until March 19 for the GAB to say the election date is six weeks from now.”

For all of these reasons, we support Kathleen Falk for governor.

Alex Hanna is the Co-President of the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA), AFT #3220 and Mike Amato is Chair of the Political Education Committee of the TAA. Disclaimer: This op-ed reflects only the opinions of its authors and not of any organization.

Posted by on March 20, 2012.

Categories: Labor, Op-Ed

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