Wisconsin Dems Face Divisive Primary Before Walker Recall Election

It would be a truly ignoble end if, after all this recall work, Wisconsin ended up with a new governor who's only Walker lite. But the Democratic party consensus is closing around Barrett, who state Democrats believe has the best chance of

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It would be a truly ignoble end if, after all this recall work, Wisconsin ended up with a new governor who's only Walker lite. But the Democratic party consensus is closing around Barrett, who state Democrats believe has the best chance of beating Walker:

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats organized the protests that gripped the state. They turned Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to strip public unions of their collective bargaining rights into a national Democratic cause. They got the signatures they needed to force a recall election, and then some.

They are now just a little more than a month away from the big showdown with Walker they have been craving for over a year — but rather than excitement, there is growing fear within the party that they just might blow it.

The problem for Democrats is that before they get their shot against Walker, they have to get through a divisive primary between an establishment pick and a union favorite that is threatening to undercut their unified front against the governor.

“We’re nervous,” said Julie Wells, who works with the grass-roots group United Wisconsin. Wells, a forklift operator from Fort Akinson, filed the papers to recall Walker, and she was there when they were submitted. But now volunteers who promised to help aren’t showing up. “We know that we can win this, but we’re not seeing the level of participation we saw during the signature-gathering phase,” she said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker by six percentage points in 2010, is the establishment pick for the May 8 Democratic primary. He leads three other primary candidates by double-digits, according to the latest polls. He has the support of most prominent elected officials in the state and, in a sign of his standing, Republicans have focused their attacks on him.

“The Republicans do not want me to emerge from this primary,” Barrett told a crowd of a hundred or so at a Waukesha coffee shop last week. “They’ve made commercials about several candidates, they’re only running them against me,” he said, because “they view me as the strongest candidate.”

But most of the unions that first revolted against Walker’s legislation have endorsed another candidate: former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk.

For many union leaders, Barrett is, if not as bad as Walker, not good enough either. As mayor, he used the rule changes championed by Walker to take away benefits from city employees. While Falk committed to vetoing any budget that does not include collective bargaining, Barrett favors a more conciliatory special session of the legislature.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, in particular, has aggressively attacked Barrett, at one point suggesting that he supported Walker’s reforms.

More background here.

About Susie Madrak

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