by Eric Brehm
Just over two weeks ago, it was announced that organizers in the state of Wisconsin had collected over 1 million signatures to force a recall election against incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker. While those signatures are still being verified for authenticity, it seems quite likely that enough of them will be upheld to trigger that election. For those of us on the left who have collected signatures and blogged and rallied and done what could be done to force a recall, you can imagine that this news was most welcome to our ears.
Still, there is more to be done. The problem, of course, is that merely triggering a recall election for Scott Walker will not be enough – to truly put forth a Progressive voice in Wisconsin, another candidate has to beat Governor Walker in that election. As you might imagine, a question on the minds of a variety of Progressives throughout Wisconsin is: Who should that candidate be?
The truth is, the Wisconsin Progressive Legacy has been a bit tarnished of late. Yes, we’re the state of Bob La Follette and William Proxmire, and of course we on the left have much of which we’re proud. But lately,Wisconsin seems to be veering in a far more conservative direction – we’re now also the state of Scott Walker and Paul Ryan. So is there a candidate out there who upholds that Progressive tradition? And better still: Can they win?
Four candidates are repeatedly mentioned as being potential opponents to Governor Walker, and the purpose of this post is to introduce you to those four. As of this writing, not all of them have decided to run, and I’m quite certain that before all is said and done a few Democrats will decide to run that are not included on this list. Still, we have to start somewhere, and so here they are.
It should be noted that for each of the four candidates listed here, a recent poll from Marquette University Law School suggests that Scott Walker has an advantage over every single one. Personally, I am not always as enchanted by polls as some others seem to be, but in fairness I’ll report those poll findings so that the reader knows what they are.
I present them with what I view to be pros and cons, but I wish to stress that the pros and cons are often the byproduct of nothing more than my own opinions. Based on the title of this post, you know that I have a favorite, but if you live in Wisconsin, please research any potential candidates for yourself, and make up your own minds. Always remember: There is nothing so dangerous to neo-conservatism as an educated voter.
Kathleen Falk, Former Dane County Executive
Pros: As of this writing, Ms. Falk has the best chance of being the Democratic candidate for governor, simply because she is the only one who has declared her candidacy. She is familiar with politics in Dane County (where Madison is located, for any readers that are out of state), having served as Dane County Executive from 1997 to 2010, when she resigned the position. Prior to that, she worked in the Wisconsin Department of Justice, serving as Assistant Attorney General. She was born in Milwaukee to a middle-class background and has worked successfully with unions in Dane County. She also possesses one quality that I like in potential candidates, and that is she does not hold a current political position. If she runs and wins, so be it; but if she runs and loses, she can fade quietly into the background without having that label hanging around her neck.
Cons: While I give full credit to Ms. Falk in that she has often been elected to local Dane County positions, her record on winning state-wide elections is not the best. In 2002, she became Wisconsin’s first female gubernatorial candidate from a major party, though she lost the primary to Jim Doyle. In 2006 she defeated the incumbent Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager in the primary election, but ultimately lost the general election to current Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. The Marquette University poll referenced above shows that Governor Walker currently leads Ms. Falk 49-42%, a spread of seven points, which is the second largest spread among the candidates (two others tied at six each). However, the poll claims to have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8%, which means that Ms. Falk is within the margin of error (lower Governor Walker by 3.8 and raise Ms. Falk by 3.8, and she wins 45.8-45.2% — yes folks, it’s potentially going to be that close or closer). My biggest con when it comes to Ms. Falk is that I just don’t think she can win. The strike against her is that she is the stereotypical “Madison liberal” — that is, she is on the left in the left-most leaning part of Wisconsin. She has done well in Dane County due to Madison’s liberalism, but my own personal opinion is that she will not be able to carry the whole state. Sorry, Ms. Falk.
Tim Cullen, State Senator from Wisconsin’s 15th District
Pros: Senator Cullen is a Democratic moderate who has now had two stints representing Wisconsin’s 15th District in the State Senate. He has a record of bipartisanship, having been appointed to serve as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services by former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. He gained some degree of notoriety as one of the “Wisconsin 14” – the Democratic State Senators who fled Wisconsin in order to delay passage of Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill. He has stated an interest in running for the nomination, but has not filed to do so as of this writing.
Cons: With all due respect to Senator Cullen, the question most often asked about him lately is: ”Who?” Mr. Cullen simply lacks statewide exposure – despite being one of the Wisconsin 14, he was certainly not the most vocal or outspoken member. His district is in the extreme south, so much of the northern part of the state had never heard of him until this year. To be fair, he has been asked about this, and he has responded that any candidate that opposes Governor Walker will very quickly gain exposure. I believe that’s true, but I also believe that won’t be enough. Others seem to agree with me — the Marquette poll shows Governor Walker beating Senator Cullen 50-40% in a head-to-head matchup, placing him outside of the margin of error. That doesn’t mean he can’t win — if you looked at where Newt Gingrich polled a year ago, you would never believe he would be second in line for the GOP nomination. But it does mean that he will have some significant ground to cover in a short amount of time, and I for one question whether he can do it. Also, if he loses, he has to go back to the State Senate with that loss on his resume. I for one hope that he decides not to file.
Tom Barrett, Mayor of Milwaukee
Pros: Many consider Mayor Barrett to be the best candidate to oppose Governor Walker. After all, Barrett squared off against Scott Walker in 2010, lost narrowly, and the idea is that a number of those who voted Scott Walker into office might like to have their vote over again. A Public Policy Poll conducted January 17 showed that Barrett was the favorite among likely Democratic primary voters among the four potential candidates mentioned in this post. Even other potential candidates have spoken highly of the Milwaukee mayor, and the truth is that in this writer’s opinion, he just seems like a nice guy.
Cons: Despite the Public Policy Poll, Mayor Barrett already lost to Scott Walker once. Yes, a few voters might like to change their votes, but I personally have to question if that’s enough to swing the election his way, especially when a lot more voters are going to be paying attention this time around. The Marquette University poll has him losing to Governor Walker 50-44%, which is in within the margin of error, but doesn’t suggest a wave of remorse among the Wisconsin electorate. As with the three other candidates listed so far, Mayor Barrett is also a candidate from the southern part of the state. Thanks to his time in office, Governor Walker’s name recognition in the northern parts has skyrocketed, while Mayor Barrett’s most likely has not. Also, if he loses, he becomes the guy with the record of losing to Scott Walker twice.
Dave Obey, Former U.S. Congressman
Before I get into the pros and cons of Dave Obey running, I have to reveal my own personal bias for him as a candidate. The truth is, he’s my guy, and I will use this and other platforms to express my heartfelt wish that he would run. I am partial to Dave Obey, and part of that is because he was my district’s representative in U.S. House of Representatives for many years. At my own personal blog at Bang the Buckets, I wrote a piece extolling his virtues as a gubernatorial candidate way back on November 11 of last year, and I haven’t changed my mind much since then; indeed, much of the reasoning I shared there, I will share here.
Pros: Dave Obey has a long-standing history of upholding Progressive values for Wisconsin. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives for over 40 years, holding chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee on several occasions. He retired from the House, and so doesn’t have the stigma that Mayor Barrett has when it comes to losing elections. He’s a known name – he may not have the national recognition that Scott Walker has brought to himself, but he’s known in Wisconsin, most importantly because he is from the northern half of the state. Mr. Obey’s former Congressional district stretched from Wausau to Superior, and that’s where the fight for the Governorship is going to be won. We already know that whoever the Democrats nominate is going to do well in Madison and Milwaukee– we need a candidate that can reach people in other parts of the state. They know Dave Obey up north. They like him. They voted for him to be their Congressman on 21 different occasions. The upcoming election that I believe will be happening was triggered by recall efforts, and certain people will vote for anyone who isn’t Scott Walker. But the election will hinge on moderates, and they won’t give a Democratic victory if it is merely a campaign against Scott Walker. It also has to for someone, and in my humble opinion, Dave Obey should be that someone. Like Ms. Falk, Congressman Obey is not a current officeholder — if it should come to pass that he loses, he can fade quietly back into retirement, knowing that he took one last stand for Progressive values.
Cons: Yes, the cons exist, and the one that is mentioned most often is his age – Congressman Obey is currently in his early 70’s. His critics say he retired knowing that he would be defeated due to his support for President Obama’s health care reforms. And he also currently runs behind Governor Walker in the Marquette University poll, 49-43%, though like Mayor Barrett, that six percent gap is the closest of all candidates and within the margin of error.
Those cons notwithstanding, I still believe that Dave Obey is Wisconsin’s best chance to not only take back the Governorship, but also to reclaim its Progressive heritage. If I had to pick a Democratic candidate for Governor of Wisconsin, I’d pick Dave Obey once each day and twice on Sunday. And if any of this seems reasonable to you, I invite you to do the same.