“The Second Most Important Election in America”

On Saturday, April 21, Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show, a nightly news program on MSNBC, spoke at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. Dr. Maddow, who received her PhD in politics from Oxford University, spoke to a capacity crowd of some 2,400 people.


She said, “The Wisconsin recall election is the second most important election in America this year.” After the applause died down she added, “No pressure.”

The Primary for the Wisconsin Recall election is scheduled for Tuesday, May 8. For a complete listing of the candidates, see the Ballot Box on page XX. Included in the candidate roster for this election are a number of declared Republicans who are running on the Democratic ticket. These candidates are noted as “fake” Democrats in the Ballot Box listing, and are not included in this article, which offers a brief overview of the major candidates for office in this election.


Democrats Running for Governor

Tom Barrett

 Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was first elected to public office in 1984, when he was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly. He served two terms before making a successful run for the Wisconsin State Senate in 1989 in a special election. In 1992 he was elected to the US Senate when he succeeded Congressman Jim Moody in the Fifth Congressional District. He served for four additional terms before redistricting after the 2000 census combined his seat with the Fourth District. In 2004 he won the Milwaukee mayoral election, defeating Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt who took office after the resignation of John Norquist. Barrett was reelected in 2008.

Mayor Barrett received national attention when he was attacked by a man with a tire iron outside the Wisconsin State Fair grounds on August 15, 2009. He was defending a woman who was in a heated confrontation with the assailant, and suffered injuries to his head and some permanent damage to his hand.

Mayor Barrett ran against Scott Walker for Governor in 2010, and was defeated with 47 percent of the vote to Walker’s 52 percent.

In the current campaign for Governor, Barrett identifies job creation as a major issue. First on the agenda are collective bargaining rights, which were stripped from many unions in the early days of Gov. Walker’s administration. Barrett has pledged to restore full bargaining rights to unions.

During his time as mayor, Barrett has played a leadership role in the Menomonee Valley project, which now supports nearly 4,000 jobs. In 2011, Helios, makers of solar panels and Ingeteam, a windmill manufacturer opened new factories in the Menomonee Valley.

Barrett is also strong on transportation issues. As recently as March of this year he testified to the State Transportation Commission, calling for the state to return to the policy of directing 40 percent of its transportation spending to local road and bridge work, rather than the 25 percent in place now.

Environmental issues are also high on the list. He is a long-time proponent of the Great Lakes Compact. During his time as mayor he implemented a storm water park in the Menomonee Valley that won an award from the Sierra Club. He installed a green roof on the downtown library and a food garden outside City Hall. He also converted more than 35 percent of the city’s fleet to run on bio-diesel.

Barrett’s major competition comes from former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.


Kathleen Falk

Thirty-five years ago Kathleen Falk began her career as an environmental lawyer. In 1997 she was elected as Dane County’s first woman County Executive. She was re-elected three times and became the longest serving Executive in the county’s history.

Falk is known for her ability to bring people with opposing viewpoints to agreement. At a recent Marquette University panel discussion, she recounted a process that she used to bring together developers and environmentalists who disagreed over how to meet the needs of Dane County’s growing population. She brought representatives of the two sides together over maps of the county and bowls of M&Ms. As they placed the candies on the maps in areas where they thought it would be best to develop housing, they discovered that they agreed on most of the sites.

Falk earned a BA in philosophy from Stanford University in 1973 and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1976. She is also a graduate of Harvard University’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program.

Thus far Barrett and Falk have had one major area of contention in their approach to the race. Falk, who has won the early support of the state’s largest unions, has pledged that she will not sign any budget that does not restore collective bargaining rights. Barrett takes issue with this strategy, because if the state legislature maintains a Republican majority, it’s doubtful such a budget will pass. In Wisconsin if a budget is not passed, the preceding budget is kept in place and the state government does not shut down. Barrett proposes to introduce a separate bill to restore collective bargaining rights, call a special session and persuade moderate Republicans to vote for the bill.


Doug La Follette

La Follette has a PhD in organic chemistry from Stanford University. He was known as an environmentalist before running for public office, and was a Wisconsin organizer of the first Earth Day for Gaylord Nelson in 1970 and co-founded Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade (now known as Clean Wisconsin) with Peter Anderson. He is a great-grand nephew of Wisconsin’s “Fighting Bob” La Follette.

La Follette was elected Secretary of State of Wisconsin in 1974. He unsuccessfully ran for Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin on a ticket with Governor Martin Schreiber in 1978. In 1982, he was again elected Secretary of State, defeating incumbent Vel Phillips, and has held that office ever since.

During the height of the Madison protests in March of 2011, La Follette gained recognition by refusing to publish Gov. Walker’s “budget repair bill” until the last legal moment, allowing challenges to move through the courts.


Kathleen Vinehout

Kathleen Vinehout spent ten years running the family dairy farm near Alma, Wisconsin, in the western part of the state. Before that she spent ten years teaching health administration at the University of Illinois in Springfield.

She was elected to the Senate in 2006 and re-elected in 2010 and is serving her second four-year term. She lists agriculture and changing the political culture as two of her top priorities.


 Republicans Running for Governor

Scott Walker (incumbent)

Walker attended Marquette University for four years but did not graduate. He first ran for office in 1990 at age 22, winning the Republican nomination for Milwaukee’s 7th District seat in the Wisconsin State Assembly but losing in the general election to incumbent Democrat Gwen Moore. He moved to Wauwatosa and ran for Assembly when that seat opened up in 1993, winning the special election.

Walker became Milwaukee County Executive by winning a special election called in April 2002, after the County Executive Tom Ament resigned after a county pension fund scandal. He was elected to a four-year term in 2004, another in 2008, defeating State Senator Lena Taylor.

Walker won the office on a platform of fiscal conservatism, and promised to give back part of his own salary. He returned $60,000 per year (slightly less than half of his salary) for several years, but by 2008, he reduced his give-back to $10,000 per year. During his time in office, he cut the number of county employees by more than twenty percent, and reduced the county’s debt by ten percent. However, according to an Associated Press article, “overall county spending … increased 35 percent over his tenure”.

The Greater Milwaukee Committee produced a report indicating that the county had come to be “in such dire financial shape that state lawmakers should push through legislation that would allow it and other local governments to file for bankruptcy”, according to Daniel Bice in an October, 2010 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

It’s pretty hard to be unaware of the litany of complaints against Scott Walker since has inauguration as governor. From stripping collective bargaining rights from unions to signing a bill that would make it a felony for doctors to skip the government-mandated protocol for abortions, Walker has signed bill after bill into law, citing the need to cut costs.

This is the first time a Wisconsin governor has been subject to a recall election. If he loses the election, he will be only the third governor ever to be recalled in US history.


Arthur Kohl-Riggs

Although Arthur Kohl-Riggs was a regular at the Madison protests in 2011, he has always identified himself as a Republican “in the tradition of Lincoln and ‘Fighting Bob’ La Follette.” Kohl-Riggs claims that his candidacy will “help facilitate the conversations Wisconsinites need to have in order to move our state forward. I hope to bring clarity and honesty, along with some much needed humor, to the rhetoric-heavy and substance-light political atmosphere.” As with so much of this election, there is a heavy strategic element to Kohl-Riggs’s candidacy. He explains, “By ensuring that Walker has an opponent on the primary ballot I am encouraging his supporters to cast their vote for him, rather than voting to disingenuously influence the Democratic nomination process.”


Democrats Running for Lieutenant Governor

Mahlon Mitchell

A familiar face to Madison protestors in the winter of 2011, Mahlon Mitchell is president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. Day after day the firefighters marched through the capitol rotunda, dressed in kilts and playing bagpipes. They joined the struggle in solidarity with other unions, even though they were exempt from the collective bargaining bill. Mitchell was a frequent speaker at rallies. “We have a fire in the house of labor, we are here to put it out,” Mitchell was fond of saying.


Ira Robins

A former Milwaukee private investigator, Ira Robins is accepting no campaign contributions and asking any group that endorses him to spend no money on his behalf, in the interest of combating the influence of large campaign donations. He is also very vocal in his support of Wisconsin’s teachers.


Republican Running for Lieutenant Governor

Rebecca Kleefisch (incumbent)

Since Rebecca Kleefisch was recalled but has no Republican opponents, she will run in the General Election in June against whoever wins the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor.


Will You Make Your Mark on History?

In an editorial on page 3, activist Chris Christie points out that some 3,000 people living in Riverwest who signed the recall petition for Governor Walker are not regular voters. If the gubernatorial recall election is, as Dr. Maddow suggests, “the second most important election in America this year,” it’s important that every voter make the effort to vote in the upcoming primary and in the recall election scheduled for June 5.

The whole world is watching Wisconsin.