Total Recall: Sen. Kathleen Vinehout ‘definitely running’
Post by Nathan J Comp on 2/1/2012 12:30pm
The Democratic primary for Wisconsin governor is poised to get a little wider as State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) “is definitely planning to run,” according to notes taken during a series of union endorsement interviews in Milwaukee early last month.
The notes, obtained exclusively by this reporter and that shed light on an extraordinary joint meeting of Wisconsin’s three AFSCME Councils on Jan. 11, also show that former Congressman Steve Kagen (D-Appleton) is strongly considering a gubernatorial bid, as well.
Vinehout wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The endorsement interviews were conducted to screen potential Democratic candidates, including those currently uncommitted to running. With the election timeline in flux union leaders wanted to cast as wide a net as possible, since a recall election could be held as early as late April.
More likely, a Democratic primary, which is now all but certain, will push the earliest election date back to May 22.
However, the document indicates that union leaders expect legal challenges by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Party to push the election into the summer.
“With so much at stake and so little time to set the stage, AFSCME leaders put out a call for everybody considering a run against Walker,” it reads.
In addition to Vinehout, interviews included former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who declared her candidacy last month; state Sen. Tim Cullen, who today officially bowed out of the race; state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who told union leaders, “I might not be an ideal candidate right now.”; and Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), who is still weighing his run.
Former Congressman Dave Obey (D-Wausau) and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who both have been widely urged to run, turned down the union’s interview requests.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who has expressed interest in running, didn’t participate due to a scheduling conflict. However, the unions have urged Barrett not to run, due to what they see as his willingness to embrace Act 10, which stripped most public workers of their collective bargaining rights.
Referencing a discussion among union leaders following the interviews, the document notes, “One sentiment was clear, and that is that there would be no AFSCME support should Barrett decide to enter into the recall race.”
Vinehout, elected to the state Senate in 2006, emerged last month as a grassroots favorite, though her star has been rising since joining 13 other state senators who fled the state last February in an effort to stall the passage of Act 10.
The notes also indicate that Vinehout “doesn’t feel her relatively unknown status is a disadvantage.” Acknowledging this reality, Vinehout told union leaders that strong grassroots support can overcome a better-financed, better-known opponent.
Interview questions centered on what kind of enthusiasm each candidate believed they could generate, and what their first order of business would be if elected. Speaking to the union, answers predictably became promises to repeal Act 10 and protect the state’s retirement system.
Both Erpenbach and Kagen told the union they support collective bargaining rights, but stressed they didn't believe collective bargaining should be the central issue of a potential gubernatorial bid. Erpenbach was quoted as saying, "If this is about collective bargaining alone, we aren’t going to win."
A Dane County resident, Falk touted her time as county executive, noting her efforts to work with AFSCME to cut costs after the market crashed in 2008. “We are the poster child for proving that you don’t have to do what Walker did,” Falk is quoted as saying.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article still had Sen. Tim Cullen as a declared candidate for governor. This has been changed to reflect Cullen's announcement Wednesday that he is officially bowing out of the race.