Talking recall and a potential run for governor with State Senator Kathleen Vinehout
Post by Nathan J Comp on 2/3/2012 10:00am
State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout isn’t officially a Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate yet, but she sure is talking like one.
“What people are telling me is that, ‘You’ve got the personal experience, you’ve got the freshness, and you’ve got the temperament to be governor,’” she says. “I’ll make a decision sometime next week.”
But all signs point to Vinehout joining former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk in seeking the Democratic nomination for Wisconsin governor. Falk is so far the only Democrat to officially announce a run against embattled Gov. Scott Walker in a recall election, which many expect to be held this summer.
On Wednesday dane101 reported that AFSCME leaders indicated in their endorsement interview notes with potential candidates last month that Vinehout, 53, is “definitely planning to run.”
Last Friday she filed the necessary legal papers with the Government Accountability Board and is currently trying to move her grassroots support into a campaign apparatus.
Others, including Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, and former Congressman Steve Kagen (D-Appleton) have also indicated they may enter the race.
However, none of these other potentials have yet to drum up the same level of grassroots enthusiasm that Vinehout has. The two-term Democrat from Alma - located just north of La Crosse - has in recent months been urged by activists and citizens to enter the race.
Supporters admire her straight-talking ways and say that her background will resonate better with voters than would a liberal from Dane or Milwaukee Counties.
But Vinehout isn’t without her critics. Some say she’s too unknown and lacks the campaign experience many believe is necessary to defeat Walker, his well-oiled machine, and the out-of-state money funding it. She has also made some controversial moves in the Legislature, including siding with pro-life Republicans in a debate over 2008’s Birth Control Protection Act.
Vinehout spoke with dane101 this week about her growing base of supporters, positive aspects to Scott Walker’s governorship, and offering a few clues about her own political ambitions.
dane101: So, you’re running for governor?
Kathleen Vinehout: I am definitely seriously considering it. I filed the legal papers with the Government Accountability Board last Friday to be able to move money from my Senate account to my possible campaign. It’s a first step, but it definitely means I’m exploring the possibility. I’ll be making an official announcement within a week, maybe a week-and-a-half.
Are surprised at the level of grassroots support behind you?
I’ve never seen anything like it. I think that there’s never been anything like it since the Bob LaFollette days one hundred years ago. A million signatures? That’s unbelievable. I have people all over the state urging me to run. Wisconsin needs a fresh start. I think voters want that. Yes, it’s been very surprising. All of it.
What do you believe has spurred people to rally around you?
What people are telling me is that we need a fresh face. I came to the Legislature later in my career. I was a full-time dairy farmer before that. I was a full-time university professor. I have a background in agriculture and education. When I was teaching I was also running the graduate and undergraduate programs in health administration. And when you look at the state budget, the largest single parts are health care and education. And when you look the state’s economy, agriculture is a very big part of that.
Some have said you’re too unknown throughout the state to take on Scott Walker in a general election. What steps will your campaign take to build on your current momentum?
I’m going to run a very positive campaign. I have volunteers in different parts of the state, and I’m going to be reaching out to them in as many ways as possible. The five years I’ve been in the Senate I’ve focused on bringing people into the political process.
Act 10 has certainly been a rallying point, but what are some of the other decisions Walker has made that people need to be aware of?
The voter suppression law and all of the pieces around the redistricting; people feel like they’re intentionally being disenfranchised, that Republicans are about winning the next election and not what’s best for the people. People want a candidate who is going to lift up their voice and serve the people, not serve their own gain. We’ve seen a steady stream of that already, from the budget to bad legislation where it’s clear that somebody else is pulling the strings.
In bad situations we’re often told to look at the bright side. Is there a positive side to Walker being in office?
(Laughs) He is the best organizer we have. The best part is that people have gotten engaged like they never have before. I like to quote Bob LaFollette, he said, ‘The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.’ And we’ve definitely had a lot of democracy in 2011, and we’re going into 2012 with a whole lot of democracy to come.
How can Democrats keep from tearing each other apart in the primary?
That’s a really good question. I have run a positive campaign and I will continue to run a positive campaign. It was never about dragging my opponent into the mud. That said I had a very nasty campaign run against me in 2010. I won [against Ed Thompson] and a whole lot of Democrats lost. There was nastiness at every level. Already, in 2012, though I haven’t become an official candidate, I’ve seen some of that nastiness among Democrats. And it’s sad because I think it distracts from what voters want to hear, which is, ‘How are you going to make this state better?’
Voters say they want clean campaigns, but they respond to negative ones.
Like I said, I just went through a pretty nasty campaign with Tommy Thompson’s little brother. I’ve won once already without being negative.
Potential candidates always do this dance when they’re ‘considering’ a run for office. What is there to consider?
The biggest consideration for me is taking the strong grassroots support I have around the state and translating that into campaign organization. I will be running a very unconventional race in a very unconventional time. My race will be focusing on touching voters in a personal way and lifting up the voices of all the people around the state. It’s not about me. It’s about all the people who’ve worked hard to bring about change. I really want them to own this race in a way I’ve never before seen in my life.