Gubernatorial candidates speak separately at UW-W event

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Anyone who came to hear a debate by the Democratic candidates for governor at UW-Whitewater on Wednesday night came away disappointed.

The four candidates did not even appear together. Organizers had them speak separately.

Each gave what sounded like the latest version of their stump speeches—which at least gave the 250 or so attendees an idea of who might be the best candidate to take on Gov. Scott Walker in the June 5 recall election.

All four candidates made at least subtle references to their opponents in the May 8 Democratic primary, but there was almost no attempt to respond to each other.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett spoke first and left early. Several other Democratic politicians spoke, including Mahlon Mitchell, the Democrats' candidate for lieutenant governor.

Then the other three gubernatorial contenders spoke. First was Secretary of State Doug La Follette, then former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and finally state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma.

Barrett said before he entered the race, he was watching TV and saw an ad from the Republican Governor's Association attacking him.

The same group launched another ad against him Wednesday, he said, because they don't want him to win the primary.

"And quite honestly, I can't think of a better recommendation in the world for you to vote for me than the fact that they don't want me to come out of this primary, because they know that I'm the strongest candidate against Scott Walker," Barrett said.

Barrett called all four candidates excellent, but he said he is the one who can end "the civil war in Wisconsin."

All the candidates stuck to the theme of taking Wisconsin back from what La Follette called extreme, right-wing politicians.

Most of the candidates touched on worker's rights, women's rights, health care for the poor, education funding and job creation, saying Walker is wrong on those issues.

"They have taken over Wisconsin," La Follette said. "But we're going to show them, and we're going to take it back again."

La Follette said he is not aligned with the super PACs, perhaps a reference to Falk. He said he is not the candidate of the good-old-boys' endorsements, likely a reference to Barrett.

La Follette said he is the candidate who can get independent and Republican votes. He noted he won his race for secretary of state in the year Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold lost and in all the years that Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson won.

La Follette appeared to be the only candidate in the room without his name on a flyer. He did pass out his own campaign buttons, however.

Falk said she balanced a budget for 14 years as Dane County executive, longer than any of the other candidates. She said she is the candidate with the strongest record on workers' rights, saying "there's no other candidate that can go toe-to-toe with him (Walker) on that important point."

Falk defended her pledge to veto any state budget that does not restore union bargaining rights for public employees, which the Republicans took away with Act 10.

The budget bill is the only bill that must be passed every two years, so it's the only way to restore those rights, Falk said.

Falk said she was part of the recall movement from the beginning and was the first to file a lawsuit challenging Act 10. She accused Barrett of signing a recall petition more than a month after the campaign began, "and then reluctantly."

Falk defended her strong support from unions, which some have criticized. She welcomed that support and said it's part of her "big tent that it takes to beat Scott Walker."

Vinehout spoke last, defending her escape to Illinois last year with the rest of the Democratic senators in their bid to hold up action on Act 10.

It was the only way, Vinehout said, to stop the Republicans from passing the bill immediately and to give people enough time to understand what the bill would do and to organize against it.

All the candidates received applause, but Vinehout's fiery crescendo at the end of her speech got the most enthusiastic response of the night from the largely partisan crowd. If there were Walker supporters in the room, they remained silent.

"We need a governor who listens to the people and does the will of the people," Vinehout said. "If you are really tired of money in politics, I'm your candidate. If you are tired of politics as usual, go for the unusual."

The UW-Whitewater College Democrats, who pulled off the difficult feat of getting all four candidates in one room, said the last three candidates would be together for a question period at the end of the night, but by the time Vinehout finished, the others were gone.

Barrett said after his speech that he thought the event was going to be a forum. He didn't know why it was changed to individual presentations.

"They just changed the format," Barrett said.

Falk said she wanted to debate.

Bryant Plank of the College Democrats said the format was changed because he was told "through the grapevine" that Barrett had to leave early.

Last updated: 8:04 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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