Politics
4:26 am
Tue May 8, 2012

Wis. Primary To Choose A Candidate To Face Walker

Originally published on Tue May 8, 2012 12:00 pm

Shortly after he took office last winter, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans in the Legislature enraged Democrats and public employee unions by cutting collective bargaining rights, and Wisconsin has been on fire politically ever since. A protest movement forced a recall election, scheduled for June 5, and now, voters in Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary will select Walker's challenger.

At Franks Diner in downtown Kenosha, Wis., the prices are low, the food is piled high, and the motto is "be nice or leave." So bartender Amber Rodriguez, from nearby Racine, tries to put this nicely: When it comes to working people, she says, Walker hasn't been very nice.

"It doesn't really seem like he's trying to do anything to help anybody," she says. "He seems like he's going more toward bigger business and trying to give them whatever they want."

For many, it doesn't seem to matter much who wins the Democratic primary, as long as it's someone who can beat Walker.

Leading Challengers: Barrett And Falk

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett spent lunchtime Monday shaking hands and chatting with voters at Franks and two other crowded Kenosha diners. He was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010 and narrowly lost to Walker. Now, just 18 months later, he wants a second chance.

He says he is not focusing at all on his primary opponents.

"I'm just focusing on Scott Walker, that's who I'm focusing on," Barrett says. "And I think the state wants someone who can restore trust to government, someone who can start healing these divisions in this civil war Scott Walker started, someone who's going to focus on jobs here in Wisconsin instead of traveling around the country giving fundraising speeches."

But before he can get his rematch, Barrett must defeat a formidable primary opponent — former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.

Falk is campaigning in Barrett's backyard, on Milwaukee's north side, with public employees whose unions helped gather the nearly 1 million petition signatures that made this recall election happen.

Falk says her campaign has something Barrett's doesn't: "My campaign has the support of this big tent, this unprecedented coalition of groups, such as labor groups, behind me, environmental groups, women's groups, community organizing groups. All those organizations have endorsed my campaign, and that's what it takes to beat a governor who's got $25 million."

'Like The Opening Act At A Rock Concert'

Falk, Barrett and two other Democrats on the ballot have all vowed to unite behind the winner of Tuesday's primary. And that makes this preliminary election just that.

"This is kind of like the opening act at a rock concert," says Mordecai Lee, a professor of governmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. "The electorate almost doesn't care who the Democratic nominee is. The electorate has taken sides. And people in Wisconsin, whether they're for Gov. Walker or against Gov. Walker, are very hyped up; they're very energized."

Lee says that means after Tuesday's warm-up vote, the "be nice" phase of this campaign will give way to a long month of intense, angry attack ads leading up to the main show June 5.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news. Today Wisconsin holds a Democratic primary to choose a challenger to Republican Governor Scott Walker. The governor faces a recall vote next month, June 5th, courtesy of a protest movement that turned in more than enough signatures to force that election. The two leading Democrats spent their final full day of campaigning focusing their attacks on Governor Walker rather than each other. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: It's cash only at the simultaneously greasy and quaint historic Frank's Diner in downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin. The prices are low and the food piled high. The specialty is a heaping mash of hash browns, veggies, eggs and meat called the Frank's Garbage Plate.

AMBER RODRIGUEZ: Two meat, veggies, table eight.

SCHAPER: And at Frank's, the motto is be nice or leave. So Amber Rodriguez, a bartender from nearby Racine, tries to put this nicely: When it comes to working people, she says Governor Scott Walker, well, hasn't been very nice.

RODRIGUEZ: It doesn't really seem like he's trying to do anything to help anybody. He seems like he's going more towards bigger businesses and, you know, trying to give them whatever they want.

SCHAPER: Shortly after taking office last winter, Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature infuriated public employees in the state, pushing through a law eliminating almost all of their collective bargaining rights. And Wisconsin has been on fire politically ever since. Rodriguez says she isn't sure yet who she'll be voting for in today's Democratic primary, but for her and many others it doesn't seem to matter much who wins, as long as it's someone who can beat Scott Walker in the recall election June 6th.

MAYOR TOM BARRETT: I just thought I'd say hello. My name's Tom Barrett and I'm running for governor. Hi, how are you doing?

SCHAPER: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2010 and narrowly lost to Walker. Now, just 18 months later, he wants a second chance. Barrett spent lunchtime shaking hands and chatting with voters in this and two other crowded Kenosha diners and cafes. And as he campaigns, Barrett says he's not focusing at all on his primary opponents.

BARRETT: I'm just focusing on Scott Walker, that's who I'm focusing on. And I think the state wants someone who can restore trust to government, someone who can start healing these divisions in this civil war that Scott Walker started, someone who's going to focus on jobs here in the state of Wisconsin as opposed to travelling around the country giving fundraising speeches.

SCHAPER: But before he can get his rematch of 2010, Barrett first must defeat a formidable primary opponent, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Falk for governor, Falk for governor, Falk for governor.

SCHAPER: Falk is campaigning in Mayor Barrett's backyard on Milwaukee's North Side with public employees whose unions helped gather the nearly one million signatures on petitions that made this recall election happen. So while Barrett leads in recent polls, Falk says her campaign has something Barrett's doesn't.

KATHLEEN FALK: My campaign has the support of this big tent, this unprecedented coalition of groups such as labor groups behind me, environmental groups, women's groups, community organizing groups. All those organizations have endorsed my campaign and that's what it takes to beat a governor who's got $25 million dollars.

SCHAPER: Falk, Barrett and two other Democrats on the ballot have all vowed to unite behind the winner of today's primary, and that makes this preliminary election just that.

MORDECAI LEE: This is sort of like the opening act at a rock concert.

SCHAPER: Mordeca Lee is professor of governmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.

LEE: The electorate almost doesn't care who the Democratic nominee is. The electorate has taken sides. And people in Wisconsin, whether they're for Governor Walker or against Governor Walker, are very hyped up, they're very energized.

SCHAPER: And Lee says that means after this warm-up vote today, the be nice phrase of this campaign will give way to a long month of intense, angry attack ads leading up to the main show June 5th.

David Schaper, NPR News, Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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