Local Politics

Democratic recall candidates make their case at final debate

Candidates to square off Tuesday in primary

MADISON, Wis. - Democrats running in the recall election for governor spent most of the time agreeing with each other -- with some exceptions -- during Friday night's debate.

The forum was the last face-off between the candidates before next Tuesday's primary, which will determine who will challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker next month.

All four candidates appeared at the debate hosted in Wisconsin Public Television's Madison studios on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Most of the time, the candidates once again shied away from attacks against each other, instead focusing on Walker.  

However, the candidates were all clearly trying to leave an impression with voters before Tuesday's primary. Their chief argument was a promise to deliver more jobs to the state.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett started the debate by pointing out that all candidates had largely stayed positive in their campaigns. In this discussion, however, candidates did draw some differences.

Secretary of State Doug La Follette said that he could be someone all Wisconsinites rally to.

"We don't need a polarizing figure," said La Follette. "I'm not a Madison liberal or a big-city mayor. I'm just Doug La Follette, who has been shaking hands across Wisconsin for, I don't know, 30 years or so. I can bring us together."


State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout vowed to bring an end to the charged, political atmosphere that has  consumed the state since the governor's collective bargaining legislation was proposed last year.

"I'm tired of hearing about war," said Vinehout. "We need a leader to bring a fresh start to Wisconsin government and politics, and I have that different perspective."

Barrett and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, the two frontrunners in the race, primarily disagreed on the main issue they've discussed all along: collective bargaining. Falk said she'd veto a budget without it, and Barrett instead is emphasizing a special session to deal with the issue.

During the debate, the candidates primarily emphasized how they would bring the state together.

"In 2008, I was re-elected (as mayor) with 79 percent of the vote. And earlier this year, I was elected with 71 percent of the vote, and that happened because I like to work with people and it's important to respect people that you disagree with," said Barrett.

"When a family is at war, and I think sometimes that happens and people can relate to that. It takes a mom to usually get folks together," said Falk. "She has the firm hand and knows how to get people together without losing face, and that's what I think our state needs. We need a mom, and I'm anxious to be that mom and get us back working together and solving problems."

"I agree with Kathleen (Vinehout) that I don't like to talk about war, but there has been an ideological war that's been lasting for 16 months, and I will end the civil war in Wisconsin," said Barrett.

"On Tuesday, you have an important decision to make," Falk said in her closing arguments. "Some elected officials who are good people are urging you to support Tom (Barrett) because they think he's the one that can beat Scott Walker. I disagree. I think the only people that can beat Scott Walker are you."

Candidates faced questions about health care, tax changes and school funding, and the next election they would face if they were to beat Walker.

One panelist asked candidates to name one promise they want voters to hold them to.

"I think governors and candidates make too many promises because we need a Legislature we can work with," said La Follette. "I'm committed, if I'm governor, starting in June to travel the state working with candidates, Republican and Democrat, who are willing to sit down with me in the next session and deal with all these issues we've talked about."

"The promise I will make is I will bring a new way to govern Wisconsin, with a governor that focuses on details," said Vinehout.

"From a policy standpoint, I want to set my priority, and my priority is to do what I can to replenish some of the cuts. And I say some of the cuts because it will be difficult to do all of the cuts that have been made to the technical schools, the university and, most importantly, to K-12," said Barrett.

"Here is my word: One, no one will work harder than I to get people back working, Jobs is No. 1," said Falk. "No. 2, I will be open, honest and transparent."

Falk and others also promised to focus on job creation, as they agreed that it remains the main concern of many voters.

Given there were no major attacks or huge policy points made by any candidate, it remains unclear how the debate would affect any of the candidates' standing with the public. In the Marquette University Law School poll released Thursday, Barrett had a 17-point lead on his challengers.

All four candidates will hit the road on Saturday, campaigning at stops across the state.

The general recall election is set for June 5.

The governor's opponents have forced Walker and five other Republicans into recalls as payback for Walker's collective bargaining law, which strips most public workers of nearly all their union rights.

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