Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Democrats Press the Flesh in Final Days

For the first time ever, Wisconsin voters will go to the polls today to decide which candidate will take of the governor in an recall election. Republican Incumbent Scott walker is only the third governor is U. S. history to face recall. Organizers launched the effort last winter after he pushed forward a bill to strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers. WUWM’s Marti Mikkelson reports on how the Democratic contenders have been crisscrossing the state, each wanting their name opposite Walker’s on the June 5 ballot.

Four Democrats’ names are on the ballot. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett spent the last few days shaking hands with as many voters as possible – including during the noon hour at Miss Katie’s Diner. Cathy Friel-Dombeck says Barrett has her vote.

“He has a good track record. He was a great congressman and a wonderful mayor and I think he’ll be an excellent governor,” Friel-Dombeck says.

This would be the second time Friel-Dombeck has voted for Barrett in the past 18 months. The last time was in 2010 when he also ran against Walker for governor, but lost by five percentage points. Barrett says if he wins Tuesday’s primary, he’s confident he’ll wrestle away the governor’s office in June. He claims many people he talks with regret voting for Walker.

“They come and say I’m sorry, I voted for Scott Walker. I made a mistake. My response has always been, go and sin no more. Clearly in 2010, the Republican base was very motivated and the Democratic base was not motivated. Russ Feingold and I walked into a tea party buzz saw. There’s no question about that. It was the worst year in Democratic politics in the state of Wisconsin since the 1950s,” Barrett says.

Barrett has received the backing of much of the political establishment, and is considered the front-runner among Democrats. The others are Secretary of State Doug La Follette, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. She was the first to jump into the race, and is Barrett’s chief rival, according to polls.

Falk is a few miles away, meeting with supporters on Milwaukee’s north side. The former county exec marched with protesters in Madison for weeks on end last winter. Michael Thomas of the Service Employees International Union says he can’t wait to vote for Falk.

“She’s a tough negotiator. She’s a tough lady but that’s who we need in state government and someone who’s going to bring this state back together,” Thomas says.

Falk has the backing of the state’s largest teachers and employees unions, in part, because of a controversial pledge she made to veto any state budget that does not restore collective bargaining rights.

“I’m the granddaughter of a bus driver from Milwaukee. I will stand with working men and women all the time, every time,” Falk says.

A coalition of labor unions has spent more than $4 million on television ads on Falk’s behalf. But, the real jaw dropping numbers come from Gov. Walker’s camp. Financial reports show Walker raised $25 million during the past 16 months, most from out of state and from big corporations. Carol Grundy attended a recent rally for Walker, and is proud of the $100 she donated to help him stay in office.

“He’s the greatest man and he took the greatest challenge that anyone could have done. I wouldn’t have had his guts to do what he did. He’s my hero,” Grundy says.

Gov. Walker has been defending the money he’s raised, blaming the unions for supporting his rivals.

“I wouldn’t have to raise or spend a penny if it weren’t for the out of state interests being involved in the recall in the first place,” Walker says.

The state Government Accountability Board predicts 30 to 35 percent of eligible voters will head to the polls before 8 pm. While voters statewide can cast ballots in the recall primaries for governor and lieutenant governor, residents in four districts will also decide who the finalists will be in their June 5 recalls for state Senate. All the targeted incumbents are Republicans.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.