The inevitable Wisconsin Recall election is not yet “official,” but former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk is officially in the race for the Democratic candidacy and has racked up some impressive endorsements. The 60-year old isn’t the Dem of choice for all observers, but Falk’s early run has positioned her as the early favorite to run against the Koch Brothers… I mean Scott Walker, when the election date is officially announced.
Falk’s record is, in fact, impressive and her promise to veto any budget that doesn’t restore collective bargaining rights for public employees shows that she stands in solidarity with the workers and protesters who got the ball rolling on this revolutionary recall movement last year. Rightfully, Wisconsinites reserve the right to wait until the full range of candidates are revealed before signing on for Falk, despite the insinuation by Fairly Conservative’s Cindy Kilkenny that doing so proves Kathleen Falk’s divisiveness.
No matter the Democratic challenger, Scott Walker will likely have to campaign amidst an ongoing John Doe Investigation that naysayers hope is coming closer to revealing that he had full knowledge of the wrongdoing in his office as County Executive.
Wisconsin Blog Dane 101 recently interviewed Falk as part of a ‘Meet the Walker Recall candidates’ series. In the interview, Falk talks about how, after resigning from her position as Dane County Executive following 14 successful years, she and her husband, former State Rep. Peter Bock, went on a camping and cycling trip that spanned Florida to New York. With “one more big job” in her, she looked for some clarity on what that job would be, only to come up empty handed. Then came the recall.
By the time Falk returned to the state in May the recalls against several Republican Senators were just heating up. She began getting calls to speak at various rallies, to travel the state helping the Democratic Party candidates running in those races, which Falk says she was happy to do.
Then, in August, the calls shifted gears from requests for speaking engagements to encouragement to run for governor in the still theoretical recall against Walker.
“People started saying, ‘Falk, you gotta get ready, you’re going to be the one who has to run.’ I said, show me the polling numbers, and why me?” she explains in a matter-of-fact tone. “So they went out and did all that and got the numbers and what people were looking for: They were looking for someone with executive experience, so they didn’t want a business leader model, but they didn’t want a legislator type — no disrespect intended, but they wanted someone who knew how to run stuff.”
Becoming an early favorite, Falk began to gather union endorsements. Those union endorsements are now being used to paint her as a “pawn of big labor” by anti-union Republicans who look to play on this increasingly purple state’s divisive political climate. But her promise to veto any budget that does not restore collective bargaining, along with her prior experience, appeals to working class Democrats:
Certainly, one of the big reasons Falk has won the support of labor groups is both her history of negotiating with them and her recent pledge that, if elected, any budget bill that came before her without restoring collective bargaining rights for public employees would get her veto pen. That declaration has gotten her both praise and criticism, but Falk is unequivocal in her stance:
“I think it’s not only important to answer that question, because one of the reasons people are so cynical on politics in general is because politicians say they’re for something and then they don’t do it,” she explains. “It’s real easy to say you’re for collective bargaining, but how you gonna get it done? So over this last year as I’ve been going around the state at the behest of people sending me here there and everywhere to be helpful to the cause, people would regularly, and understandably, say well Falk, how will we restore collective bargaining? How, procedure-wise, will you do it? And I’d say, well, the governor can’t do it by executive order, doesn’t have that power. You could introduce a bill but the Assembly Republicans aren’t going to schedule it. You could call a special session and Assembly Republicans don’t have to convene – they decide whether to come to a special session, a governor doesn’t.”
So, what then? “The only bill that has to pass every two years is the budget bill – that’s why Walker eliminated collective bargaining through it, and that’s how you restore it. And unless you’re willing not only to say that’s how you’ll do it, but go to the mat by saying you will veto a budget bill without it, then you have no leverage. That’s how you get. It. Done.”
As for her stance on Walker calling her a “puppet of labor?”
“Walker was going to put the labor hat on anybody who he was opposed to, because that’s his style of politics – demonize, marginalize—and it isn’t working,” Falk says. “And working men and women in this state have refused to accept that and that’s why the million signatures.”
And on the type of projects a Governor should promote?
She also suggests that a governor’s job should extend beyond simply being smart about “how you tax and what you spend” to finding other sources of revenue for the state.
An example she cites was the county’s decision to invest in manure digesters that now turn the methane gas released by the landfill that would otherwise go into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming into electricity that MG&E buys for $3 million a year.
“That’s the kind of thing a governor ought to be doing,” Falk says. “Instead of what Walker did, which was one of his first things in office was to shut down the biomass plant. That would have been a way to get more dollars into farms, because of growing the biofuels. That’s what I love doing – in addition to, I hope, shared sacrifice it’s also finding these new sources of revenues.”
“I love figuring out how do we get to point Z from point A, and getting us there with whatever it takes,” she goes on. “Sometimes it takes lawsuits, sometimes it takes education, sometimes it takes science, sometimes it takes political muscle, sometimes it takes moral leadership. There are many different ways to move a progressive agenda, and I was an environmental lawyer for 20 years and County Executive for 14, and that is what I hope I’m good at.”
A lot of Wisconinites are hoping that you’re good at that, too, Kathleen.