One week from now, on June 5th, the long awaited Wisconsin recall election will take place and cheeseheads the state over will have their say on whether or not they want to continue in the same direction or remove Scott Walker from the Governor’s Mansion. If such a change is affected, it could act as a bellwether to how the 2012 general election will turnout and provide an example of the failure of “ultraconservative” policies to provide for the dying middle class.
On Friday, the first of two debates took place between incumbent Walker and Democratic nominee, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Some news outlets have been quick to declare the challenger the winner. However it doesn’t matter who won this debate. All that matters is how the debate impacts next week’s vote.
Barrett came off as the respectful fatherly figure on Friday, refusing to fall into the negativity that has swirled around Walker since his inauguration. His hope is that attacks on Walker’s policies and track record have established a clear divide: corporate cronyism and disregard for average Wisconsinites versus alternative solutions not yet tried. Walker displayed an inability or lack of desire to answer any questions of substance, according to the Milwaukee Area Labor Council’s blog:
Looking back at the course of the debate, it wasn’t just Barrett that Walker avoided answering. He slipped the questions from the panel of journalists, taking advantage of the bizarre rules the prevented them from following up on whether it was right to raise 60-70% of $25 million campaign money from out of state and whether he was a indeed a target of the John Doe corruption probe for which he had created a criminal defense fund.
All this left gleeful recall advocates a lot to crow about. The Democratic Party immediately blasted out this email: “Walker’s refusal to answer the very simple question of did he or didn’t he sign his name on a recall petition is yet another stunning example of why we can’t trust this governor. He won’t tell people why he has a criminal defense fund. He won’t release to the public thousands of emails about the John Doe criminal probe. He won’t disclose details of his national political travel, including which extreme, right-wing mega-donors he met with and what he promised them.”
Barrett seemed at ease playing the role of knowledgeable underdog next to Walker’s backpedaling:
Instant proof of how well Barrett pulled it all off was how quickly highlights from the debate became fund-raising pitches for his camp while Walker, just tripping over all the ad money in his coffers, still couldn’t find as of this writing a single debate moment to plug into his ads. Instead he continued to concoct “apples and oranges” financial trickery (the ad poking fun at Barrett’s streetcar plan but not pointing out that this was long dormant federal money while Walker pretends it is somehow related to the state budget deficit).
The collective bargaining cuts in Wisconsin’s Act 10 that sparked a workers’ revolt and created the momentum that led to the recall push were discussed during the debate. Walker refused to bend, insisting the contentious move was in the state’s best interest and not the result of corporate influence. He did, however, admit that he would do some things differently if he had another go ’round:
“My problem was I fixed it and then I talked about. Most politicians spend all their time talking about it, but never fixing. In the future, we’re going to both talk about it and fix it. We understand the product is ultimately the most important thing, but we understand the process itself is very important,” Walker said.
The second debate will take place this Thursday, May 31st, and both candidates have a full slate of appearances across the state in the next week. Tellingly, their Memorial Day engagements displayed a clear contrast in how they are viewed by Wisconsin citizens. Walker spoke to Veterans, refusing to speak about the campaign given the holiday circumstance:
Without a mention of the election he faces in just seven days, Gov. Walker spoke to families of fallen military veterans on Memorial Day.
“Since 9/11, more than 33,000 members of the armed forces — active duty and reserve guard — have proudly fought and served, and more than 160 have paid the ultimate sacrifice. On behalf of a grateful state, we say thank you each and every day,” Gov. Walker said.
More than 100 people came to shake Gov. Walker’s hand after his speech, but he did not take questions from reporters.
“It was all about the veterans, which is what it should be about today,” Dan Pelate said.
Barrett, on the other hand, attended Family Festivals across the state, speaking to the people about how Walker’s divisiveness has led to a position in which he is no longer fit to be the leader of Wisconsin.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett had a busy campaign schedule traveling from Beloit to Black River Falls — and to Brat Fest in Madison. Barrett used the family festival as a backdrop to underscore a point. He says he can do things Gov. Walker can no longer do.
“Once he became so contentious as a public person, I don’t think he wants to do that anymore. I don’t think he could come to an event like this without people being very angry with him,” Barrett said.