In defense of Kathleen Falk

This blog will come as a great shock to those who know me as a fiscal conservative and social moderate, but I’d like to say a few words in defense of the gubernatorial candidacy of Kathleen Falk.

Falk, the former Dane County executive, is a committed progressive in every sense of the word. When she vowed to reverse the collective bargaining changes made under Gov. Walker’s budget reform bill, and even veto any biennial budget that did not accomplish this, the criticism came cascading down.

Some of it came from her own side of the political aisle, especially from those who resented the fact that she received endorsements from key public employee unions.

Yet if this recall election isn’t about collective bargaining – restoring what was taken away or maintaining the status quo – then why are we going ahead with it?

Falk, whose campaign apparently has lost significant ground to that of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the May 8 Democratic primary, nailed it when it comes to the reason for the recall.

It’s not about jobs because, frankly, most governors get four years to prove their governing program is working economically.

It’s not about scandal because other than a couple of bad hires, I doubt the allegedly secret John Doe probe, which is leaking like a sieve, will turn up anything significant against our governor, the Boy Scout, from his days as Milwaukee County executive.

No, the reason our state has been in a perpetual state of political turmoil since about Feb. 10, 2011, is that Gov. Scott Walker decided that the only way Wisconsin could fix its budget mess was to restrict collective bargaining for public employees, have those employees kick in more for their pension and health care benefits, and fashion a more competitive process for awarding contracts to those who provide medical insurance to public employees.

Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, you should have the guts to sink or swim on that one issue. Otherwise, this is a recall for no reason.

While Barrett certainly hasn’t neglected collective bargaining in his messaging, it was Falk who was first willing to place it front and center. Yet if the recent statewide poll conducted by Marquette University Law School is any indication, Barrett appears to be running away with the Democratic primary, and he has pulled even with Walker in the general election, scheduled for June 5.

Perhaps Mr. Barrett is more electable because he didn’t secure the endorsement of the union bosses, who are not as popular as the public employees they represent. But is there any doubt that he would try to make the changes the union bosses want? In his more public pronouncements, he promises to unify our state; in private settings, he promises to deliver a legislative haymaker to the GOP.

That sure harkens back to the tireless diplomacy of Henry Kissinger, or Neville Chamberlain. Yes, a Barrett victory will achieve peace in our time – not!

Face it – no matter who wins the gubernatorial recall, our state’s civil war will continue. If a Democrat wins, it’s the Republicans who will be sore and all too eager to undermine the Democratic incumbent at every turn. If they awake as losers on June 6, I would not be shocked to see them nominate Scott Walker for governor again in 2014, setting up Wisconsin’s equivalent of Ali-Frazier III. (Only given the charismatically challenged nature of Barrett and Walker, this one would be called the Thrilla in Vanilla.)

Nobody knows how many acts remain in this political theater, but unlike Mr. Barrett’s candidacy, the Kathleen Falk campaign carries a lot less pretense about what the recall election is really about.

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