Friday afternoons are usually when politicians dump news on the public that they don’t want covered, yet late last Friday, Democratic Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett announced he would be entering the recall election against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.
The mayor’s entrance into the race guarantees a contentious primary between Barrett and fellow two-time statewide-election loser Kathleen Falk, who has been endorsed by a number of the state’s largest public-employee unions. One group, calling itself “Wisconsin for Falk,” has already purchased $1.6 million in television ads on Falk’s behalf.
Barrett, who lost in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race to Walker by five percentage points in 2010, has come under fire from public-employee unions for utilizing many of Walker’s reforms to balance his own city’s budget. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker’s plan to require public employees to begin making payments toward their own retirement accounts and pay more for health-insurance benefits saved Milwaukee between $25 and $26 million in 2012. When Barrett held a fundraiser on March 28 with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel as the guest speaker, several unions showed up to picket the event, urging Barrett not to enter the recall race.
#more#Union activists believe that since Barrett took advantage of Walker’s reforms, he is the wrong person to challenge Walker in an election that they see as a rebuke of those same initiatives. At one point, Mary Bell, leader of the state’s largest teachers’ union, met with Barrett and pleaded with him not to enter the race.
In exchange for their campaign support, Falk promised the state’s public-employee unions she would veto any future budget that didn’t fully restore their collective-bargaining power; Barrett refused to make any such pledge.
Yet according to a new statewide poll by Marquette University, Barrett stands the best chance of beating Walker in a recall election. In a head-to-head matchup with Falk, Barrett led 36 percent to 29 percent; against Walker, Barrett trailed 47 percent to 45 percent, while Falk trailed Walker 49 percent to 45 percent.
Barrett begins the race with $453,000 in the bank; a fairly small amount compared to the tens of millions of dollars that both sides are expected to spend over the course of the recall campaign. (Walker has said he expects organized labor to spend between $70 million and $80 million against him.)
Upon news of Barrett’s entrance to the race, Walker’s campaign immediately pounced, pointing out Barrett’s history of supporting higher taxes and spending as mayor of Milwaukee on a newly-created website they titled “Tom the Taxer.”
The Democratic primary election is set for May 8; the general election will take place less than one month later, on June 5.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.