Posts Tagged With: Tom Barrett

BLAME BARRETT!!! …or, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory…

In the regular election campaign for governor of Wisconsin in 2010, Scott Walker’s team ran an insidious internet ad campaign urging commuters stuck in detour traffic around a freeway interchange, requiring emergency replacement of several crumbling ramps, to “Blame Barrett” for the extra frustration. After seeing Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett lead the long effort to recall Walker to a rather predictable defeat, the slogan has an eerily appropriate ring.

The entire big-name, talking head, politically connected leadership of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin somehow convinced themselves that the way to recall a sitting governor was to run against him the same uninspiring grey eminence voters had rejected less than two years earlier. The only Democrat who ever lost a statewide race against Walker somehow was packaged as “The only candidate who can defeat Scott Walker.” The Democratic Party of Wisconsin didn’t initiate the recall effort, but once the recall built up momentum, quite handily destroyed it. In doing so, party leadership showed that it has learned nothing from its salutary defeat in 2010.

Voters had already expressed how a choice between Barrett and Walker impressed them. Given that choice, they preferred Walker. Getting the signatures of one million voters to recall the governor was not accomplished by highlighting some belated recognition of the sterling virtues of Milwaukee’s mayor. It was a rejection of the fundamental dishonesty of Scott Walker. The crisis cried out for bold new leadership, for a candidate who would talk substance, not political platitudes, offer new programs, not those already tried and found wanting.

By any objective measure, the Democratic Party lost control of the state legislature in 2010 by being more concerned about winning the next election than delivering any kind of results. Action on almost any program of any consequence was deferred on the ground that “first we have to win the elections and retain our majority.” By this approach, they lost their majority. One state senator was challenged in the Democratic primary, and lost badly, ending up taking an administrative post in the Walker administration. His challenger easily won the general election. The rest, between dating payday loan industry lobbyists and refusing to vote on a badly needed standard process for established regional transit authorities, went down to defeat.

The “let’s twist again like we did last summer” mentality is not limited to Democrats. House Republican leader John Boehner learned nothing from his party’s losses in 2006 and 2008, announcing upon regaining control in 2010 that his caucus would pick right back up with the priorities voters rejected in 2006. Voters aren’t looking for the same old, same old… from either party.

A county by county map shows the failure of Democratic leadership. It was predictable that Milwaukee and Dane counties would vote for anyone but Walker, while the tight ring of wealthy suburbs around Milwaukee would “stand with Walker.” But the voters who were seriously weighing how to cast their votes live in all the rest of the state. The western counties that send Democrats to congress and supported Barack Obama, the Fox Cities which have leaned away from their traditional Republican hue, were not inspired by Barrett. It takes more than name recognition to win an election. Walker ran with a deceptively bland campaign focusing on taking  lunch to work in a brown paper bag, and creating 250,000 new jobs (no details provided). He ran as the fresh new face. That worked. What he really meant to do in office was deferred until another day.

Walker’s results have been destructive, but he got to work on his evil agenda. Cobbling together a majority takes more than pointing out how bad the incumbent is. It takes inspiration that Tom Barrett could not summon in 2010, and could no more deliver in 2012. It is tempting to think that if Wisconsin had a recall law like California’s, a majority would have voted Walker out, while a suitable replacement would have emerged from the votes of all of the voters. But, when it came down to Walker vs. the stale candidate put on offer by the Democratic Party establishment, the pale Democrat was found wanting. It was a sad end to a great popular movement, betrayed by the inadequacies of modern party politics.

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Democratic Party leadership has learned nothing from 2010

When a party suffers a substantial defeat at the polls, one might expect it to re-examine the candidates it offers voters, and the program it commits to. But it usually does not. Hubris runs high among both Democrats and Republicans. In 2010, Republican House leader John Boehner said his party would go right back to what it was doing before its shellacking at the polls in 2006. When spontaneous citizen action offered the unparalleled opportunity to recall and replace Governor Scott Walker, surprised Democratic Party big-wigs began touting that the strongest candidate to challenge Walker would be Tom Barrett – the Milwaukee mayor who inspired voters so well in 2010 that Walker was elected running against him.

Say what? The way to win a recall is to re-run a loser? Dave Obey said so. Obey had the good sense to know it was time to quite in 2010, but having withdrawn from politics, he suddenly appointed himself the expert on how to unseat Walker when citizens rebelled against the new governor’s utter duplicity in office. Barrett may not have really wanted to run at all. It was pathetically obvious he didn’t, in 2010. Senior party leadership poured into his ears the facile assumption that only he could lead them to victory. He had long lists of big-name endorsements. What he lacks is an inspiring new program to offer the tiny fraction of voters who decide elections: those who are genuinely uncommitted and want a good reason to vote for one candidate or the other.

At this point, Barrett is the nominee running against Walker. Those who are committed to recalling the incumbent have no choice but to vote for Barrett. Many will, even if they have to hold their noses to do so. But will enough voters do so to turn Walker’s 52 percent victory in 2010 into a 49 percent loss in 2012? Barrett is spouting little except pious platitudes. Voter turnout in 2010 was low. It may be higher in the recall. Recalling Walker may depend upon bringing voters to the polls who sat out 2010, asking “How can I choose between two people I don’t trust? Has Walker’s performance been frightening enough to answer that question? Or has Barrett’s name on the ballot reinforced that cynicism?

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Barrett has a thin skin about gaps in his record

Tom Barrett, a fairly competent mayor for Milwaukee, was on the radio news broadcasts April 24, whining that he thinks it’s inappropriate for Kathleen Falk to mention the fact that he was nowhere to be seen in the movement to gather one million signatures to recall the current governor, Scott Walker.

It’s a fact. He wasn’t there. He was sitting on the sidelines. It was a weakness of the recall process that no specific alternative to Walker was put forward. Falk, however, was among the many who put themselves on the line to make a recall possible. After all the hard work was done, Barrett wrapped up a successful race for four more years as mayor of Milwaukee… turned around and asked “Was anyone calling for meeeeee???”

Actually, no. Thousands of volunteers out collecting a million signatures had NOT been thinking about Barrett for governor AT ALL. Many people thought he was reluctant to run for governor in the first place in 2010. Few expected the loser of 2010 to offer himself as “the only one who can beat Scott Walker” now. In truth, Tom Barrett is the only Democrat who has LOST to Scott Walker in a general election for governor.

The truth is, most Democrats who lost in 2010 deserved to lose. Wisconsin didn’t deserve the Republicans who ran against them, but a lot of Democratic incumbents had distinguished themselves as standing for absolutely nothing, standing around with their wet fingers to the wind, saying “not this year, voters might not like it,” to almost any bill of substance.

Voters will be looking for something better than what the Democratic Party had to offer in 2010. Kathleen Falk isn’t the freshest, newest, face in the party, but she’s not the face the party offered last time around. She had done, in Dane County, what Walker would not do in state government: sit down with unions, present the budget figures, and bargain for ways to save taxpayers money that state employees could live with.

Now it really all depends on whether Falk can show voters, Democratic voters first, then in the general election, that she has something of substance to offer. If she can do that, then she could be a viable candidate, and a competent, inspirational, governor.

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Barrett puts his ego ahead of Walker recall

The Walker campaign has received the best news since the recall campaign began: Tom Barrett is sticking his nose into the race, offering the Democratic Party a chance to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Everyone in Wisconsin knows how voters responded to a choice between Barrett and Walker: they chose Walker. The majority wasn’t huge, but majorities seldom are in America, and certainly not in Wisconsin.

There could be no greater betrayal of the hard work by thousands of citizens to recall Scott Walker, than to reduce this election to a replay of the losing 2010 campaign. The recall was not even initiated by the Democratic Party — it was initiated by independent organizations like Wisconsin United and Wisconsin Jobs Now. The Democrats got on the bandwagon once they saw it was a good bet.

Turning back the recall with Barrett at the top of the ticket will be like shooting goldfish in a barrel. The Republican machine has been revved up for it, and fine tuning its attacks. Barrett is offering a classic case of the Peter Principal. He has a job, as mayor of Milwaukee, that he does with reasonable competence. He’s not outstanding, but he’s competent. Now he insists on trying once again to rise to a level of incompetence.

Unfortunately, recalling Walker is going to mean electing a Democrat. An independent of some description might better capture the popular mood, but the electoral machinery to make it happen does not exist.

Fortunately, Barrett has to win a primary before he can put himself up against Walker. Even more fortunately, in Wisconsin, we have an open primary. Core Democratic voters are not going to decide this election. They turned out in 2010 also, and that wasn’t enough to win. Swing voters are going to decide this election.

The legitimacy and success of a recall depends on people who voted for the incumbent changing their minds. Hopefully a good turnout of independents will nominate a Democrat who will offer a bold new challenge to Scott Walker, not a tired old lame patsy who has already shown he can’t lead to victory against the incumbent.

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