In a moment of post-ironic solidarity conservatives across Wisconsin came together in mass thanks of the gift they received yesterday over the state’s largest public sector union endorsing the most union-sympathetic candidate running against Governor Scott Walker in a recall election. Following the endorsement of WEAC — Wisconsin Education Association Council — the state’s largest teachers union only twelve days before, the state division of AFSCME, representing some 60,000 public workers, giddily rallied behind candidate Kathleen Falk, former Dane County Executive and two-time loser for statewide office. Conservatives did not respond to our requests for an interview, but in an email a spokesperson summed it up in bold italics: “Told You So!”
Hovering somewhere between the epitome and the totem pole of all things conservatives lambast — a Madison liberal clearly in cahoots with the unions — the GOP could not be more smugly indulged about this lagniappe falling upon their lap. Such endorsements do nothing to distance the dismissive association between union “big bosses” and their Democratic bedfellows. All along, Walker and his ilk have effectively framed the uprising, protests, and recall efforts as driven by union self-interests and Democratic sore losers. Indeed, said Walker’s campaign, “After pledging to return Wisconsin to the failed policies of the past, it comes as no surprise that Kathy Falk is emerging as the handpicked choice of the big government union bosses who will fund her campaign. We are confident that statewide voters will reject Falk’s Madison liberal agenda of raising taxes on hardworking Wisconsinites for a third time should she become the Democrat nominee.”
And in a mostly amusing on-the-fritz hissy fit, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said on the Senate floor last week in response to a bill (SB 233) that proposed to restore the collective bargaining rights to public employees rescinded by Act X of last year, “Are we talking about Kathleen Falk and the quid pro quo with WEAC, the teachers union? … Kathleen Falk, who cut some deal, a gubernatorial candidate with $24,000 in her account and yet is standing at the podium embracing Mary Bell – hugging! literally standing arm in arm!? Is that what you’re talking about? Is that what this discussion is about today in the Senate, about Kathleen Falk and the corruption that now exists between the unions and your gubernatorial candidate? ‘Cause if it is, I’d love to talk about that! We’ll talk about it all day, if you want. Please. You gotta be kidding me!”
Both panjandrums of FitzWalkerstan are right: Falk’s endorsements smack of what conservatives love to hate about liberals — the same way the latter rails against the former’s nabobs hobnobbing with corporate “fat cats.” But what does this mean? That the unions, who represent working people, are backing a candidate with a stellar background in supporting workers’ rights? Quel scandal! Would this be any different than the Sierra Club throwing their support behind a pro-environmental candidate? Or a CEO favoring a no corporate tax campaign promise by a Republican? That the state’s largest two unions have so quickly endorsed Falk is hardly surprising, though what it means for the rest of the recall movement is less lucid.
To be sure, whoever runs against Walker will be tar-feather framed in one slanderous manner or another, so perhaps it’s good to get out the “Madison liberal” libel early and be done with it. (If the candidate against Walker be one of the state senators who fled Wisconsin last year to delay ACT X, s/he will be accused of not doing their job, running away, dereliction of duty, etc. Or if Tom Barrett wins the Democratic primary and runs against Walker in the general election, it will be perceived as a personal vendetta after losing against Walker in the November 2010 election. (It’s worth noting, too, that both Falk and Barrett ran for governor but lost in the primary to Jim Doyle in 2002.) But while personal attacks and misinformation are foregone conclusions of electioneering, what service are we doing by making it so easy for the GOP?
Why we can flip two Senate seats to Democrat and collect almost two million signatures in 60 days to force recalls against six additional Republicans, but fumble all-thumbs when it comes to advancing an exciting, rally-around candidate for this historic recall is a hell of a mystery to me. Personally, I think Falk would make an awful choice all but precluding the least chance we have of ousting Walker from office, which is plenty enough a David-and-Goliath task in and of itself. And I’m hardly alone in folks already from Dane County who do not want her to win the primary. Barrett, too, would be a terrible flop. (He would do well to heed that other Scott Fitzgerald — the author of The Great Gatsby — and his bitter obiter dictum, “There are no second acts in American lives.”) And as for state Senator Kathleen Vinehout, the only other officially declared candidate thus far, I’d say she has as much luck winning a contentious statewide election as a geek IT guy getting a drink in a lesbian biker bar.
What I do find disappointing in Falk is her pledge, if elected governor, to veto any state budget that would not restore collective bargaining. Remember when we criticized Republicans for including collective bargaining, which neither costs nor saves the state a penny, in the budget in the first place? And remember how we had to maintain over and over that this whole entire fight against Walker wasn’t just about the unions or collective bargaining? And remember, too, when we were all up in arms about Republicans signing pledges not to raise taxes? So how is Falk’s predisposition any less shortsighted or doctrinal? I suppose it’s welcome to know how she stands about this issue as she is running for office, unlike Walker who never mentioned boo about this back in 2010, but I am far more concerned about the state as a whole than the public employees sectors specifically. And while I would hope that Falk expands her campaign’s message not only to redress the policies of Walker and the Republican majorities, but to set the state on a post-partisan course, one that is progressive and not defensive, moving us forward and not just playing catch-up — which I will extend to whoever wins the primary and runs against Walker — I find it concerning, not least from a tactical perspective, that her candidacy has been so, well, stereotypical.
I for one did not knock on a couple hundred doors in the dark or stand on corners in the cold collecting signatures to recall Walker only for all of every volunteer’s efforts to be potentially sabotaged by a poor candidate whose self-importance and opportunism may very well trump the collective goal. I know a lot of people who feel this way. What is at stake is way too important to be blown by this. But this is why we need to have a primary, to determine the absolute best-case scenario to beat Walker. And should that be Kathleen Falk, then her run itself will be too important to let personal quibbles get in the way, even or especially if her candidacy would be the darling poster child for conservative heckling and invective. Certainly. But we did not invest so much, from occupying the Capitol to collecting signatures in one long wonderful year, to come up so short with a lackluster candidate as established as Kathleen Falk.