In a political season marked by contention and division, the four Democratic candidates for governor in the recall election met in a debate sponsored by Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Today’s TMJ 4 that was characterized by civil, calm discussion.
Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, former Dane County commissioner Kathleen Falk, secretary of state Doug La Follette, and state Senator Kathleen Vinehout did not take any pointed jabs at each other and were even fairly muted in their criticism of incumbent Governor Scott Walker.
With Tom Barrett promising that he will end Wisconsin’s “civil war” and Kathleen Falk analogizing her role as a caring mother to being a healer for the state, it was clear that the candidates felt the state has seen enough divisiveness.
Where there was disagreement, it was about the best approach to reach agreed-upon goals. The forum opened with a question about restoring collective bargaining asked by Wisconsin citizen videotape in a person-on-the-street format.
Kathleen Falk, who had been criticized as she entered the race for her promise to veto any budget that didn’t restore collective bargaining, winning her widespread union support, stood by her plan putting it in a practical, rather than ideological light. With the legislature so divided, Falk contended the veto threat to be the only route. Doug La Follette and Kathleen Vinehout emphasized more cooperative approaches.
Tom Barrett, who ran against Governor Walker in 2010, and leads the polls among the Democratic contenders, was most vocal in criticizing the controversial governor. Barrett recalled being in the same Wisconsin Public Television studio for the 2010 debate and noted that Walker then made no mention of collective bargaining at all.
Secretary of State Doug La Follette put himself forward as the least partisan candidate and therefore best to lead a future that will require bipartisanship. State Senator Kathleen Vinehout entered into the most legislative detail, frequently mentioning plans she has for health care and education funding. After the event, Vinehout told reporters that she thought it would be best if government got back to being ‘boring’ again.
All four candidates remained on set after the broadcast to meet and greet the forty or so audience members who had come the event, giving the debate aftermath a casual cocktail party air.
The next debate sponsored by WPR, WPT, the Journal Sentinel and TMJ4 will be between whichever of the four Democrats remain after next Tuesday’s primary election and Governor Scott Walker at the end of the month. We’ll see if that one remains such a casual, collected affair.