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Recently, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette came by the office of The Progressive to discuss his decision to run for governor against Scott Walker.
La Follette faces off against three Democratic rivals—Tom Barrett, Kathleen Falk, and Kathleen Vinehout—in the primary on May 8.
“I love our state, the woods, and the rivers, and the lakes, and most of all the people and the progressive tradition we have,” said the distant relative of Fighting Bob La Follette. “Wisconsin is broken and Gov. Walker broke it. Walker has not only been a disaster; he’s an embarrassment.”
La Follette cited Walker’s policies restricting health care, damaging wetlands, rejecting high-speed rail, undermining public education and technical schools, granting loopholes for giant corporations, and attacking collective bargaining.
“Seeing all that and getting pressure from people, I decided that I probably had the best chance to win this election because of support I’ve gotten from Republicans and Independents when I’ve run in the past,” he said, noting that he’s been in public office almost 30 years. “I still was able to win when Walker won and when Tommy [Thompson] won four straight times.”
La Follette is 71.
“My experience and maturity will allow me to be a productive governor,” he says. “I can work with progressive Republicans.”
La Follette stresses his commitment to campaign finance reform.
“I’ve been supporting campaign finance reform as long as I can remember,” he ways. “Unless we change the way we elect people, we won’t be able to address our problems.”
He says he’s taking money only from individuals. “I’m not taking special interest money even from groups I agree with,” he says, adding that the Democrats “can’t compete” with Walker in the money chase.
“I decided this was the unique time to try a better way,” he says.
He is not happy with how the Democratic primary is shaking out.
“This election is boiling down to a choice between the big-money out-of-state candidate and the good-old-boy endorsement candidate,” he says.
He recognizes he’s behind in the polls.
“If you believe the polls, I’m not doing well, but I don’t know how well polls measure opinion in this new world of Facebook and cell phones,” he says. He adds that his quirky campaign commercial is popular on YouTube and “I got 8 new Facebook friends this morning.”
La Follette taught chemistry and environmental science at the University of Wisconsin Parkside before getting into electoral politics.
“The environment has been a big thing my entire life,” he said. “I’ve always loved hiking and the outdoors. As a scientist, I understood some of the environmental issues. I was involved in the first Earth Day in Wisconsin, and I was the impetus behind the group we called the Wisconsin Environmental Decade,” which is now known as Clean Wisconsin.
La Follette believes his campaign has been a success, no matter the outcome.
“There’s nothing I can lose in this process,” he says. “I might lose the election, but it’s a worthwhile and important effort for someone to run a campaign this way, and I’ve gotten a tremendous positive response.”
He is prepared, however, to support whoever wins in the primary.
“The other three candidates are all good people,” he says. “I may not agree with their campaign style, but I certainly agree with them on all the issues. You won’t find me reluctant.”
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Stop Obama’s Drone War in Pakistan."
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