Kathleen Falk Makes Her Case for Governor of Wisconsin

On Thursday, I stop by the humble offices of Kathleen Falk, who is trying to secure the Democratic Party nomination for governor in the coming recall election against Scott Walker.

She tells me she is running as someone who was involved in the “really extraordinary” citizens’ movement over the last twelve months in Wisconsin—which she calls “a spontaneous exercise of democracy.”

“I was out there all last year,” she says, “first, as County Executive (in Dane County) combating Walker’s cuts to child support and to collective bargaining. Then I helped on the Senate recalls and with the training of volunteers. And I was in every part of the state for the petition drive to recall Scott Walker.”

She says she was struck by how people all across the state, no matter where she’s been, focused on the same issues. Here’s how she enumerates them: “education, health care, collective bargaining, and the fact that we can’t trust him.”

She says Walker is “so far to the right that he’s out of sync with Wisconsin values.”

I tell her that I hear from a lot of progressives who worry she can’t win against Walker.

She says that’s a Dane County phenomenon. “It doesn’t seem to bother anyone else,” she says. “People in Ashland, people in Milwaukee, don’t say it.”

And to those who think a Democrat from outside of Dane County would do better, she responds: “Russ Feingold won three times from Dane County. Jim Doyle won five times from Dane County. This state elects people from Dane County.”

She also cites a recent poll that shows her edging out Walker by 1 percentage point.

For those progressives who are waiting for Russ Feingold to enter the race, she doesn’t believe he’s going to do it and she’s been getting good advice from Feingold on a regular basis, she says. And she notes that one of Feingold’s confidant’s, Madison talk radio host John “Sly in the Morning” Sylvester,” has already endorsed her.

For those who prefer Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, she points out that he hasn’t declared his candidacy yet, and that she got 50,000 more votes than he did when she was running for attorney general and he was running against Walker last time.

She is quick to note that she and Barrett are friends. “My husband stood up in Tom’s wedding,” she adds. “And I did more than any other elected official to work for Tom.”

She believes, eventually, the Democratic Party will come together and support whoever the nominee is against Walker.

She also believes she can win over some of those who say they support Walker right now.

She intends to do so in three ways, she says.

First, “show competence.” Here, she says she’ll rely on her record as Dane County executive.

Second, she believes her style will be an asset. “I bring people together,” she says. “And I negotiate when it’s needed.” She says she was able to find common ground with Republican sheriffs and some conservatives on the county board.

Third, she says she’ll point out Walker’s record of six consecutive months of joblessness and the fact that “he’s turned the state upside down.”

“We’ve got to heal this state,” she says. “I’ll go to Waukesha County the day after the election to start the healing process.” (That county is the epicenter of the state Republican Party.)

She doesn’t shy away from her labor support.

“I’m very proud to stand with working men and women,” she says. “My generation of 60-year-olds has a much better life because my grandfather’s generation did the heavy lifting” of securing the forty-hour workweek, the minimum wage, workers’ comp, and other benefits we take for granted. Her grandfather, incidentally, was a bus driver in Milwaukee who belonged to a union, she tells me.

She sticks by her decision to say that she would restore public sector collective bargaining through the budget process. “There’s only one bill that has to pass every two years, and that’s the budget bill,” she says. “I will put it in the budget bill, and I’ll veto the bill if it’s not in there.”

I ask what it would be like to be the first woman elected governor in Wisconsin. “I was the first woman county executive,” she says, “and I’ve spent my life being the only woman in the room.”

But she says few people ask her anymore whether a woman can win the governorship in Wisconsin.

She has two theories about that.

Her first is Hillary Clinton. “With Hillary Clinton running for President, she set the bar so high that it’s made it so much easier for the rest of us,” she says.

Second, she says, “People are so worried about what Scott Walker has done to this state, so worried about jobs, health care, and putting their kids through college” that they’re not worried about anything else.

She recognizes that she, or any Democratic nominee, is going to be greatly outspent by Scott Walker.

But that doesn’t seem to faze her too much.

“We’re going to win the good old-fashioned way,” she says, “with boots on the ground. That’s how we got a million signatures. That’s how we’re going to beat Scott Walker. We win by working hard.”

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Don’t Lower the Corporate Tax Rate."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter