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Democrat Falk launches campaign for governor (UPDATE)

Associated Press

Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk announced her candidacy for governor Wednesday. She will run against Gov. Scott Walker in a recall election. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Democrat widely viewed as a union favorite emerged Wednesday to challenge Gov. Scott Walker, a day after petition circulators spurred by anger over the Republican’s moves against organized labor said they submitted more than enough signatures to force a recall election.

Kathleen Falk’s announcement was the first in a likely series of decisions by potential Democratic challengers to Walker now that recall petitions are in the hands of election officials. An influx of candidates would mean Democrats would have to hold a primary, pushing any election against Walker back another month.

Unions have been active in the recall campaign, which was driven by opposition to Walker’s proposal passed last year that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for nearly all public sector workers. Having union support doesn’t always translate directly into a win, however, and some rifts between union leaders and one potential Democratic candidate have already emerged.

Falk, who had led a procession of activists to the state elections board office to file the paperwork starting the petition drive, is well-known in Madison, where she served as Dane County executive for more than a decade. She lost in the Democratic primary for governor in 2002 and in a run for attorney general in 2006.

She catered her announcement Wednesday to union members, saying Walker launched an “all-out attack on the longstanding rights of teachers, nurses, snow plow drivers and workers who have bargained fairly.”

Walker’s spokeswoman said Falk was “hand-picked by big-government, public employee union bosses.”

Spokeswoman Ciara Matthews branded Falk as a two-time loser and said she would “take Wisconsin back to the days of record job loss, massive deficits, and double digit tax increases.”

While Falk is the biggest Democratic name to enter the race so far, moderate state Sen. Tim Cullen has been quietly raising money and seeking support, and said Wednesday he is still planning to run.

Cullen, 67, served in the state Senate from 1974 to 1986 before he left to become secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. He later worked for nearly 20 years as an insurance company executive, before being elected to the Senate again in 2010.

He argues that his bipartisan background, and his experience in the private sector, makes him a desirable candidate in one of the most politically polarizing times in Wisconsin history.

Democrats want a recall vote to happen quickly and argue that Walker’s strategy is to delay it as long as possible. But Walker, in an interview with The Associated Press, denied that he was trying to stall.

“There’s nothing we’re doing that’s about pushing the timing back,” Walker said. “I think the sooner we’re done with this the better for the people of Wisconsin.”

Both sides were waiting for the state elections board to go to court, perhaps by the end of the week, to seek more time to review the 1.9 million signatures that circulators said they submitted against Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state senators. Given how long that process may take, any recall election is unlikely before May.

Even if Democrats need to have a primary, candidates will pledge not to attack one another and instead remain unified against Walker, said party spokesman Graeme Zielinski. Having multiple Democratic candidates “amplifies the opposition,” Zielinski said, and makes it more difficult for Walker to focus his attacks against a single opponent.

Zielinski said that maintaining unity against Walker is vital.

“I don’t think anybody will jeopardize that with a rough and tumble campaign that will make the person who emerges unelectable,” Zielinski said.

But Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in 2010 by 6 points, is considering getting into the race even though union leaders have met privately with him to discourage it.

Marty Beil, the head of the largest state worker union, has publically spoken out against Barrett and said the candidate needs to be someone who is a champion of their cause. Barrett has clashed with unions over decisions he’s made as mayor.

Barrett did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Unions have had a mixed record of late. Last summer, organized labor was heavily involved and spent millions on behalf of Democrats who were running in six recall elections targeting Republicans. Only two Democrats won. And Republicans saw huge victories in 2010, when Walker was elected, also winning majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly, despite union opposition.

But Walker’s opponents say the recall drive shows that voters are energized against him. The 1 million signatures organizers say they collected against him equates to about 47 percent of the number of people who voted in the 2010 governor’s race.

Walker, who was in New York City on Tuesday and Wednesday to raise money, said he will prevail because voters will choose his vision for the future over what he called the failed policies of Democrats in the past.

Walker said it didn’t matter to him who ran against him because he views his opponent as “big money from out of state from public employee unions.”

“In the end, I’m less worried about who the opponent is than I am about defending my record,” Walker said.

With Falk and Cullen in the race, a number of other candidates in addition to Barrett are still considering a run. Still others, including former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, are hoping that retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl will change his mind and get into the race.

At least for now, the 76-year-old Kohl is unmoved.

“Sen. Kohl has no plans to run for governor,” said his spokeswoman Lynn Becker.

Read more on Falk

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  1. Perfect candidate.
    She barely won the ’06 primary against a highly-flawed candidate, alleged drunk driver, Keg Lautenschlager, only to be virtually the ONLY Democrat to lose in the general elections in which the Dem’s dominated Republicans, statewide.
    Yeah…that’s who we want to run against Scott Walker….good choice.

  2. Scott Walker has already pulled in over $5 million in campaign money. Nearly half of that has come from outside Wisconsin, a record for out-of-state political money. In past years, just ten percent of incoming out-of-state money would sound alarm bells among campaign watchers. You can make of that what you will, but I have my own ideas of why interests in distant states wanting to see Scott Walker stay in office.

    Are we going to let rich, powerful and in many cases anonymous interests from distant areas run Wisconsin, or are we suspicious enough regarding what we’re learning about shadow-government to raise doubts about this frightening trend?

  3. The notion of a “shadow-government”, or outside interests controlling our state…coming from the Walker opposition is frankly, laughable. What do you think we’ve had for the last 10 years? And, How do you think we got to where we are now?
    The entire recall process, the endless ‘protests’, the occupying of the Capital in Madison, the gathering of recall petitions….Much of which, done by and funded by, powerful, anonymous interests, from distant areas outside of Wisconsin.
    Isn’t that as equally frightening? You’re apparently deaf to those alarm bells because when your side does it…”This is what democracy looks like!” we’re told.
    By the way, the ‘other half’ of Walker support, are small contributions, averaging around $35 each from private citizens, of Wisconsin, who support what Walker is doing. (which is what the voters in the real election have asked him to do) So, not counting the ‘outside’ or the ‘rich’ contributors, the amount of money raised is still more than that from the democrat side, for this completely unnecessary “do-over”.
    The hand-wringing from the side who’s always had the advantage in fund-raising from the unions, is priceless.
    You want more money? It’s simple: There are around 350,000 public sector employees in Wisconsin. We’re told constantly of their outrage at this injustice. Seems to me, if that level of outrage is true, and the horrors of the Walker policies are real, I would think, each and every one of those employees would find it easy to toss in at least $50 to support the cause. That would leave a whopping 17.5 million dollars in the war chest, dwarfing any level of Walker money.
    Maybe they ‘misunderestimated’ the level of support of the ‘troops’, before they started this war?

  4. I underestimated the percentage of money Scott Walker is pulling in from corporations and donors outside Wisconsin. It’s not “nearly half”, it’s actually *61%* according to the latest reports, apparently a new record for Wisconsin politicians getting out-of-state cash.

    However, those one million-plus Recall Walker signatures are definitely all-Wisconsin.

  5. Oh…OK, Yeah, my bad. That 11% is a big difference… Oh wait, come to think of it, that IS a big difference! That’s about what my tax bill decreased by this year. Thanks Gov.! But I digress. Back to the 61%… I will burn that into my memory. Let’s see, how can I best remember, 61%….Oh, I know: That’s roughly the percentage of honest, legitimate signatures gathered out of the million plus claimed, for this ridiculous recall.
    Or…maybe 61% is the percentage of the vote Walker will get in the election, especially now that we have photo ID in place. 61% could easily be the amount that we were over paying for health insurance through WEA trust. 61% is about the length of time that a public worker puts in before comfortably retiring (and usually out of state I might add) compared to a private sector worker.
    Gosh, this 61% thing is easier to remember than I thought…Thanks Brad!

  6. fondued cheesehead

    Isn’t Jim Doyle going to run? Seems the recallers want to go back to the good old days–where is the former gov ?

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