Premature WEAC “Recommendation” in Democratic Primary – blatant disregard for members and the movement

On the same day State Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) officially announced she was in the race for Governor in an impending recall election, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) announced its “recommendation” of Kathleen Falk to represent Democrats against Scott Walker. The announcement has been met with a strong backlash from WEAC members on social media sites, including a petition on to “reconsider the recommendation of Kathleen Falk.”  While WEAC spokeswoman Christine Brey maintains the “recommendation” process occurs with input from members through their regional representatives, the backlash should send a message to other unions and party power brokers what and who this movement is about – the people.

Brey defended the early WEAC endorsement by noting the “unprecedented” short time frame before a potential recall election, and that WEAC members would “ultimately decide who they support in the primary.” The fact is, these are unprecedented times, and WEAC is doing a disservice to the teachers who marched in the first protests at the start of this movement. WEAC should let the members decide, not a panel holding behind-the-scenes interviews (as WEAC and other unions have held for potential candidates). This endorsement smacks of the type of “closed door” dealings that this grassroots movement stands against. State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) summed up WEACs endorsement (and the talk of AFSCME endorsing her) in a brief statement: “I think it is a big mistake and somewhat of an insult to the thousands who walked in the cold to protest and get signatures. This is a grass roots campaign, not a union bosses campaign.”

Jauch and other critics of this early endorsement are correct in their judgement. There are other potential candidates testing the waters (Barca, Kagen, Barrett, to name three); and a big union endorsement such as WEAC can go a long way to limiting the field. Cutting off potential financial and resource support through an early endorsement could very well frighten off potential candidates. In a race that will have record spending levels, that type of impact on a potential candidate could be enormous and that is NOT what this movement is about. This movement is about the people taking back their government and power – not yielding to opportunistic union leadership like Mary Bell. Recall in February Bell urged teachers to return to classes rather than continue vehement protesting at the Capitol. After outcry and backlash from members, Bell showed up days later to speak at a rally. Leave it to Mary Bell and the leadership at WEAC to put a political power play over the best interests of a grassroots movement.

Power plays appear to be what this Democratic primary is about, however. As this is written, AFSCME and SEIU seem poised to endorse Falk as well – further consolidating the “inside” Democratic Party apparatus behind Falk. While the Party cannot work for a candidate, the Falk campaign staff  reads as a “who’s who” of state and national Democratic Party operatives:

Meagan Mahaffey, Campaign Manager. Mahaffey has extensive statewide experience, most recently as Executive Director of United Wisconsin, the grassroots organization that led the collection of the more than one million recall signatures. In addition to other work, Mahaffey has led the statewide grassroots organization Advancing Wisconsin, served as Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and worked on the campaign of U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore.

Scot Ross, Communications Director. Ross has served as communications and research director for numerous statewide Wisconsin candidates and campaigns. Most recently, Ross was the Executive Director of the statewide progressive advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. Previously he worked as a communications director for Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and state Sen. Jon Erpenbach.

Brittani Garner Worringer, Finance Director. Garner Worringer previously worked as finance director for organizations including United Wisconsin and Advancing Wisconsin. She has also served a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin.

Brita Olsen, Scheduling Director. Olsen has worked for various organizations including the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and Advancing Wisconsin. Olsen has also worked for the Wisconsin State Legislature.

Paul Maslin, Polling Director. Maslin, of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) is Wisconsin’s leading Democratic pollster and one of the most respected strategists in the country. He has worked for Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and was Kathleen Falk’s pollster in her 2006 campaign for Attorney General and 2009 re-election campaign for County Executive.

John Kupper and John Del Cecato, Media Consultants. Kupper and Del Cecato are partners at AKPD Message & Media, a national consulting firm that served as President Barack Obama’s lead media firm in the 2008 election. They have a long history of involvement in Wisconsin politics, including serving as Sen. Herb Kohl’s media consultants.

Ben Coffey Clark, New Media Consultant. Clark is a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive, a firm formed by staffers from Obama’s 2008 campaign that is the largest digital marketer of the Democratic Party and brand. He is a veteran of several political campaigns and first got his start in Iowa working for Gov. Howard Dean in the 2004 primary. Since then, he has played a role in several high profile campaigns including Rahm Emanuel’s recent mayoral campaign.

Today, Mike Tate and Falk pollster Paul Maslin are speaking at a “non-fundraising recall event” at AKPD Message and Media in Chicago – David Axelrod’s  media firm, as reported in the Chicago Tribune. The people’s hope for a statewide competitive primary outside the Dane County center of power will rest with the people who started this movement – all of us.

With this premature endorsement, an opportunity has been missed. In these unprecedented times, it would have served the greater good for WEAC and other Labor to do something unprecedented. As opposed to endorsing a primary candidate, why not band together (in true Solidarity) and sponsor a series of statewide debates and candidate forums. This will be a very short election cycle, and the best interest of this grassroots movement would be to evaluate and choose candidates on their merits – not through the endorsement of WEAC and other party power brokers. As the People, we should demand this forum occur statewide.

We need a populist progressive to pull this state out of the Walker quagmire. Mary Bell and WEAC, in this endorsement, have promoted a self-serving “recommendation” over the greater interest of the majority of this movement. Yes, restoring collective bargaining rights is at the center of this debate – but its foundation is the power of the people. WEAC and other Labor are poised to disregard that foundation, and miss a golden opportunity for REAL SOLIDARITY.


7 thoughts on “Premature WEAC “Recommendation” in Democratic Primary – blatant disregard for members and the movement

  1. This is a disturbing distortion of what is happening. Of course unions support collective bargaining. Of course unions recommend candidates. Of course unions are involved in elections. A core constituency of the progressive movement is union.

    The remarks and opinion here are infected with the ‘pub meme that union “thugs” control elections. It is no accident that the word “pledge” has been applied to Falk’s candidacy, just as the ‘pubs were caught in a pledge scandal for redistricting. ‘pub trolls are everywhere, planting stories (MJS).

    Politics is a tough game. Choosing a candidate involves organizations recommending and candidates debating. Blasting unions has become a favorite for ‘pubs, we certainly don’t need it on our side. Unions do what they do because they represent large groups of workers – and within a union (any union) there is debate and dialogue – but in the end you vote and make a choice. WEAC’s choice is Falk. Get over it and stop replicating the ‘pub memes.

    • The only disturbing distortion is in the comment from “friend of unions.” The misreading of this piece, and any inference that this blog or its author is a GOP troll or anti-union, is tragic and comical. Read beyond this piece to any in the Badger Democracy archive and you will find a consistent pro-labor platform. Two weeks ago, I published a “People’s Platform” to begin the debate on forwarding this movement around a platform. The number one item on that platform is the recognition of collective bargaining as a basic human right. Read the blog. This piece was an opinion as to the inappropriateness of WEAC’s early endorsement the day another outstanding labor candidate entered the race. If you read the entire piece, you will also find I offered a constructive alternative to the usual labor method of endorsement – the sponsoring of statewide debate and candidate forums for people to get to know the candidates they will be voting for to replace Walker. These are unprecedented times, and we must think outside the box together to defeat Walker and the Koch money machine with the best statewide candidate. The fact remains that WEAC did the movement no favors in this recommendation.

      If you still doubt my legitimacy in the pro-union movement, talk to John “Sly” Sylvester, Ed Sadlowski Jr., John Nichols, any of the Democratic State Senators, Mark Pocan, and even Scot Ross, Meagan Mahaffey from the Falk campaign, Kathleen Vinehout, etc. etc. etc. about Badger Democracy and see what they say…and by the way – I’ll be at the Capitol this weekend. See you there.

      Scott Wittkopf
      Author, Badger Democracy blog

    • Fair enough. The problem with the Friend of Unions position is that WEAC members had no input. I am a member of Council #1, and I am not aware of any conversation or request for feedback within this unit. Please don’t tell me I am blasting unions. That’s a cheap shot. Open dialog should be encouraged, not stifled. You will find me on Falk’s side 150% if she emerges as the candidate. I will not support her in the primary if better candidates sign on. But it must be legitimate to voice a dissenting opinion without being told that I am “blasting unions.” I do take exception to that. Ultimately, though, all of us need to make sure that this recall is successful.

  2. I appreciate the clarification. My comment was not directed at your personal union or progressive credentials. You have written some very helpful and articulate things about our movement.

    The troll I refer to is not you. Those trolls are injecting the union bashing memes into Milwaukee and Madison media. The central meme is a common one – attack the union for political activity that does not take the union membership into account. Attack the union leader for a “top down” decision. Attack the candidate for being a shill of the unions. These are Republican talking points.

    The candidacy of Kathleen Falk is open for debate. She may or may not be the one. One union has recommended through its process. Others will follow with their own endorsements. Other progressive groups will also recommend. Other candidates may step forward and change the game. We have little time, because Walker is well on his way to raising millions. And his trolls are very, very active.

    The LaCrosse paper ran a story clarifying WEAC’s endorsement:

    I particularly like Tate’s comment: “Unions make endorsements,” Tate said Thursday. “That’s what they do.”

    Thanks for what you do Scott – I really do enjoy your blog.

    • No – thank you for your passion and commitment to be engaged in this critical process. For the record…I am not aligned with or belong to any union. My support for labor is based on what I believe is ethically, philosophically, politically, and economically just.

      I welcome your feedback, thanks.

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