Candidate Interview with Badger Democracy – Kathleen Falk; and a message to progressive grassroots

With the Democratic Primary less than one month away, it is clear that this election is unprecedented and unpredictable. This election is the most critical to the direction of Wisconsin in a century – and it is also abundantly clear that it is up to us, the people, to make the difference in this election. The latest poll released by Daily Kos/Public Policy Polling shows a 4% shift over the previous poll in favor of Scott Walker over the closest Democratic challenger. While this is largely due to solidification of the conservative base, and a slight shift in the independent vote toward Walker; it is an indication that the propaganda ads from Scott Walker’s moneyed corporate interests are getting through to the “moderate undecided” voter. The people of Wisconsin can no longer rely on the Democratic Party to carry the message that resonates to voters – this election will be decided by person-to-person messaging necessary to overcome overwhelming money being spent on behalf of Scott Walker.

This interview is the first in a series with all the major candidates in the Democratic Primary. Interviews will be presented in the order the candidates formally declared their intent to run for Governor. Share widely, as information is the necessary key to our success in this recall. It cannot be overstated that our only chance to defeat Scott Walker will be with factual information and a wide grassroots campaign touching as many citizens as possible. Every effort will be made to link documents and sources with candidate remarks and responses, to allow for easy access to information. Choose a candidate not based on an endorsement, but because he or she represents all that is best about this movement – then spread the word about WHY you chose that candidate to repair the damage done by Scott Walker. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate – there are, however, choices in this primary. All of whom are a far cry better than Scott Kevin Walker. In the end, we will all come together to support the winner, and defeat Walker – failure is not an option. The first candidate to declare her candidacy – Kathleen Falk.

Kathleen Falk was born in Milwaukee, and grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin. After spending her early collegiate years at UW-Waukesha, Falk earned her B.A. from Stanford and law degree from the University of Wisconsin. Falk also attended the “Senior Executives in State and Local Government” program at Harvard University. Falk served as co-director and counsel for the Wisconsin Environmental Decade, Assistant Attorney General and Public Intervenor in the Wisconsin Department of Justice (1983-1997), and Dane County Executive (1997-2011).

Early endorsements by WEAC (WEAC uses the term “recommendation”) and AFSCME created controversy surrounding the strategy of endorsing when other candidates were still “on the fence.” Falk committed early on and has since received the endorsement of other key Labor Unions – SEIU, AFL-CIO, AFT, IBEW, and South Central Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades Council. In addition, Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin are significant environmental advocacy endorsements. Badger Democracy conducted the interview with former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk by phone on April 9, 2012.

BD – What does this movement mean to you, not only as a politician, but also as a citizen of Wisconsin? Falk – I’ve never experienced such a unique time in our state’s history. At 60 years old, I grew up during Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Rights Movement, etc. There has never been a time where people have to answer “which side are you on?”,  and the differences are so stark. That is what is so inspiring about this movement – citizens are taking charge and making the difference.

BD – What will be your first act as Governor, if you are elected? – Falk – The first day after the election I will go to Waukesha County, UW-Waukesha, where I started my college education. It will be highly symbolic in a Republican stronghold to demonstrate that I will respect and work with everyone in Wisconsin. My message to the people of  Wisconsin will be, “this is what we need to do, this is where we go from here,” and I will lay out the specifics of how we will come together repairing the damage from the previous administration together.

BD – The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has forecast a significant deficit in revenue for fiscal year 2012-2013 ($208.2 million deficit); greater than the forecast surplus in 2011-2012  ($56.4 million surplus), prior to Walker’s first year in office (see links for LFB memos to Legislative Leadership specifying the nature and amount of the deficit). How do you accomplish your substantial goals of repairing the damage done to Education, Healthcare, Jobs, under that fiscal and political climate? – Falk -I would move Wisconsin back to a more progressive taxation and budgeting process. I have outlined initiatives on my website to prioritize education, real job creation, and responsible government. For example, we have to restore the $70 million in cuts to Wisconsin’s Technical College system. There are 35,000 job openings requiring vo-tech training, at a time when Scott Walker cuts state support of the technical colleges that prepare students for those jobs. If we just close the “Las Vegas loophole” in combined reporting, we can recover $40 million alone, which nearly pays for the technical college cuts.

BD – You signed a pledge to make restoration of Collective Bargaining rights a budget item, and that you would veto any budget that did not restore those rights and repeal Act 10. In Wisconsin, if a budget is not passed by the statutory deadline, the previous budget remains in effect until the new budget is reconciled and passed. Are you willing to play brinksmanship under those circumstances where the Walker Budget would continue if no budget has passed? For example, in 2007 the Democratic members of the Legislature and Jim Doyle attempted to insert “Healthy Wisconsin” into the biennial budget. The GOP blocked passage of that budget, and “Healthy Wisconsin” was eventually removed from that budget and had to wait until the next session as a stand alone bill? – Falk – The Budget is the only way to restore collective bargaining rights because the Budget is the only law which MUST be passed by the legislature. A bill, as proposed by other candidates, won’t work. If the Republicans control any House in the Legislature, they won’t bring the bill to a vote. We have to be honest about how this can realistically be done, and I am the only candidate saying how repealing Act 10 can happen. The Legislature does not have to respond to a call for Special Session, and they don’t have to even consider a bill in committee. The Budget is the only way to get this done with a split Legislature, because they have to vote on it, and pass a budget.

BD – What in your past experience makes you substantively different from your opponents? – Falk – In my 14 years as Dane county Executive, I had to work with a 37 member County Board consisting of Conservative Republicans and Liberal Democrats, and work out a budget and policy with them. With my 20 years as an environmental lawyer representing state interests, and balancing a budget as County executive, I have a great perspective of what our shared Wisconsin values are, and how we can work together to solve our problems. I have experience in managing healthcare costs, education,  job creation, and negotiating in a respectful environment to ensure worker’s rights and balance a budget. All of these experiences give me the skills to accomplish what needs to be done as Governor.

Kathleen Falk was very candid and personable in her responses during our 20 minute interview. It is noteworthy that the initiatives on her website are specific in the negative effects of the Walker Budget. The initiatives outline policy differences between Falk and Walker, making it clear that Falk will pursue a far more progressive and inclusive administration than her potential predecessor.

Comments and question are welcome and encouraged. Next up – Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, Democrat from Alma. Share, talk, debate, engage, and vote.

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