Scott Walker Fends Off the Cynical Tom Barrett During Their First Debate

Tom Barrett (D) & Scott Walker (R)


Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Gov. Scott Walker faced off this evening. It was the first of two debates and it struck a bitter tone with Barrett sounding cynical and unpleasant, offering little in the way of positives or talking about what he would do as Governor.

Barrett attacked Walker throughout most of the debate on issues such as collective bargaining, gay rights,  and Walker’s possible role in a John Doe investigation of his aides.

The Wisconsin race is very close, within a few percentage points, and Walker holds a slight lead. The unions had spent $14 million to get their candidate into the race and lost. That money was wasted. Barrett is not their candidate.

Democratic challenger, Barrett, launched an offensive-only tactic. He began by saying that the June recall is “not a rematch or do-over” of his 2010 loss to Walker but a referendum on Walker’s polarizing tenure as governor. He accused Walker of dividing and conquering the state, starting a “civil war.”

Walker for his part said the recall was about the bold methods that he used to balance a $3 billion shortfall in the state budget over two years by focusing on spending cuts rather than tax increases.

He said that voters wanted to “move on” and “move forward” and declined to put a question to Barrett as allowed by the debate format, saying the public didn’t want to see candidates bicker with each other. He said he is putting the power back into the hands of the taxpayer.

Walker talked about Mayor Barrett’s lack of success as Mayor and his (Walker’s) success as Governor.

“Our reforms are working. That’s why our opponents don’t talk about them any more,” Walker said. ” . . . We’re turning things around. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Barrett criticized Walker for allegedly participating in a recall against a Milwaukee County executive even though he is now critical of the recall process. Walker answered that recalls were costly and that he opposed recalling politicians solely because of their policies rather than ethical failings.

There was back-and-forth over Barrett’s allegations that an investigation of Walker aides when he served as county executive was kept secret and that he holds a $100,000 defense fund.

Walker said he is not the subject of an investigation and talked about his high integrity. He said the facts clearly show that any time anyone used funds for political purposes, he immediately dealt with it. He said this investigation exists because he asked for it.

Walker criticized Barrett’s diversionary tactics which he uses to avoid talking about his failed record as Mayor. He said violent crime and unemployment have increased under Barrett’s leadership as Mayor of Milwaukee.

“They want to distract attention because they’re desperate,” Walker said.

The mining bill came up. Walker talked about working well with union workers until leaders told them not to work with him because he will get re-elected. Walker is confident he will work well with them when this recall election is behind them.

Barrett wants “marriage equality” and Walker said that he supported the state’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between a man and woman.

Barrett tried to accuse Walker of not enforcing wage equality for women and Walker made a strong statement of support for wage equality and talked about the many media outlets pointed out that Barrett keeps saying that and is patently inaccurate on the issue.

Barrett called Walker a “rock star” of the far right who is more interested in furthering his image than fulfilling his job responsibilities.

Barrett demanded the release of his campaign donors and complained about the out-of-state donations to his campaign. Walker responded talking about the tens of millions spent by the special interests to unseat him.

Walker said he was able to gain support from Wisconsin and around the country because he had protected the interests of families in this state.

“I stood up and took on the powerful interests,” Walker said. ” . . . I put the power back in the hands of the taxpayers.”

Walker said Barrett hasn’t said enough about what tough choices he would have made to balance the state budget and what choices he would make going forward in the next budget.

“We don’t really know what Barrett’s going to do,” Walker said. ” . . . He hasn’t told the voters. He doesn’t have a plan.”

The candidates reviewed the impact that the repeal of most collective bargaining for most public employees has had on the state.

Walker said the law change has led to savings for taxpayers and that his administration has assessed those at more than $1 billion from workers having to pay more for benefits and schools being able to rebid insurance contracts.

“The facts are the facts. Our reforms are working and putting more people to work,” Walker said…

I think Barrett was on the offensive but came off as unpleasant as a result while Walker came off as a much more appealing politician. The polls will tell us how Wisconsin voters feel.

Barrett concluded that he will stand up for the special interests and repeated his false accusation that Walker took money from seniors, a claim Walker debunked. Walker used an anecdote to point out that people are impressed with his courage in taking on the problems of the state as he said he would when he ran two years ago.

View the full debate here _