Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Can Falk And Thompson Play Spoilers in the Governor’s Race?

By - Feb 3rd, 2002 08:07 am

I’m hard pressed to think of a more interesting state race than the upcoming campaign for governor. The Democratic primary looks wide open, to judge by the recent campaign finance reports. Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk is proving to be a very serious candidate, and actually raised more from individuals than Congressman Tom Barrett in the last six months. And third party candidate Ed Thompson is looking surprisingly formidable. This is a race with a lot of potential drama.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jim Doyle is still the front-runner. He does best in the polls and raised the most money, $624,886, in the July-December, 2001 reporting period, bringing his total to nearly $2 million. But he has also been spending the most, some $646,000 to date, far more than any candidate, Democrat or Republican. As a result, Doyle has just $1.3 million on hand, slightly more than Barrett at $1.2 million. Doyle may have built some valuable infrastructure with this money, but it’s the money at the end that counts the most, and Barrett is nearly even on this.

Barrett, however, is buoyed by a one-time transfer of $750,000 from his congressional campaign committee. In the last six months he raised only $337,000 in individual contributions, less than Falk’s $347,268. Falk, moreover, had one less month to raise money because she entered the race in August. Falk is said to be very comfortable calling people for donations, something not every candidate likes to do.

Falk is still well behind Doyle and Barrett, but she’s raising enough to look serious, and that will draw more money. Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist who has worked with Emily’s List in the past, said the well financed, Washington, D.C.-based women’s group is “very likely” to support Falk and is already “informally involved” in her campaign. Beth Davidson, spokesperson for Emily’s List, told me the group is “very excited” about Falk’s candidacy and is “watching it very closely.” If they do decide to back her, this could yield significant additional money for Falk.

Gov. Scott McCallum still is leading the money parade, with $2.8 million raised to date and $2.4 million on hand, and he won’t have to spend serious money in the primary. But he will face a serious problem in the general election: Libertarian Ed Thompson. Thompson raised $105,476 in the last half-year, well more than Democratic challenger, state Sen. Gary George who raised just $75,519.

Thompson has a winning name, a positive association courtesy of his brother Tommy, and he makes a great story, to judge by a feature on him that recently ran in the Madison weekly Isthmus. Thompson’s maverick stance on the issues will be attractive to many, and he even has a colorful sounding girlfriend. (Her name is Tina Turner. Maybe Ed and Tina can bring back Ike or the Ikettes.) Most votes for Thompson are likely to be from Republicans, which is bad news for McCallum.

As for George, he has been trying to make a virtue of poverty, portraying himself a Jesse Venture outsider, but that seems like a radical departure from Gary George the consummate capital insider. I don’t think voters will buy it.

All of which leads me to two predictions: there will be a hard-fought, three-way race for the Democratic primary, and a very serious, three-person race in the general election. Doyle and McCallum are still the favorites, but things are getting very interesting.

More on Ament’s Cronyism

My recent story on the health insurance plan offered to certain Ament appointees gets more interesting all the time. Ament’s former human resources head Gary Dobbert got a plan passed that theoretically benefited 26 people: members of the county pension board, ethics board, personnel review board, civil service commission and veterans service commission.

As it turns out, however, only one person signed up to participate in the health insurance plan: Jeremiah Hegarty, head of the county’s pension board and treasurer for the Ament campaign. Hegarty signed up for the plan on January 1, 1996. As noted previously, Hegarty told the press his daughter Sarah had begun having large intestine problems in 1995. Hegarty does pay for his county health insurance, but because he chose the county’s self-funded plan, which lacks the restrictions of a private insurer, he was able to get coverage for more than a dozen operations and three organ transplants for his late daughter Sarah.

There was also one citizen volunteer who chose to sign up for dental insurance. Atty. Robert W. Schroeder, a member of the personnel review board, signed up for dental insurance. “Anything I could get, I’d take it,” he confesses. “I figured it would be cheaper than private insurance.” Schroeder says his secretary pays the bill and he doesn’t know what his monthly premium is.

Schroeder, who is 84 years old, says he didn’t need health insurance because he gets a good deal through the American Association of Retired Persons. He’s served on a number of county and state boards over the years, he says, but concedes he’d never been offered dental insurance before. Ah, is anyone more generous than Milwaukee County?

What was Norquist Thinking?

The recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series on leadership offered a negative assessment of Ament and Mayor John Norquist, but only Norquist refused to discuss this with the press. It was a dumb decision.

Mayoral press handler Steve Filmanowicz says he objected to the story’s reliance on unattributed opinion and generalized observations with no specifics as to issues on which the mayor did or didn’t provide leadership. He’s got a point: the reporters only did interviews with 30 people and the analysis was a tad thin.

The mayor’s people may also feel the Journal Sentinel is out to get them, after the orgy of coverage last summer hammering home the idea that Norquist was coasting on the job (and which may have influenced the negative opinions that emerged in the Journal Sentinel’s leadership survey).

But these are all reasons to respond to the newspaper. It’s not as though reporters Don Walker and mild mannered Alan Borsuk are bomb throwers. What do you have to lose by confronting their perceptions with a little spin of your own? And why give the city’s major media source the idea that you’re going to be petulant if the story doesn’t go your way? It seems clear the mayor still has some relationship building to do with the Journal Sentinel, and blowing off this interview is not the way to do it. Worse, the perception of Norquist as a non-leader was reinforced by his non-appearance in the story. Not a good decision.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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