The race to watch
As we prepare to cast our ballots next Tuesday, we have one more primary stop – the governor’s race.
Barrett’s campaign has seemed reluctant. He was dragged into the race after Gov. Jim Doyle announced his retirement and Congressman Ron Kind took a pass. In the first few weeks after his announcement, the Barrett campaign didn’t even have a website. (Two weeks ago, it went dark for a few days after campaign staffers forgot to pay the web hosting bill!)
Barrett’s an old-school Democrat and he is not moving off the campaign stump which successfully took him to Madison as a representative, to Congress and to Water Street as mayor.
Without any real competition, Barrett has been able to save his powder for the general election. That doesn’t mean voters don’t know where he stands on some issues. High speed rail – he’s for it; health care reform – for it; green energy and environmentally friendly jobs – for it; and public school reform – he’s all in. He was a vocal supporter of mayoral control of MPS, but since it died in committee Barrett has been mum on the subject.
Tim John, while underfunded, subscribes to the “the little engine that could” campaign style. No matter how often the press calls him “nominal” or says he has a “snowball’s chance in hell,” John stands defiantly.
John is running on a philosophical platform — he vows to eliminate wasteful spending on government programs that don’t work; he wants to use “outside the box” thinking and encourage private investors to create jobs with some public incentives.
On unemployment, John is the only candidate who notes the high rates of joblessness among African-American men. He says he will work on specific solutions to find work for urban areas plagued by unemployment. However, he doesn’t say what those solutions are and why they would differ from solving the overall unemployment problem.
On education, John wants to move students beyond the rote memorization of facts and away from federally-set scores that indicate success.
“We cannot forget growth in self-confidence, problem-solving, application of information, creativity and appreciation of the arts,” John said.
Last week, Julie Sneider explored Tim John’s position on health care in her View from the Waiting Room column — click here.
But Mark Neumann has been the candidate who just won’t go away. GOP party officials felt he would be a better candidate to run against Sen. Russ Feingold, but Neumann declared he wouldn’t seek the party’s endorsement for governor and built his campaign around the idea he is the “real conservative.”
A third candidate, Scott Paterick, is also seeking the GOP nod, but he has had little exposure and his campaign consists of four one-minute videos on education, jobs, the state budget and leadership. He proposes equity and fairness in school funding, focusing on technology for future jobs and ruthlessly cutting spending and paying down debt.
There is little difference between Walker and Neumann other than Walker’s party endorsement. Both have held elective office – Walker as a state representative and Milwaukee County Executive; Neumann as a Congressman during the “Contract with America” era. Both are fiscal conservatives – Walker touting his record of not submitting an annual county budget that raised the county tax levy over the previous year; Neumann bragging about being tossed off a Republican-controlled fiscal committee in Washington because he was too much of a tightwad.
Both want to shrink government by cutting spending and lowering taxes to encourage business development. Walker wants to phase out the tax on retirement income; Neumann wants to implement a plan to pay property tax bills on a monthly — not annual — basis. He believes this will put a year’s worth of property taxes into taxpayer’s pockets, money that can be used to start businesses, reduce consumer debt or finance educations.
Walker says his economic plan will add 250,000 jobs to the state within four years; Neumann one-ups him by promising 300,000 jobs if he is elected and implements his economic vision.
Each candidate would stop the high-speed train between Madison and Milwaukee, even if forces the state to pay back earmarked funds. Walker would lobby Congress to change the use of the $800 million from rail expansion to highway and bridge improvements. Neumann has said he would use the money to provide tax cuts across the board.
Neither candidate favors federal health care reform. Walker would seek a waiver from the feds to allow the state to opt out or design its own health care program.
Neumann presented over 25,000 petition signatures to the governor, Sen. Feingold and other state representatives opposing health care reform. He would pursue the same path as Walker towards health care, allowing the A.G. to sue and seek a waiver to exempt Wisconsin from participating.
Neumann has personal experience in education; he was a high school math teacher and currently runs three choice schools in Milwaukee. He is for school choice and charter schools and would work to remove the mandates and red-tape that limit local control of schools. Neumann says schools need to be accountable to parents and students and that teachers should be graded on their performance.
Walker believes the quality of public schools needs to improve if the state wants to grow and foster new business. He would implement a system that rewards teachers for performance and reinstate the Qualified Economic Offer, which held teacher pay and benefit increases to 3.8 percent annually to control school spending. When health costs increased more than that, teacher take-home pay was reduced. The QEO was rescinded in 2009 by Gov. Doyle.
To cut school health insurance costs, Walker proposes allowing districts to purchase insurance from the state employees’ health plan.
“One of the greatest budget challenges for cash-strapped school districts are the health care costs for our employees,” Walker said. “By offering them the opportunity to use the state employee health plan for the first time, school districts can save up to $68 million a year.”
In the waning days of the primary season, Walker and Neumann have turned the battle towards each other, after spending the summer delineating their differences with Barrett. Walker has accused Neumann of siding with Nancy Pelosi on a spending bill during the 1990’s, while Neumann reminds people that the Milwaukee County tax levy has increased since Walker took office.
Both comments are the final blows of a long primary battle, quick sound bites that increase the noise level with little real substance. Both share the same basic ideas. The only question here is whether to go with the hand-picked party candidate or the self-described outsider.
Four months ago, my money was a Walker. But Neumann has gained ground over the summer and refuses to stay down. I predict this is too close to call and plan on a long night on Tuesday.