Doug La Follette
On May 8, Wisconsin voters will do something voters in only two other states have ever done — vote for a candidate to oppose a sitting state governor in a recall election. Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, State Senator Kathleen Vinehout and Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette have stepped up to battle to be the Democratic standard bearer against Gov. Scott Walker.
With a new round of elections upon us, ThirdCoast Digest kick-starts its 5Q machine and focuses on La Follette; why he’s running for governor after 40 years of service to the state, what he would do as governor and what the real issue is behind the recall.
Q1: Why are you running for in the gubernatorial recall?
“After considering all the people that stood out in the cold and rain to protest and collect the signatures and my role in the process, people were urging me to run,” La Follette said. “I waited until the recall was certified and saw that my Facebook account went from 25 friends to 3,000 all urging me to run. People have said they like my independence and thought I would be a good fit for Wisconsin’s progressive nature.”
La Follette said his reputation and history of winning nine statewide elections for Secretary of State, including four times when Tommy Thompson was governor and again during the 2010 Republican sweep, makes him the best bet to beat Walker in a statewide race.
“I have always received broad support from voters across the state among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. I can win statewide,” he said.
In contrast, Falk has run for governor and state attorney general and lost. Barrett has also run statewide twice – once in a the 2002 Democratic primary for governor and in the 2010 election against Walker, losing both times. Vinehout has never run a statewide campaign.
Much has been made of Walker’s restrictions on public employee collective bargaining rights, cuts to women’s health services and financing of public schools. La Follette thinks the real issue is the philosophical direction of the state.
“We need to look for solutions for our problems; find progressive solutions,” he said. “We’ve been taken over by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), by the Koch brothers and all the out-of-state money. We don’t need that.”
La Follette would instead return the state to the Wisconsin Idea. The Wisconsin Idea is based on the premise that government was most effective when controlled by voters, not special interests. The University of Wisconsin provided many of the “Wisconsin Ideas” that we now take for granted, including workers’ compensation, child labor laws, and conservation of our forests and water.
Q3: Are you seeking support or taking money from unions and out-of-state PACs? Why or why not?
La Follette said he was disappointed by the early union endorsements of Falk by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME), Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). He said he would not seek endorsements or funding from unions or PACs.
Instead, he is following what he calls “A Better Way” that emphasizes small, individual donations that do not make him beholden to any special interests.
Q4: What distinguishes you from the other Democrats running in the primary?
“What distinguishes me is my maturity and civility,” he said. “I have worked with many groups of people. I have nothing to prove and my only goal is to bring people together to solve our state’s problems.”
Q5: If elected in June, what is your first act as governor on June 6?
La Follette said he plans full day’s slate of business if he gets through the primary and beats Gov. Walker.
First, he would call in a group of advisers and attorneys to determine what actions he can take by executive order. La Follette recognizes that a new governor will still have a state senate that is out of session and an assembly that is firmly in the control of the Republicans, so legislative action would be impossible until next spring. But he does plan to make reversals to some of the actions of the past year through executive fiat, if legally able.
Secondly, La Follette would turn to his advisers and determine how many positions within the administrative branch are appointed by the governor. He said he would immediately begin a search to fill those positions with progressive-minded people who will work to restore Wisconsin to it’s historic roots.
Finally, Gov. La Follette would work with the Robert M. La Follette School for Public Affairs at UW-Madison and COWS (Center On Wisconsin Strategy) to find a way back to the Wisconsin Idea to solve the state’s problems.
“I would also reach out to progressive Republicans who are willing to work with both sides to find solutions,” LaFollette said. “I don’t know how far I’d get with the Fitzgerald brothers (State Senate Majority Leader Scott and State Assembly Speaker Jeff), but I’m willing to try.”
“I’m not a Madison liberal or a big city mayor. I just want to work with anyone who is willing to make changes to make a better Wisconsin.”
La Follette is the great-great nephew of “Fighting Bob” La Follette. He has graduate degrees in chemistry and organic chemistry and was the Wisconsin organizer of the first Earth Day with Sen. Gaylord Nelson. He is also the co-founder Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade (now known at Clean Wisconsin). He served one four-year term as Secretary of State in the 1970s and was elected to the same post in 1982. He has been re-elected to that job in seven subsequent elections.
The gubernatorial recall primary is Tuesday, May 8. Continue to visit ThirdCoast Digest for more 5Qs with the other Democrat candidates in the race.