Will Wisconsin’s Recall Result in Election of the State’s First Female Governor?

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Commentary Politics

Will Wisconsin’s Recall Result in Election of the State’s First Female Governor?

Andy Kopsa

“The next step is to exercise our basic right to vote,” said Kathleen Falk the woman who could be Wisconsin’s first female governor.  She was talking about Governor Scott Walker and his extremist GOP legislature’s declared war on women.

“The next step is to exercise our basic right to vote,” said Kathleen Falk the woman who could be Wisconsin’s first female governor.  She was talking about Governor Scott Walker and his extremist GOP legislature’s declared war on women. 

Wisconsin is getting ready for an historic election.  By delivering over a million signatures to the capital, Wisconsinites forced a recall of the Governor which will take place in June. The recall alone is an historic event.  That Wisconsin is poised to elect its first woman Governor could make history as well.   

I caught up with Falk and her campaign communications director Scot Ross after the “Mad as Hell” pro-choice, pro-woman rally in Madison this week.

“Did you hear the person at the rally when Lisa [Subeck of NARAL WI] said we need to vote?  That person yelled back ‘at least we still have that’,” Falk said.  

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This year the war on women has reached an insane, fevered pitch. Wisconsin is acutely aware of that as Governor Walker and his like-minded GOP legislators (who control both House and Assembly) shoved radical anti-woman bill after radical anti-choice bill onto the floor of the capital. This week, bills were passed that ban access to telemed abortion, enshrine erroneous “anti-coercion” language into a doctor’s script prior to obtaining abortion, and overturning the Healthy Youth Act effectively paving the way for failed abstinence-only-until marriage programs being taught in public schools. 

“That was their primary purpose,” said Falk, “We have just gone through a session you could not have foreseen a year ago.”

“The extremity of these bills to prevent sound sex education, to require women to go to abortion “counseling” all alone, to make it impossible for women who are being paid less than the man right next to her – right next to her – to take legal recourse.”

We share looks of incredulity.

“It s the 21st century, the extreme nature, the extent to which the legislature and this governor have been so out of touch with Wisconsinites and with Wisconsin women, that is part of what this rally today was about.”

I asked Falk about the idea of a real “war on women” not only in Wisconsin but also throughout the US; did she believe there to be a war on women or were “we” overreacting? 

Falk, still wearing her pink leather jacket–the color of the Mad as Hell rally, gives me what I interpret as a knowing look, and turns to Ross, who hands me a ready copy of a press release titled “Falk: Wisconsin Must End Walker’s ‘War on Women’. 

In it, Falk cuts to the chase:

“We have seen the rights of women under assault at the federal level with the Blunt amendment to allow employers to deny women basic health care coverage but here in Wisconsin we see an even more unrelenting attack on women’s rights from Governor Walker that will not end until he is recalled and we elect a new governor.” 

Falk believes she will be the new governor.  

A judge finally set a date for the recall election of Governor Walker for June 5.  This move wasn’t anticipated until Monday but the early announcement could push another democratic contender to declare.  

Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett has been rumbling about throwing his hat into the Democratic primary ring, his decision must come soon as he will face reelection as mayor in April.  

Representatives of Barrett’s office had said that the mayor would not make a decision on the gubernatorial race until the recall date was set. I called the Mayor’s office and the Mayor’s campaign office, neither would comment on a possible Barrett run. 

Neither NARAL Pro Choice Wisconsin nor Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin was willing to go on record with an endorsement for the recall election. But, Lisa Subeck of NARAL said:

“As [Dane] County Executive, Kathleen Falk was a champion for women’s health. I would expect that as governor, she would continue to be a strong advocate for choice and access to reproductive health care.”

The same can’t be said for Kathleen Vinehout, Falk’s declared primary opponent.

Vinehout came down on the wrong side of women’s reproductive health by voting to allow pharmacists the right to refuse filling birth control prescriptions (2008 – SB 232), In 2009, she aligned herself with Wisconsin Right to Life and anti-choice GOP senators in voting against reappointment of two University of Wisconsin board members because they supported providing abortion services at the Madison Surgery Center. And just last year, Vinehout stood with GOP extremists in “honoring” fraudulent crisis pregnancy centers. 

Barrett’s record on choice is sketchy, the most concerning issue was his flip flop on support for late term abortion care. 

Falk feels she is best qualified to give the women of Wisconsin what they need in a governor:

“I was on the Planned Parenthood advisory board 30 years ago as a young mom because I thought it was important for mom’s like me to be active in Planned Parenthood so women could have every opportunity to make their post profound and personal health decisions.” 

But there are democratic establishment questions about the viability of a Falk run.  Falk was the first woman for Governor in 2002 a race she lost.  Some have said that is an issue, a fear around backing a candidate who already lost a gubernatorial run even though Barrett lost to Walker in 2010. There are conversations about suitable men who could or should enter the race to take on Walker; in addition to Mayor Barrett there the rustling chatter about a Russ Feingold, Herb Kohl or perhaps John Redenbacher run. 

And then there is the question of money.  I asked Ross about Falk’s ability to take on Walkers Kochian campaign coffers if she emerges as his challenger from the primary. Ross is unfazed by this. Wisconsin for Falk (not affiliated with the Falk campaign) has already spent over $500,000 on a television ad buy. They are planning more buys in the very near future. 

But money just might not matter.  What Governor Walker, and the Wisconsin GOP legislators have done to union rights and women’s rights has been so egregious perhaps no amount of money can save them now.