Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett officially jumped into the recall against Republican Gov. Scott Walker — and is already battling attacks from his left ahead of the Democratic primary by the state public employee unions, who are accusing him of having cozied up to Walker himself.
Barrett, who was previously the Democratic nominee against Walker in 2010, has fought with the unions on a variety of city government issues. In the recall campaign, AFSCME and the teachers union WEAC have endorsed former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who launched her campaign in January soon after the state Democrats’ recall petitions were officially turned in.
Now, AFSCME has been e-mailing and linking to a YouTube video, which it says it did not produce, using edited audio of comments by Barrett at a forum last year. The forum was hosted by Milwaukee conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes, and was held in March 2011, at a time when the state’s 14 Democratic state senators had fled the state in an effort to block budget quorum on Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee union legislation.
In the audio, Barrett is depicted saying that the collective bargaining changes could be passed by stripping them out of the budget repair bill, and passing them on a simple majority quorum as specific non-budgetary legislation. This tactic was being widely speculated about at the time, and ultimately was indeed used to pass the bill two days after Barrett’s comments.
The video also uses audio of Barrett saying the phrase, “and the bill will pass, and the bill should pass.”
However, as the Associated Press points out, the video’s editing “incorrectly implies that Barrett supported Walker’s proposal approved last year that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for public workers and spurred a recall drive against Walker.”
Barrett’s favorable comments were directed at the changes to health care and pensions for public employees, under which they would pay more for their benefits — to which the unions had agreed at that point in the standoff. At the same time, Barrett criticized the effort to eliminate nearly all collective bargaining rights, saying he supported collective bargaining rights and would oppose the wider changes. (The full audio is available on Sykes’s site, with the key exchanges beginning at the 6:10 mark.)
Now, as WisPolitics reports, Barrett held a press conference at the state Capitol in Madison on Wednesday, at which he rolled out the support of four Democratic state legislators, including two state Senators. Barrett also referred to “anonymous, third-party video,” and declared: “That is not the type of campaign anyone should be running.”
Barrett further fired back at the video, in a press release on Wednesday,
“The smear video released yesterday is just plain false, a deliberate distortion of the truth with one purpose - deceive voters about my record,” Barrett said in the release. “This attack is precisely why I asked all candidates in the Democratic primary to sign a clean campaign pledge. Our campaigns and the independent groups supporting our candidacies must focus their energies on the only goal that matters - defeating Scott Walker.”
AFSCME, however, is standing by the video, in a new message to supporters, painting Barrett as complicit or acquiescing to the passage of the bill, when Democrats and supporters across the state were massively protesting it. The key quote:
You would have expected Barrett to be advocating for what a majority of Wisconsinites wanted at the time. You would have expected Barrett to call for Walker to finally sit down at the table with Democrats and hammer out a deal through bargaining. Instead, Barrett went on the state’s largest far-right talk show mapping out a plan for how Republicans could—and should—do exactly what they’d just done: Split the bill in half and vote without Democrats. He encouraged them to follow a strategy that allowed passage of a law that 73% of Wisconsinites opposed, and guaranteed Republicans a winning vote later on the rest of Walker’s agenda when the Democrats returned.
As those of us who were there remember, that was the choice we faced: Do we stand our ground and force Walker to the table, or capitulate to some bizarre and unprecedented manipulation of the law that guaranteed Walker total victory? Now, it is Tom Barrett who is rewriting history. No one on our side wanted to “work our way out of this”—as Barrett put it—if it meant total victory for Scott Walker.
TPM reached out to the Falk campaign for comment on the attacks between AFSCME and Barrett, but they did not immediately have a comment.
Ed note: Reporter Eric Kleefeld was a volunteer in 2002 for Barrett’s gubernatorial campaign in the Democratic primary that year, in which Kathleen Falk was also a candidate. He has had no additional political involvement with Barrett since that time.