Friday, February 17, 2012

Interview with Kathleen Falk

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to do a quick telephone interview with Democratic candidate for Governor Kathleen Falk. Many of the hot button issues that were recently relevant in some circles don't really interest me very much. So naturally I chose to focus on just a few isolated questions that I personally found interesting. Kathleen Falk will certainly do many more interviews with other bloggers, reporters and others during this campaign. So if I didn't ask your question or address your topic, I'm sure it will be addressed at some point.

First I mentioned the fact that both Scott Walker and Kathleen Falk were County Executives of the two largest Wisconsin counties. They served in these positions roughly during the same periods. Since that timing may mean that they also faced similar challenges, I was interested in hearing Kathleen Falk compare and contrast her tenure with Walker's in Milwaukee County.

Kathleen Falk said that her time as Dane County Executive couldn't be any more different than Walker's in Milwaukee County. She said that it wasn't only like night and day in policy but also in terms of values and style of leadership. In terms of style she said that some want to be known by who their political enemies are and they like to pit people against each other. Obviously she was accurately implying that this is how Walker chose to operate as Milwaukee County Executive (and now as Governor).

Falk went on to say that people who tend to operate in such a divisive fashion continually try to make demons out of their political opponents just to advance their own political agenda. She said that this is certainly not her style and that most Wisconsinites do not desire such a divisive approach to policy or even to politics. She said that this is typically true even when people are looking for a change agent. Most simply want competent stable leaders that help to ensure things like their children having good schools, the growth of family supporting jobs, clean air to breath and clean water to drink.

Kathleen Falk went on to give a more specific difference between her time as Dane County Executive and Walker's time in Milwaukee County. She started by acknowledging that the national recession certainly took its toll on local government budgets over the last few years. She said that her response in Dane County was to properly adjust to the major changes in circumstances while Scott Walker chose to just keep doing that same old things. While Walker continued his same ideology-based approach, Falk sought to collaborate with others to solve the challenges together.

One specific example that she used was that she went to union leaders and let them know that she would like to speak to front line county workers. So she went to talk to people like snow plow truck drivers and mechanics. During those discussions she talked over the issues and listed the various choices. She said that this collaborative approach lead to county employees giving up 5% of their salary. She says that she knew that this was not an easy choice for Dane County workers but after being included in the process as a valuable partner, they were willing to make that sacrifice. After the budget issues were resolved, Falk bragged about Dane County workers rather than trying to score political points for herself. In the end she said that public employees want to be respected just like everyone else and voters want quality public services. Falk said that the approach that she used toward budgetary challenges accomplished both.

During my discussion with Kathleen Falk I also mentioned the role that special interests like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce played in her 2006 run for attorney general. They have become nothing more than a financial arm of the Republican Party and in 2006 they proved it by dumping millions of dollars into the AG race attacking Kathleen Falk. Even with their millions in attack ads, that race ended with a historically razor thin margin. Given that experience and seeing that a potential run against Walker would dwarf that special interest attack, I asked Kathleen Falk how she planned to address the situation.

The first thing that Kathleen Falk mentioned was just how vicious and inaccurate the WMC ads were in 2006. She also noted that even though they spent some $3.5 million against her that year, they didn't spend any of it in Dane County. She said that WMC didn't run their over-the-top attack ads there because Dane County knew her record and would have known that the attack ads were false.

In terms of what she would do in an election against Scott Walker, she said that she will count on the voters of Wisconsin to rely on other sources rather than just nasty attack ads from special interests. She further said that an election against Walker in 2012 will not be the exact same situation that existed in 2006. She said that polls have already shown that many people have already made up their minds about Scott Walker and the direction of the state.

Falk further pointed to the fact that even though Walker and his special interest allies have already spent millions of dollars in unanswered ads, the polls show that the dial has not really moved for them. In fact she said that the Walker campaign apparently knew that their ads were not working because they stopped doing them and then started sending out massive numbers of expensive direct mail pieces. All of these facts seem to indicate that massive amounts of attack ads may not provide the same bang for their buck as they have in past elections.

After all of the turmoil and division that Wisconsin has faced on Scott Walker's watch so far, Kathleen Falk says that people are more ready than ever to get away from the extremism and go back to the idea of a competent and stable state government.

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