Democratic Candidates Spar in First Televised Gubernatorial Debate

Democratic gubernatorial candidates debate in Milwaukee (WTMJ-TV)


Author: Will Kenneally

Democratic candidates for governor took to the prime-time stage Thursday to trade jabs and take shots at incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in the first televised debate of the primary.

After many of the candidates pledged to run clean campaigns earlier this month, the gloves came off as the candidates tried to distinguish themselves in a crowded primary field.

“You just heard Mike McCabe say that he would not take a single contribution over $200,” Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said. “But it is my understanding that he would take multiple contributions from the same individual of $200…what do you think of that?”

Former Democratic state party chair Matt Flynn criticized what he said are attacks from Democratic party-elite.

“I will not tolerate in the Democratic Party…people fragging their commanding officers from behind,” Flynn said, using a military term meaning to intentionally injure another.

Flynn faces criticism from some Democrats over his legal defense of the Milwaukee Archdiocese in cases of sexual abuse by priests.

All eight candidates appeared on-stage at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, including state Superintendent Tony Evers, former Democratic state party chair Matt Flynn, political activist Mike McCabe, state firefighter union President Mahlon Mitchell, attorney Josh Pade, former state Rep. Kelda Roys, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout. The field was narrowed last month when Andy Gronik and Dana Wachs both dropped out.

Candidates took questions on a range from criminal justice to education.

“I believe that public dollars are for public education, period,” Roys said. “The problem with privatization is that it takes the resources out of the public schools.”

Vinehout also touched on the need to invest in higher education.

“The UW is the engine that drives our state and we must invest in the UW for our state to do well,” Vinehout said.

When asked about the urban-rural divide, McCabe weighed in on the debate’s host city of Milwaukee.

“We cannot be successful as a state if our biggest city, the engine of our economy, is struggling or failing,” McCabe said. He added that for Wisconsin to succeed, both urban and rural areas need to be successful.

The debate stage included a new face as well in political newcomer Pade. He defended his decision to make his first run for public office a run for governor.

“For me I don’t see it as an entry level position…I see it as someone who has had a tremendous experience of living throughout the state of Wisconsin,” Pade said.

Though not on the debate stage, the incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker made appearances in the candidates’ remarks. Evers took a shot at Walker over the issue of Foxconn.

“It was the worst deal on record. Any of us on stage, anybody in the audience could have cut a better deal frankly than Walker did,” Evers said.

Mitchell criticized Walker for what he says was a delayed decision to close the Lincoln Hills juvenile detention facility.

“We have two Walkers,” Mitchell said. “We have Governor Walker who legislates and governs one way, and we have candidate Walker who is now acting like he is a moderate Republican.”

Though not at the debate, Walker was in Milwaukee the same afternoon holding a rally at a campaign field office. He previewed the debate, saying viewers would “hear what [the Democratic candidates] are against.” Walker added that he had no plans to watch the Democratic debate.

The debate was hosted in a media partnership between WTMJ-TV, WUWM, WisPolitics.com, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and USA Today Network Wisconsin. Further debates between the candidates are expected in July and August. The primary election for this race will be held on August 14.