Democratic Candidates Gather in Madison a Week Before Primary

Democratic gubernatorial candidates square off in Madison (Courtesy: WORT News)

Author: Martin Rakacolli

Seven of the eight Democratic candidates seeking the gubernatorial nomination gathered for a forum in Madison on Wednesday. They made the case to elect themselves and to elect Democrats ahead of the upcoming Aug. 14 primary.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, former Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn, political activist Mike McCabe, former state Rep. Kelda Roys, Kenosha lawyer Josh Pade, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Wisconsin state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, appeared before a crowd on the third floor of Madison’s central library to answer questions. Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell was unable to attend.

After the moderator made opening remarks and explained the rules of the forum, a panel presented the candidates with questions. Evers responded to a question about the large number of undecided voters, saying that the race has always been about “retail politics,” which is why he “will win this race next week.” The most recent Marquette Law School poll found that 38 percent of voters in the Democratic primary have not decided who they will vote for. The poll also showed Evers leading the field at 31 percent of the vote in the primary, 25 percentage points ahead of the second-place candidate.

Roys, with three percent support in the poll, followed up Evers by saying the reason for so many undecided voters was that there were a lot of good candidates.

The panel asked Flynn about his work as a lawyer representing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against victims of sexual abuse. Allegations that he knew about the abuse and helped cover it up have followed Flynn throughout the primary, which sparked the video “Setting the Record Straight.” He again denied wrongdoing on his part, saying “(the allegations) are lies.”

Other candidates defended their records. McCabe, the former executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, defended his track record after a panelist mentioned that he “almost did not run as a Democrat.”

Roys talked about the experience she gained running against Madison-based Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, saying that she “made a mistake in that race by running negative ads.”

Vinehout expressed her wish to “bring civility back to politics.”

Soglin differentiated himself from the other candidates by saying he was “the only candidate of all of us who has continually articulated that he will appoint a Republican to their cabinet.”

The outlier in the group was Pade, who has never previously held an elected office and was asked why he chose to run for governor as an entry point into politics.

Foxconn was a frequent subject in the forum. Flynn called the Foxconn bill “illegal” and promised to stop it, whereas Soglin said he would cut off the money and force Foxconn to “come back to the table or sue us.” Others criticized the deal for being too expensive and having no “benchmarks”. The other issues touched on included Wisconsin’s highest-in-the-nation rate of farm bankruptcies, renewable energy, the DNR, the environment and transportation infrastructure.

In the forum’s “lightning rounds,” candidates briefly raised their hands to show support for stances. Every candidate supported the legalization of marijuana, background checks, repealing “right to work” laws and increased spending on public schools. Where the money for this would come from was contentious however, with Flynn and Vinehout opposing raised taxes to pay for public schools.

All of the candidate except for Pade supported raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, but Pade believed that different areas of Wisconsin ought to be able to set their own minimum wages at their own pace, though he was for wage increases.

Throughout the forum, candidates showed support for other candidates’ ideas. Soglin and McCabe both supported Vinehout’s proposed criminal justice reforms and Roys, Flynn, Pade and Evers all expressed their own ideas of how to improve the criminal justice system in Wisconsin. All of them called for more accountability in the state, with Vinehout—who said she had written four alternative budgets showing how the state could allocate money for schools—in particular saying that Wisconsin needed to change the budgeting process because there was no public resource to find the information when a budget motion happens. All of them criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

The Wisconsin primary election is August 14th.