State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and Secretary of State Doug La Follette are both on the ballot for Tuesday's Democratic election primary in the gubernatorial recall race, but don't feel bad if you've never heard of them.
They lack the name recognition and campaign war chest of frontrunners Kathleen Falk and Tom Barrett, and both were in the single digits in the released last week.
Still, each of the two candidates has a plan for the state budget that both say puts the focus on strengthening education and balances the budget.
Patch talked by phone Sunday to both Vinehout and La Follette about their plans for the state budget, the new poll numbers, and why they think their campaigns don't get the attention that Barrett and Falk get.
Where the candidates stand
Vinehout's plan includes solid steps for how she could get the state's financial house in order. When last month, she said she took Gov. Scott Walker's budget last year and rearranged some of the priorities while keeping in mind Walker wanted to pay bills without raising taxes.
"I put education and our veterans back at the top of the list where they belong," Vinehout told a small group of supporters during her visit. "I wouldn't have raised taxes, but I wouldn't have cut taxes, either."
When we spoke to her Sunday, she said she wished more people knew the specifics her plan.
"I've said publicly that there's no substance with Falk and Barrett, that I'm the only candidate for governor to have a real plan," she said.
To pay for education funding, veterans programs, and restoring the Homestead and Earned Income credits, Vinehout's plan calls for:
- Accepting the increased contributions to health care and pensions from the public union employees as they agreed to do;
- Funding local government at the previous year's level without an allowance for increased costs;
- Getting rid of tax cuts on the wealthy;
- Scrapping the expansion of charter and voucher schools; and
- Not adding or expanding programs unless the state can afford them.
La Follette said his plan to balance the budget without Act 10 would have strengthened education funding by not implementing tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations and not lying about the money Wisconsin has on hand.
"Governor Walker said the state was broke, but that was a lie," he said. "There was and is quite a bit of money in the budget."
Add the tax breaks for the state's wealthiest citizens and corporations and cuts to education would have been avoided, La Follette added. Walker's budget was not about protecting education but instead a rush to push through an agenda from ALEC (American Legislative Campaign Council), he said.
"We cut funding to our technical schools when they're such an important resource. We have employers who have thousands of jobs to fill and the schools have waiting lists," he said. "There were no protections for education in Governor Walker's budget. Decimating education like he did is like cutting off your nose to spite your face."
La Follette believes in what he calls the Wisconsin Idea, which is central to the "Power to the People" theme of his campaign. According to his website, he would do the following:
- Restore the appointment of the Department of Natural Resources secretary to the Natural Resources Board;
- Restore the appointment of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Board of Veteran’s Affairs;
- End the politicalization of the state by changing some 38 state job titles back to civil service jobs from appointed positions;
- Restore duties to the Secretary of State office. Doing so eliminates the Department of Financial Institutions, thereby saving an estimated $87,000 per month.
By the Numbers
According to last week's Marquette poll, Vinehout's and La Follette's approval ratings among all registered voters sit at about 18 percent. By comparison, Barrett's approval rating measures about 38 percent, while Falk comes in at about 28 percent.
Walker's approval and disapproval ratings among registered voters are charted at 48 percent each, according to the poll.
Looking at how Democratic voters polled for the primary candidates, Vinehout and La Follette do better; their approval ratings are 18 and 25 percent, respectively. Their disapproval numbers are lower, too, with about 9 percent for both of them
Barrett and Falk come in at 61 and 48 percent, respectively, for approval and 12 and 18 percent for disapproval among Democratic voters.
Professor Charles Franklin at Marquette University Law School said it's not really a surprise that Vinehout and La Follette do better among Democrats than registered voters in general.
"Both Kathleen Vinehout and Doug La Follette are well known among Democrats and less so with the general electorate," he said when the poll results were released Wednesday.
Vinehout said the poll results reflect the difference in the candidates. She pointed out that both she and La Follette have won every race they've run, and neither of them are running negative campaigns.
"People are sick of money in campaigns and all the negative ads," Vinehout stated. "As a Democrat who wants to beat Governor Walker, I want people sick of all the money. That's what's going to carry us through in the general election because we will be wildly outspent."
La Follette says the poll numbers put him in the best position of all candidates to beat Walker during the June 5 general election for the recall.
"My trouble is winning in May, but clearly the numbers show I am in the best position to win in June," he said.
La Follette also pointed out that with Barrett's and Falk's negativity numbers so high, Walker supporters like the MacIver Institute will have plenty of fodder for negative ads.
"What can they say bad about me, really?" he added. "That I walk to work?"
Where's the Media Coverage?
As for campaigning in the shadow of both Barrett and Falk, Vinehout chalked it up to this being an unconventional election cycle with too many journalists and politicians thinking in conventional ways.
"There has been positive press for our campaign in Wausau and just this weekend in The Capitol Times," she pointed out. "In the last two weeks, I've seen a shift in people as they really start to understand that come Tuesday, they have a choice to make. Once people discover me and my plan, they're strong supporters."
La Follette said he is overlooked because he doesn't have big money backing or big-name endorsements. Still, with the Marquette poll showing a possible 19 percent of the electorate undecided yet, he hopes more people will seek out his website to find out more about his campaign.
"I pledged to only accept donations from individuals, he said. "The media follow the money, and since I don't have that, they don't report much."