Chris Hubbuch | firstname.lastname@example.org lacrossetribune.com Posted: Friday, May 11, 2012 12:00 am
Kathleen Vinehout pulled only 4 percent of the votes in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, but the state senator from Alma said Thursday she accomplished what she set out to do: Shift the discussion from sound bites to policy.
“When I talk to independent voters, they want you to be straight up,” she said. “Nothing but the facts. They can smell spin a mile away.”
Vinehout endorsed winner Tom Barrett on Wednesday at a breakfast with the other three candidates and said she encouraged the Milwaukee mayor to take up some of her pet issues in his race against Gov. Scott Walker.
“I told him to go to my website and steal whatever he wanted,” she said. “I think you’ll see him picking up some of the themes.”
Unlike Falk and Barrett, Vinehout rarely mentioned the Republican governor, instead advocating government reforms like transparency and benchmarks for a budget process she says is so convoluted that even lawmakers don’t understand it.
“We need a different way to do government,” she said. “It’s impossible for legislators to understand what the governor is doing.”
Vinehout came in third out of four Democrats hoping to challenge Walker in the June 5 recall election. She garnered 26,926 votes. Secretary of State Doug La Follette got 19,461. Those votes combined equal only about 12 percent of the votes cast for winner Tom Barrett.
Vinehout said her long-shot campaign — she entered the race with little name recognition and even less cash — allowed her to visit other parts of the state where she discovered the electorate may not be as split as the polls suggest.
“I learned we have much more in common than we have division,” she said. “I know that people are divided about politics, but when you start to talk about the details of issues there is a lot of common ground.”
For example, she said most people want schools to be funded but also want teachers to pay for their health insurance; they want programs like BadgerCare but they want them to be run well.
“I like to think of that as our Norwegian roots,” Vinehout said. “We’re frugal people, and we want the tax dollars to be spent frugally.”
She said regardless of who wins the election, legislators need to create better venues for bottom-up democracy, where politicians listen to people rather than talking to them.
Vinehout, 53, is a former college professor turned organic farmer who entered politics in 2006 when she defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Brown in the large, mostly rural district, which stretches from south of Eau Claire into Trempealeau, Jackson and Monroe counties.
She was one of 14 Senate Democrats who went to Illinois last year to stall passage of Walker’s budget repair bill that eliminated most collective bargaining for public workers.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Joe Heim said the recall primary was not the best venue to get across such a nuanced platform.
“I suspect this campaign is not nearly long enough for her message,” he said. “I give her credit for trying.”
But Heim said her run likely enhanced her reputation in her district, where she won re-election in 2010 by just 439 votes over the late Ed Thompson, or to set her up for a future campaign for higher office.
Vinehout said she’s not thinking that far ahead.
She said plans to spend the next two years bringing attention to waste and mismanagement in state government.
“I can do the homework and shine a light on what I find,” she said.