The controversy over Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget deficit repair bill has thrown a gigantic wildcard into the April 5 Milwaukee County executive race between philanthropist Chris Abele and State Rep. Jeff Stone.
Suffice to say, Walker’s hard line on organized labor is not being counted among Stone’s blessings.
Technically, the county race is supposed to be a non-partisan election. But let’s be real here: Abele is the progressive liberal in this race, and Stone is the conservative.
Stone, a Greendale Republican, literally stood right behind Walker at a recent press conference announcing that Walker would not negotiate on the issue of revoking the collective bargaining rights of 175,000 public employees in the state.
“If you don’t have limitations there, you really wouldn’t be giving the local governments the tools they need to rein in costs,” Stone said. “You could get the concessions they’ve talked about in health care and pensions, but then if they can turn around and negotiate classroom size and work conditions, you still might not attain the savings that you need to.”
With 14 Democratic Senators on the lam in Illinois, the Republican caucus has been on call, and that has required Stone to spend the bulk of his time and attention in Madison.
That also has made life difficult for Stone and Vi Rowley Hammelman, his veteran campaign manager. Hammelman has been unable to commit Stone to appear some events on the campaign trail in Milwaukee County because of the uncertainties in Madison, affording him only limited time to shake hands and kiss babies.
“It really has (made life difficult),” Hammelman said. “And I think it (Walker’s bill) could be the defining issue in this race.”
“Obviously, in that way it is difficult,” Stone said. “On the flip side, this is of major importance to the future of the state. And truthfully if we don’t get changes to these areas … We are on an unsustainable path. This has to be dealt with. I’ve got a job to do here in Madison, and that’s what I’ve got to focus on.”
The controversy also has stirred up the organized labor machine like a stick to a hornet’s nest.
Much like the Tea Party arose from the controversy over President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill, the labor movement across the country has been aroused by Walker’s plan to revoke the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin.
Brandon Lorenz, Abele’s communications director, said the campaign is feeling that energy, and Abele is standing squarely with the public employees.
“As we make the tough decisions to get our economy moving again, working men and women must have fair, open and honest bargaining rights, as well as protections against poor working conditions and unfair treatment. We can take on difficult budget and economic problems by coming together to find common ground and agreement, and working men and women can be part of the solution – if they are allowed. By working together instead of unilaterally, I know we can do it,” Abele said. “Collective bargaining, that is something we support. I’m a believer in arriving at solutions with everyone at the table. The best solutions are arrived at without having to hide any part of what is being agreed on.”
Both Stone and Abele will be featured in Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker Luncheons next week. To register to attend the events, visit www.milwaukeepressclub.org.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.