Vinehout enters governor-recall race, speaks in River Falls
Saying she has the right mix of life experience and experience in state government, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, has announced she will run for governor in the anticipated recall election.
Vinehout, 53, whose district now encompasses most of Pierce County, has represented District 31 in the Wisconsin Senate since January 2007.
As part of her governor-race announcement strategy, she attended a meet-the-candidates event Sunday afternoon in River Falls.
During a phone interview Monday morning, Vinehout said she sees the world from a different perspective than most of her fellow politicians.
She earned a Ph.D. in health services research and directed the graduate and undergraduate programs in health administration at the University of Illinois for 10 years before turning to dairy farming for the next decade.
"Being at the teat level, you see the world differently. I think that perspective is missing in politics and is one voters hunger for," joked Vinehout, referring to her experience as a farmer.
Her ten years on her knees cleaning cows' udders balanced her life in academia, said Vinehout, who quotes a woman she met recently: "I can't think of any (politician) who is more like the rest of us."
Mixed with those experiences, Vinehout said, is her work in the Wisconsin Senate.
She said there is "a lot of depth" in her experience there. Last year the state's school superintendents said she has done more for education than any other legislator, she has designed an affordable health-care exchange, and she has pushed for major audits of state programs that have shown mismanagement of resources.
"I know the issues. I've taken an active role in all the major issues that affect our state," said Vinehout. "I know the issues, and I haven't been afraid to propose answers."
One of the answers she suggested was an alternative state budget that she calls "a better way to balance the budget with the same dollars."
A summary of the alternative budget says it doesn't raise taxes, doesn't change Gov. Scott Walker's plan to pay down and restructure debt and accepts offers by public employees to increase their retirement contributions.
Kathleen Falk, another announced candidate in the expected recall election, said that if she were elected governor, she would veto the next state budget if it doesn't restore public union rights. Vinehout has not agreed to that.
"I would hope the problem could be solved long before that," she said. Vinehout said the state needs to have a public discussion about the worth of and the role public employees play in helping solve the state's problems.
She wants to see public union right restored under separate legislation.
Since the most public union bargaining rights were eliminated, many longtime public workers have either retired or quit in frustration, said Vinehout. This, she said, is both a management and a labor problem.
"Instead of making things better, I would suggest the governor has made things worse."
Wisconsin's residents and politicians have to learn to work together to tackle the state's problems and be respectful of each other as they debate their differences, said Vinehout.
She said that while visiting the River Falls Public Library, a beautiful building, she was reminded how the public sector helps the private sector and the other way around - each sector needs the other.
"I like to think of it as government providing the fertility for the soil, and business providing the plants -- pardon the pun," said Vinehout.
While Vinehout and the other 13 Democratic senators have been criticized for leaving the state a year ago in protest of the "budget repair" bill, she says they accomplished their goal.
"The people need to be protected from the tyranny of a slight majority," said Vinehout. She said the senators' boycott "gave people time to understand what was happening."
The bill was introduced on Monday and scheduled for final passage on Thursday. The Joint Committee on Finance began its hearings on Tuesday
"From the moment I read the bill, I knew I needed to find a way to stop it," said Vinehout.
A year ago this week, she got a call at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning from Sen. Mark Miller, asking her to chair the Joint Committee on Finance hearing because the Republicans had left and the Democrats wanted to continue the hearing.
Vinehout spent 12 hours that day presiding over the meeting and giving people a chance to testify.
The next day she got another early-morning call from Miller, advising her not to go to the Capitol but to meet with other senators at Democratic Party headquarters. The Democratic senators knew they all had to agree to leave or the bill could pass.
"We thought we'd be gone for a day," Vinehout laughed. In the end they were gone three weeks.
Their absence and the delay it caused, said Vinehout, gave people a chance to grasp the fact that the bill and related legislation weren't coming just from Gov. Walker but were part of a nationwide effort by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
"The legislation wasn't being written by anybody in Wisconsin," said Vinehout.
"All across the country strange things began to happen."
Legislation drafted by ALEC dealt with consumer protection, collective bargaining, and voting law, she said.
"None of it would have come out if we hadn't slowed down the process," said Vinehout.
The decision to run
"I had people from all over the state call. People from places I've never been in...," said Vinehout. "What people told me is Wisconsin needs a new start, we need a new face."
They also told her she had the background, the temperament and the fresh face needed, said Vinehout.
The big question is whether she can develop the support she needs in a climate of big politics and big money.
To try to build that support, she has gone online with a new website and will reach out through electronic media, such as YouTube.
Her plan is to "use these alternative free avenues to reach voters and generate enthusiasm."
The intent, she said, is to develop a network, let people know what is happening and raise funds.
Vinehout hopes for a campaign paid for by many small donations as opposed to traditional campaigns funded by a few large donors.
"It'll be a very different kind of campaign," she said.
When Vinehout started running for Senate in 2006, she was told she'd have to concentrate on raising money and campaigning door to door. But in a campaign for governor, it's impossible to knock on enough doors to use that strategy.
Still, she said, she will need money for literature, signs, gas for traveling and some staff.
"We're breaking new ground in a time when all of Wisconsin is breaking new ground," said Vinehout.
Her newly redistricted Senate District 31 includes all of Pierce County except the city and town of River Falls; the city of Eau Claire; and all or parts of Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Buffalo, Trempealeau and Jackson counties.
The address for Vinehout's legislative webpage is legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/sen31. Her campaign website is www.kathleenvinehout.org.