Tue May 1, 2012
Profile: Doug La Follette
Doug La Follette is an environmentalist and one-time state senator who became Secretary of State, an office where powers were diminished under two Republican governors. Next week, he hopes to be elected as the Democrat who will take on Governor Scott Walker in next month's recall election.
When candidates talk about being fit for office they usually mean political credentials. Physical stamina rarely comes up. 71-year old Doug La Follette says he's fit for office politcally and literally--and he chafes a bit when people suggest otherwise, "I've heard some people say well, gee, he's too old," he says. "And I would just say that a couple months ago I climbed (hiked) a 5-thousand foot mountain, made it to the top in 2 hours. And I would challenge my opponents to keep up with me. I walk to work and back, I walk several miles each day when I have time. And I think we have a mountain in Wisconsin to climb: it's getting people working again"
La Follette says Governer Walker's decision to help close a state budget deficit by cutting aid to technical schools by 70-million dollars only hurts Wisconsin's job situation. The unemployment rate went down in March to 6.8 percent but Wisconsin lost more jobs last year than any other state in the nation.
"He (Walker) cuts millions of dollars from technical schools when there a young men and women waiting to get into those schools and they can not," he says. "And there are thousands of jobs waiting for them outside when they get educated"
The other Democrats running for governor in the recall primary have also criticized cuts to Wisconsin's technical schools. And all four candidates want to restore public employee bargaining rights, albeit using different methods. In his role as Secretary of State, La Follette was in a position to delay the budget repair bill that changed collective bargaining and makes public workers pay more for pensions and health insurance. At a Democratic primary debate in Madison, La Follette recalled the court battle over Act 10, and whether it was officially law since he, the Secretary of State, had not published it yet.
"I held him (Walker) as long as I could," La Follette says. "I gave him enough time to get us in court."
Act 10 did eventually become law when the state Supreme Court stepped in. La Follette was represented in the circuit court battle over Walker's budget by attorney and longtime friend, Roger Sage, "My view of Doug La Follette, and I've known him for 20 years, is he's an independent thinker. He's full of ideas."
In debates, La Follette has come out with positions others have shied away from.
"I think the federal government's on the wrong track, by the way, in imprisoning marijuana users I think that's ridiculous."
La Follette says prison expenses are too high while education funding is lacking. La Follette, a former chemistry professor at UW-Parkside, supports a one-cent increase in the sales tax to help restore cuts to K-12 education.
To reach voters on this and other issues, La Follette has less campaign cash and fewer TV commercials than his democratic rivals; he's appealing to potential supporters mainly through debates, YouTube and face-to-face interaction, such as occasional walks in places like Madison's State St.
La Follette has statewide name recognition. He's been re-elected every four years for the past three decades to the office of Secretary of State. None of his rivals are political newcomers but there's a substantial gap in popularity among voters between the top two and those at the bottom. Charles Franklin directs the Marquette Law School Poll.
"Over the last three public polls that we've seen," he says. "Barrett has been in the mid to upper-30s Falk the upper 20s La Follette and Vinehout have varied from 8 percent apiece to as high as eleven or twelve percent apiece. "
Franklin stresses that those same polls show there's a fairly large number of voters who are undecided, anywhere from 17-to-22-percent. La Follette says as Governor he'd give citizens a voice. He wants Wisconsin's top job, but says he "doesn't need it. He says the state of Wisconsin needs someone like him.