Tue May 1, 2012
Profile: Vinehout fights low name recognition in recall race for governor
Democratic State Senator Kathleen Vinehout is traveling across the state seeking to win next week's Democratic primary and take on Governor Walker in the upcoming recall election. But a lack of statewide name recognition for Vinehout could make that difficult.
Vinehout entered state politics later in life than many do. At 48, the dairy farmer and former college professor from Alma made her first bid for public office. In 2006, she was elected to represent the 31st State Senate District, which isn't known as a Democratic stronghold.
"I ran because I wanted to bring affordable health insurance to farmers," Vinehout says. "At that time I was without health insurance, my family hadn't had health insurance for almost 24 months and I could see how to solve the problem of bringing affordable health insurance to farmers and I wanted to be able to do it."
Vinehout says she began studying the possibility of a state health insurance exchange, similar to what's included in the federal Affordable Care Act. In 2010, she was re-elected and introduced her plan during the last legislative session, but the bill died in committee.
Vinehout says she's running for governor to heal the sharp political divide in the state she says was created by Governor Walker, "We're going to have to find that middle ground to be both fiscally conservative and, I would say, socially liberal or socially moderate."
As for restoring collective bargaining, which has turned out to be a major issue in the race, Vinehout says she would fight to restore it. She was one of the 14 state Senators that left Wisconsin to block passage of Act 10. At least one of her opponents has suggested restoring collective bargaining in the state budget, but she says that's the wrong way to go.
"If we had that brinkmanship where there was fighting and the budget was being held with collective bargaining in it we would continue under that old budget, the budget we have now, Governor Walker's budget and I don't believe there's many people around the state that want to continue under our current budget," she says.
Instead, Vinehout says collective bargaining should be brought back through legislation. Last October, she co-sponsored Senate Bill 233, which would have done that, but the bill died in committee towards the end of the legislative session.
If elected governor, Vinehout says her other top priorities would be to pass an emergency funding bill for public k-12 schools, restore funding to tech colleges, and to get back federal money rejected by Governor Walker to create a state health insurance exchange.
But Vinehout's gubernatorial campaign has a tough road ahead. Rodd Frietag chairs the Political Science Department at UW-Eau Claire. He says the lack of statewide name recognition and the accelerated pace of the recall election hurts Vinehout's chances at winning the primary.
"It is a very steep hill for her to climb," he says. "Maybe under normal circumstances, maybe in a regularly scheduled election with a primary someone can come from her position as a state senator, known to only a small segment of the state and over time become known to the rest of the state. In this more truncated time frame for the recall primary and election it's just very difficult."
Vinehout says she's running a grassroots campaign. Instead of making massive media buys, she says her campaign has been hosting house parties across the state. She says one of her major strengths is that she won re-election in a part of the state that doesn't trend Democratic. But Professor Frietag says that might not be enough.
"The problem for her is that so many of the Democratic Party primary voters come from Milwaukee and Madison and so she's just not as well known there and that's where you have to get the votes to be nominated."
According to a recent Marquette Law School Poll, only 8% of those surveyed supported Vinehout in the Democratic primary. That same poll suggested that Governor Walker is favored over Vinehout in a gubernatorial election 48% to 41%.