MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's largest public employees union launched an attack this week on Democratic candidate for governor Tom Barrett that leaves the wrong impression Barrett supported Republican Gov. Scott Walker's changes to collective bargaining.
The email and link to a video obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press were sent Monday by the Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to its members.
The video incorrectly implies that Barrett supported Walker's proposal approved last year that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for public workers and spurred a recall drive against Walker.
Marty Beil, executive director of the AFSCME Council 24 representing blue-collar state workers, said in a prepared statement that the union did not produce the video but "it does comport with our criticism of Barrett's behavior during the standoff over (Walker's proposal)."
The AFSCME email and link to the video were sent to its members and posted on its website Monday, just a day after Barrett asked his Democratic opponents to run a clean campaign and take responsibility for any negative attacks in the primary.
The video includes some comments Barrett made at a March 2011 forum hosted by conservative Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes. Barrett said lawmakers should vote separately on the budget bill and Walker's collective bargaining changes. He speaks favorably of Walker's plan to have union members pay more for health insurance and pension benefits, something the unions agreed to do.
The video does not include other comments Barrett made speaking out against Walker's elimination of nearly all collective bargaining rights and saying that he believed trying to include those changes in a budget bill was dishonest.
Beil said not including those comments doesn't change the union's general criticism of Barrett.
The forum Barrett was held during a standoff in the state Senate in which all 14 Democratic senators were in Illinois, blocking a vote on the budget bill. Barrett said at the forum that the standoff could end by holding separate votes on items in the proposal with a budget impact and those without.
Two days later, that was the tactic Republicans used to pass the collective bargaining changes.
The AFSCME email and video it links to allege that because Barrett discussed that possibility, something that was widely being talked about at that time, he's not to be trusted. The video concludes with the words: "Tom Barrett: Part of the cure or part of the disease?"
"Simply put, when Scott Walker came for our rights and 14 Democratic heroes made huge personal sacrifice at huge political risk, Tom Barrett wasn't standing in solidarity, he was on right-wing talk radio pontificating about how to undermine their efforts," the AFSCME email said.
But at the forum, Barrett clearly says that if a separate vote were held, he would vote against Walker's proposed changes to collective bargaining rights. Barrett said he didn't think the Senate would break it up into separate votes because he didn't think there were enough to pass the collective bargaining changes.
"Don't make this a Trojan horse where that's included in another bill," he said. "If you're proud of that, take the vote."
The bill passed 18-1 with no Democrats present.
Barrett's campaign spokesman Phil Walzak called the video "an outrageous hack-and-stitch job worthy of Frankenstein." Walzak said Barrett has consistently called for full restoration of collective bargaining rights.
"Smears like this are exactly why Tom Barrett has called for a clean campaign from all Democratic candidates and the independent groups who support them," he said.
The attack speaks to the divide in the Democratic primary between Barrett and the public sector unions, all of which have endorsed Barrett's opponent Kathleen Falk.
Falk filed a lawsuit against Walker's union law, signed the recall petition the day it hit the streets in November, got into the race the day after petitions were filed in mid-January and quickly won the endorsements of all major public sector unions.
Falk also promised the unions she would veto any state budget that doesn't restore collective bargaining rights while Barrett refused to make such a pledge.
Union leaders urged Barrett to stay out of the recall, but after weeks of speculation he got in the race Friday. The other Democrats running are Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout.
The recall primary is May 8. The general election is June 5.
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