Heading into the second, and last, Wisconsin gubernatorial recall debate Thursday night, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett is finding it increasingly difficult to make a substantive public policy argument against Governor Scott Walker. During last Friday's debate, Barrett mostly ignored Walker's once controversial (now popular) budget reforms and mainly focused his attacks on Walker's character and just one policy issue: jobs.
Barrett said Wisconsin had lost more jobs than any other state in the country over the past year, according to a survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS survey had already been disproven by a more reliable report, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, that showed the state actually gained more than 20,000 jobs, as well as an extremely persuasive argument from the state's top economist about how the state is gaining jobs. But Barrett has said Walker "cooked the books" and that it would be foolish to believe the positive jobs numbers until they were "verified" by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Well, last night Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development announced that BLS had verified the numbers cited by Walker. What does Barrett have to say about the news? "I will wait for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to release the information," Barrett told THE WEEKLY STANDARD while campaigning in Waukesha Thursday afternoon.
BLS acknowledged last night that it reviewed the data but will wait until June 28 to formally release the data, according to standard operating procedure. Barrett's remaining skepticism, though more muted than his "cooking the books" rhetoric, is still unfounded--especially considering the fact that the state agency that released the jobs data and reported the BLS had verified the data employs a recall petition signer as a top official.
What's more problematic for Barrett is that he has been unable to provide an affirmative plan of his own to spur job creation as governor. He talks about how "focusing on jobs" would be his top priority and that he would be "working with" and "encouraging" businesses to create jobs, but he can't name a single specific policy he would pursue to facilitate job creation. His rhetoric on jobs has at times devolved to pabulum. "I believe that most of the growth in our state economy is going to come from businesses that are already located here or will start here," Barrett said on Tuesday.
Deprived of winning policy issues, Barrett is expected to focus even more on Walker's character in tonight's debate. There will be more talk about how Walker, not the unions and protesters who took over the state capitol, started a "political civil war." Barrett will issue more calls for Walker to release his emails to former aides now being investigated for engaging in campaign activities in his county executive office. The "John Doe" investigation has been the focus of Barrett's ad campaign. But there's little indication Wisconsin voters are willing to render a verdict on Walker for an ongoing investigation of his aides.
If tonight's debate is anything like Friday's debate, Barrett will speak in vague metaphors about how Walker has hurt the state, and Walker will speak in concrete terms about how the state is objectively better off under policies he signed into law as governor a year ago.