In the final televised debate before the June 5 Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett called Governor Scott Walker a "rock star to the far right" and "Pontius Pilate" who used a "dead baby" in a TV ad for political gain.
As Barrett redoubled his efforts to portray Walker as a corrupt and demagogic egomaniac, Walker soberly explained how his budget reforms--the very issue that led to massive protests last spring and the recall election this summer--brought about lower taxes, a balanced budget, better schools, and job growth. Walker said his reforms were "fundamentally about fairness" and had shifted power from "special interests" to taxpayers. Barrett disputed Walker's claims, arguing that college tuition and K-12 class sizes had increased. Walker responded by noting that districts where his reforms have not yet taken effect largely account for the jump in class sizes.
Walker also pointed out that it's been 50 days since Barrett was first asked how he would have balanced the budget, but the mayor still hasn't offered any specifics on how he would have done it. Pressed on the issue, Barrett would only say he would have taken an approach of "shared sacrifice," but he couldn't explain how much any group would have to sacrifice.
"So everybody's clear, the mayor doesn't have a plan," Walker said, arguing that Barrett would have to rely on tax increases, layoffs, and service cuts if he restores collective bargaining.
Barrett's criticism of Walker was much harsher.
"I have a police department that arrests felons. He has a practice of hiring them," Barrett said. The mayor was responding to a Walker ad on crime in Milwaukee and turning the spotlight on an investigation of former Walker aides. Barrett said that both he and the city of Milwaukee had been demonized by Walker. "He’s running a commercial right now that shows a dead baby. He shows a picture of a dead baby. This is Willie Horton stuff," Barrett said. (It's worth noting that the ad in question does not in fact show a picture of a "dead baby," but a blurred out picture of a live child who was later killed. The killing was not reported as a violent crime.)
Walker said Milwaukee crime statistics are a legitimate issue since Barrett had campaigned on them. But the ad is counter to Walker's policy-oriented and mostly positive campaign. Walker rebutted the charge that he was running against Milwaukee, saying he wanted the city to flourish under policies that have benefited the rest of the state. “The difference between the two of us is my answer ... to invest $100 million in the most impoverished corridor in this city, versus your plan, which is to spend $100 million on a trolley that goes barely two miles on the east side of Milwaukee. I think that’s the real choice people have between the two of us: one plan moves us backward, the other moves us forward,” Walker said.
And so Barrett and Walker played roles they've firmly and quickly established during the one-month campaign, with the mayor launching character attacks and the governor talking about his record. During a brief post-debate press conference, Barrett dwelled on the investigation of Walker's aides. "I think when push comes to shove, voters will come back and say, this was about the last year and a half, whether or not there was success or not," Walker told reporters. "The mayor's only plan is to attack."