Milwaukee Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett talks on Library Mall on the UW-Madison campus on May 8.


Tom Barrett is precisely the right candidate for governor at precisely the right time for Wisconsin.

We endorse his candidacy not merely as a necessary antidote to the failed policies and the ethical and legal controversies surrounding Gov. Scott Walker. Our endorsement of Barrett is an affirmative one. We believe he has a great record, and that he would be a great governor.

We also endorse Mahlon Mitchell for lieutenant governor and Lori Compas for state Senate in District 13. 

The events of the past year and a half in Wisconsin, and the intensity surrounding the June 5 recall election, will cause many voters to cast their ballots in opposition to Scott Walker. That is their right, and it is certainly understandable.

But Wisconsin does not simply need a new governor. Wisconsin needs the right new governor.

And Barrett’s background, as well as his able performance during this challenging recall campaign, makes the case for his election.

Barrett has dramatically more experience in local, state and national government than Walker. A former state representative and state senator who served with Democratic and Republican governors, Barrett went on to serve five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives during the Clinton and Bush presidencies.

In all of those capacities, he developed a reputation for working across lines of partisanship and ideology. And that reputation has been extended during his tenure as mayor of Wisconsin’s largest city. An able and innovative executive, he has overseen the renewal of manufacturing corridors, brought businesses back to Milwaukee and tackled unemployment far more effectively than did Walker when he served as Milwaukee County executive.

Indeed, before they were running against one another, Walker hailed Barrett’s service. Now, of course, Walker attacks Barrett, with negative ads paid for by out-of-state billionaires. The attack ads are dishonest, and they savage not just Barrett but Milwaukee — with crude language reminiscent of the ugly 2008 attacks on former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler.

Walker and his backers want to get into a tit for tat over those ads and the bogus charges they have made throughout this campaign. That takes attention away from the real issues, including the fact that since Walker’s policies came into play, Wisconsin has had the worst record of job losses in the nation — according to official analyses, not the governor’s claims about “different sets of data” that the nonpartisan PolitiFact analysts have rated “Mostly False.”

The fact is that it is only with false premises and crude attacks that Walker can claim to be a better choice than Barrett, whose personal integrity and commitment to public service are acknowledged even by Republicans like Congressman Paul Ryan.

That Ryan would describe Barrett as a particularly honorable public servant is no surprise. But it is also a testament to Barrett’s ability to work with people who differ with him — a skill that Walker rejects with his “divide and conquer” politics.

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Barrett does not get along with conservatives by compromising his principles. He gains their respect with shows of integrity and a willingness to seek common ground. But he is, as Russ Feingold says, “a lifelong progressive whose record speaks for itself. While representing Wisconsin in Congress, Mayor Barrett stood with me in voting against the deregulation that led to the Wall Street crash, opposing the PATRIOT Act, and reforming our system of campaign finance.”

This is what appeals most to us about Barrett. He is steeped in and committed to the state’s best progressive traditions of open and independent governance. He understands the trajectory from Republicans like Robert M. La Follette to the independent Progressives of the 1930s to the modern Democratic Party of Gaylord Nelson and Bill Proxmire.

He knows that this tradition is less about parties and partisanship than the Wisconsin Idea, which says this state will be guided by common sense, practical budgeting and a belief that government can and should take the side of working families, working farmers and working small-business owners.

This is the progressive faith that made Wisconsin America’s “laboratory of democracy.” It is a faith that Scott Walker has rejected. And that is why Walker must be recalled and removed on June 5.

But what happens after June 5 is what matters most. Tom Barrett knows this. He will renew the faith of Wisconsinites in their best traditions, and he will move the state forward not with “divide and conquer” strategies but with the progressive faith of Bob La Follette, Gaylord Nelson and all those who have believed, who still believe, that the Wisconsin Idea is a light unto the nation.

Tom Barrett has our highest, and most enthusiastic, endorsement for governor of Wisconsin. 

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