Unions that supported the successful effort to force Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker into a recall election suddenly face an uncomfortable scenario: Their favored candidate may not survive the Democratic primary now that Milwaukee's mayor is looking for a gubernatorial rematch.
Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in the 2010 race for governor, recently jumped into the race to oust the Republican, who was targeted after championing a law that curtailed public workers' collective bargaining rights. But major unions are supporting former longtime Dane County executive Kathleen Falk.
As mayor of the state's largest city, Barrett has at times clashed with unions over education and budget issues. And unlike Falk, he refused to promise he would veto a state budget if it didn't restore collective bargaining rights.
But Friday, just hours after the state elections board officially ordered the election, Barrett ended weeks of speculation by announcing his bid. The primary is scheduled for May 8, and the general election on June 5.
"Tom Barrett is a game-changer," said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association union, which represents about 10,000 members and has yet to endorse a candidate. "Tom Barrett will definitely work to bring people together, to restore collective bargaining to the extent he can, and he won't be beholden to anyone."
Falk joined the race in January. In the ensuing weeks, the former Dane County executive obtained every major endorsement and the backing of large unions representing teachers and public workers.
Barrett's entry into the race also makes it more difficult for two lesser-known Democratic candidates — longtime Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma — to gain traction.
Along with refusing to make the budget-veto promise, Barrett angered some unions by cutting Milwaukee's budget and supporting plans a couple of years ago that would have given him control of the troubled Milwaukee Public Schools.
Palmer said union support of Falk feeds into the perception — which Walker has advanced — that she is a single-issue candidate who was hand-picked by union bosses.
Falk has argued her campaign's central message is that Walker betrayed the trust of Wisconsin voters last year with his agenda, which included slashing education funding, reducing Medicaid services and changing environmental laws.