Union leader Mahlon Mitchell logged his first victory in the effort to recall Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, a race that may well hinge more on how voters feel about Gov. Scott Walker than anything else.
Mitchell, a Madison firefighter and president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, carried the Democratic primary Tuesday with 50% of the vote, according to unofficial results. Ira Robins, a Milwaukee private investigator, pulled in 22%, and Isaac Weix, a "fake" Democrat, finished with 28%.
The mood at Moe's Tavern on State Street for the candidate's victory party was laid back and convivial. Mitchell's father introduced his son to supporters when the candidate arrived at the bar shortly after 9 p.m. Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who came in third in the Democratic primary for governor and was watching the election results next door, showed up to offer his congratulations. Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) and Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) were also there to celebrate the win, along with members of Fire Fighters Local 311, Mitchell's local union.
The first lieutenant Mitchell had trained under in Milwaukee as a rookie firefighter was also on hand. When addressing the crowd, Mitchell noted the two were the first African American rookie and lieutenant team in Milwaukee history.
Mitchell said that he was challenging Kleefisch because of her direct association with Gov. Scott Walker's union busting policies. Walker successfully pushed through a plan that curtails collective bargaining for most public employees.
He said Kleefisch has also dutifully lined up behind Walker's assaults on health care for women and his budget cuts to technical colleges. "I think she's done nothing, and has been a rubber stamp to Gov. Walker's policies," Mitchell said. "I see her as being in step with all [these] policies, so we have to get rid of her as well."
Mitchell did not publicly endorse any of the Democratic contenders for governor, but says he would now help "coalesce" divided supporters behind Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who garnered 55% of the vote in Tuesday's recall primary. He said he would also lend support to the Democratic candidates in four Senate recall races. He has already publically endorsed Lori Compas, who won the Democratic primary Tuesday and will now face Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) on June 5.
With less than one month to go before the statewide general election, campaign manager Andy LaVigne said Mitchell would start making appearances with Barrett. He said Mitchell aims to make campaign stops in all 72 counties.
While it seems like a formidable goal, he said Mitchell's tireless campaigning would help decide what is likely to be a very close final race.
"It's a special election with a short time frame, but we're trying to talk to voters and have the chance to hear from people about policy solutions," said LaVigne.
A number of Mitchell supporters at the party said he earned their respect by being outspoken and heavily involved in the 2011 protests. Mitchell recently spoke at a rally on the Capitol Square that marked one year since the passage of Gov. Walker's controversial bill.
"He stood up for everyone at the rallies, and he was out in front of the movement," said Karidan Randall of Madison.
Randall said Kleefisch should be removed from office because she has "almost laughable" qualifications when it comes to serving in her elected office. While campaigning for lieutenant governor in 2010, Kleefisch infamously compared legalizing same-sex marriage to allowing legal unions with inanimate objects.
In response to a request for comment about the primary results, the Kleefisch campaign emailed a statement that included remarks the lieutenant governor made at a joint election party with Walker Tuesday night in Waukesha.
"Working together, we have balanced the budget and laid the foundation for moving Wisconsin's economy forward," read the statement."We can't afford to turn back now to the job killing tax increases embraced by Barrett and Mitchell. Wisconsin needs to keep moving forward."
Randall said last night's victory, as well as the June general election, have been months in the making. "It's a long time coming in the state. We need to have a sea change."