Wisconsin Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, “Sugar Daddy” and Women Voters in the Walker Recall


The Wisconsin recall election is fixing to get ugly. 

In what is the first major election battle in the 2012 cycle, Governor Scott Walker is pitting woman against woman in his pending recall election. Walker’s Lt. Governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, played the “sugar daddy” card in an off-the-wall statement aimed directly at Walker challenger Kathleen Falk. 

This from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal on March 26:

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is attacking a Democratic recall challenger to Gov. Scott Walker and throwing gender politics into the mix.

Kleefisch, a Republican, is criticizing former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk for “setting women back 50 years.”

Kleefisch said Falk is using public employee unions as a “sugar daddy” to support her campaign and in exchange promising to strongly restoring collective bargaining provisions repealed by Walker.

“It is scandalous, and it reeks of the dependent, fragile woman leaning on a big, strong arm because she doesn’t believe she can do it on her own,” Kleefisch said.

Melissa Baldauff, co-chairwoman of the Democratic group Women against Walker, released a statement saying that Kleefisch should apologize for the “deplorable language” and that Walker policies had been more harmful to women because they had reduced their access to health care. 

(Read Kleefisch’s full statement here)

Kleefisch hammers on the union angle as Falk has secured the endorsement of several unions, including the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) and AFSCME.

Kleefisch nonsense aside, this gets to the heart of the matter: Women voters matter in elections (perhaps more than ever in this cycle) and women voters will matter in the Walker recall election. 

Speaking with Kathleen Falk earlier this month on the last day of a decidedly anti-choice/anti-women Wisconsin legislative session, Falk made no bones about Walker’s declared war on women:

I asked Falk about the idea of a real “war on women” not only in Wisconsin but also throughout the US; did she believe there to be a war on women or were “we” overreacting? 

Falk, still wearing her pink leather jacket–the color of the Mad as Hell rally, gives me what I interpret as a knowing look, and turns to Ross, who hands me a ready copy of a press release titled “Falk: Wisconsin Must End Walker’s ‘War on Women’. 

In it, Falk cuts to the chase:

“We have seen the rights of women under assault at the federal level with the Blunt amendment to allow employers to deny women basic health care coverage but here in Wisconsin we see an even more unrelenting attack on women’s rights from Governor Walker that will not end until he is recalled and we elect a new governor.” 

Falk believes she will be the new governor.  

Perhaps Kleefisch’s portrayal of unions as Falk’s ‘sugar daddy’ suggests Walker is worried that Falk may be right in her belief.   

Scot Ross, Falk’s communication director told me via email today in response to Kleefisch’s remarks:

“Gov. Walker’s ‘War on Women’ will not stop until we remove him from office and elect Kathleen Falk our next governor. Gov. Walker’s extremist attacks on women across Wisconsin, whether it’s ending pay equity protections, restricting access to reproductive care, or sending us back to the days of ‘abstinence only’ education, are in direct opposition to the values of the people of Wisconsin.”

No matter who becomes Wisconsin’s next governor, women voters will play a major role in the efforts to dump Walker.

The directive for women’s right’s advocates coming at the end of the Wisconsin session is that women must take their frustration to the ballot box and their first target is Walker. 

According to Tanya Atkinson, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Wisconsin, “The great thing about women is we don’t just get angry, we take action.”  The first chance they will get will be in the recall of Governor Walker.”

Atkinson and other pro-women advocates held a “Mad as Hell” rally on the steps of the capitol in Madison earlier this month to deliver the message that women aren’t taking this legislative nonsense any more. 

All though the rally came on the last day of the session, Lisa Subeck of NARAL Wisconsin calls it, “just a starting point.”  According to Subeck and representatives from Planned Parenthood and other women’s rights advocates, the next logical – and imperative step – is to get women out to vote. 

Wisconsin could serve as a bellwether for how women will vote come November; how women organize around the Wisconsin recall could signal how women will organize in other states and nationally to oust anti-choice legislators around the country. 

Wisconsin’s repeal of the Healthy Youth Act, a ban on telemed abortion and the use of misleading “anti-coercion” language in an anti-choice bill, as well as bans on private insurance coverage for abortion, are all the sad product of a disastrous 2010 election cycle for women’s rights advocates. I will be looking to Wisconsin for hope and possibly a way forward to undo some of the damaging and in some cases life-threatening anti-women legislation that has been unleashed across the country.

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