Wisconsin Recall: Vinehout’s the Real Deal

Endorsements for candidates in posts here do not represent the opinions of all regular contributers, blue cheddar, or the blog’s many guest writers.

I spent most of Wednesday afternoon reading up on Kathleen Vinehout, in part because she’s the Democratic gubernatorial challenger I find most compelling, in part because a blogger I very much respect has come out solidly in her favor, and in part because that evening I would have the opportunity to ask her any questions that arose in the course of my reading.

I find Vinehout compelling because I believe she’s the candidate who has demonstrated the most support for the Wisconsin movement and has most strongly stood up to the Fitzwalkers. And she has a lot of respect and enthusiasm for what she calls the renaissance of democracy that is transforming the political landscape of the state. She has broad appeal because of her strong connections with rural and small-town Wisconsin. No one can call her a Madison or a Milwaukee Democrat.

Vinehout’s credibility is enhanced by her having been one of the Fighting Fourteen who left the state last year to slow Walker’s railroading of the Wisconsin people. If the senators hadn’t responded so quickly, the Wisconsin movement might not have been able to gain the momentum that it did. Their leaving was pivotal in galvanizing the people to stand up and make themselves heard. The senators’ bold action bolstered us, because we knew we had strong advocates in the legislature.

Vinehout, Fighting Bob Fest 2009
Vinehout spoke at the Fighting Bob Fest in Baraboo in 2009, and I remember that she was stirring and articulate and really got my progressive blood pumping. So I went to hear her speak at Wednesday night’s Drinking Liberally meeting at the Brink Lounge in Madison knowing I was going to hear a dynamic and persuasive speaker, and she did not disappoint. She exuded energy and optimism and was friendly and approachable.

She began with the story of how the fourteen senators were able to leave the state. Senate minority leader Mark Miller called the senate clerk at 11pm on Feb. 16 to verify the number of votes needed for a quorum on a budget bill. After confirming that twenty senators were needed, the clerk told Miller that on the following day a state trooper would be assigned to each one of the Democratic state senators, presumably to make sure they didn’t attempt to leave the building before the vote. Talk about heavy handed! Miller called Vinehout and the other senators first thing the next morning, thus enabling them to get away before Papa Fitzgerald’s state troopers had them hemmed in.

Vinehout affirmed her support for public education and public school teachers, her determination to see collective bargaining reinstated for public employees, and her belief in the critical importance of affordable health care for all. When asked why we should support her candidacy, she cited the breadth of her experience as a public health nurse, college professor, and organic dairy farmer as well as her six years as a state senator.

She emphasized that “we must be the change we want to see in the world,” that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and that it’s up to us to fix this horrible mess we’re in. She said that if you don’t like politics as usual, vote for the unusual candidate. And if you don’t like money in politics, vote for the candidate with the least money.

Questions have been raised about Vinehout’s bona fides in relation to safeguarding women’s reproductive freedom, and my reading suggested that perhaps those questions will be the ones that will dog her most during this short, intense primary season.

One woman asked Vinehout Wednesday night why she is against abortion. Vinehout confirmed, though, that she believes abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” and that her legislative record confirms that belief. When asked later what she meant by “rare,” she said that providing good health care for all women, access to birth control, and good sex education would have the effect of making abortion rare. I asked about her amendment to a 2008 bill (that didn’t pass) that would have permitted a pharmacist, on the basis of conscience, to refuse to fill a prescription for contraceptives “if the pharmacist ensures that the patient will have access to the contraceptive elsewhere.” I asked why a pharmacist’s conscience should trump my ability to procure my contraceptives without costing extra money (for transportation), delay, and inconvenience.

She responded that the Wisconsin constitution has a stronger conscience clause than the U.S. Constitution has, and she wanted to ensure that the bill did not violate the state constitution, which as a senator she is sworn to uphold. She also said that a year later a bill was passed that requires pharmacies to dispense contraceptives without delay, while allowing an individual pharmacist to decline to dispense contraceptives for reasons of conscience provided that another pharmacist at that location can fill the prescription immediately.

Video – Senator Vinehout clarifies her position on access to contraception in Wisconsin:

A few minutes after she was done with the question-and-answer portion of her presentation, Vinehout came over to our table to talk to me and another woman. I asked her then, “but what about that amendment?” Even though it ultimately didn’t become law, the wording still concerned me. She conceded that the amendment was problematic and that in fact she had borrowed the language from Illinois legislation that had been supported by Planned Parenthood of Illinois. (I haven’t verified this.) She added that she was involved in writing the legislation that did pass the following year and that she prefers its language. So the 2008 amendment was probably not her finest legislative moment, but I was satisfied that it didn’t indicate a desire to restrict women’s reproductive freedom or a lack of support for women’s right to control their own reproductive choices.

So I was—and am—satisfied with Vinehout’s answers to my questions. I believe that as governor she will be a strong advocate for women’s reproductive health and freedom and, most important, will be responsive to the will of the people. I arrived Wednesday night leaning in Vinehout’s favor, and I left feeling real enthusiasm for her candidacy. She’s not riding in on a white horse to save us, which is a good thing. She’d be the first to assert that it’s we the people who will save our state. But I think she can help us do that, and I believe she’s the real deal.

9 thoughts on “Wisconsin Recall: Vinehout’s the Real Deal

  1. Can she win?? I know that she would be a friend of labor and that is important, but I’m wondering if she can win? I think the most viable “friend of labor” is Ms. Falk. If unions are your #1 issue, look closely at what these candidates have done – don’t just listen to what they say!

    • Here’s what I hope: I hope that all the grassroots action that has happened in Wisconsin in the last 14 months means that we’re no longer doing politics as usual. We have succeeded in changing the game. Many people are participating and paying attention way more than they did before Walker dropped his bomb on us.

      Also, because the primary season is so very, very short, it’s just possible that many will vote against Walker as much or more than they vote for one of the Democratic candidates. Many of us have stated repeatedly that any of the four Dem candidates would be a vast improvement over Walker. For those reasons, it’s just possible that any one of them could win.

      Some may think that that’s probably not the case in rural and small-town Wisconsin, but we never could have collected so many signatures on the recall petitions if many folks in rural and small-town Wisconsin weren’t behind the recall.

      The game has changed. There is no poll nearly as significant as those nearly 1 million signatures. Truly, anything could happen.

  2. I am also very impressed by Vinehout. However, a FB friend of mine did some research on her reproductive rights record, and found some things which trouble me.

    Vinehout was a member of Democrats For Life. Also, quoting from my friend’s FB post, because this person put it well: “In 2009 she voted alongside right to life and anti-choice senators against the reappointment of 2 UW Hospital Authority members because they supported providing critically needed abortion services at the center. She has openly honored ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ which use scare tactics and misinformation to prevent access to abortions. In Wisconsin Politics (October, 2011), she said, ‘We do not now, nor can we use tax dollars for abortion, and I support that law.’ Then on Sly on 1/20/2012, she stated that WI’s current laws are fine. These laws are ‘fine where they are.’ These laws currently involve a waiting period, parental notification and a criminal ban.” Here are links to sources:


    Click to access sb232.pdf




    • The link to my readings contains most of the links in your comment. I share your concerns, but for my part I’m satisfied and stand by the conclusion I came to this week.

  3. Nice coverage of Vinehout’s position on contraception. NARAL should have done a similar Q & A, and reported the result, even if it didn’t change their opposition to her. As advocates of women’s health rights, we should be happy with changing peoples minds, and not condemning them for life for previous positions.

    • Thanks, John! I too would like to see NARAL do the Q&A due diligence and further explain their position in response to that. They charged Vinehout with “backpedaling.” When I talked to her I thought it was more like an instance of her improving on her previous effort. I’m all for that.

  4. Vinehout appears really knowledgeable on the issues. She seems to have done her homework. Is there a video of last night’s town halll meeting in Milwaukee? I would like to compare the candidates on their knowledge of state law and of the issues.

    • I agree. She seems very knowledgeable and also seems to have a remarkable memory, not to mention energy. I don’t know of an online posting of the video from last night’s town hall. I saw the live feed before it cut out and thought Vinehout was the best of the bunch. I’ll post a link to a video when I fine one. Thanks!

    • standswithafist–I just looked for video and came up empty-handed except for a couple 1 or 2 minute reports from TMJ4. I put a couple of notes out there w. milwaukee contacts. I’ll keep checking. Might appear a bit later. I’d like to see the video too. 🙂

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