Seriously, What Could Tom Barrett Have Been Thinking?
It's Wagner's Rule of Life #12. Never underestimate the thirst of a politician for power!
Every United States Senator looks in the mirror and sees a President. Every United States Congressman looks in the mirror and sees a Senator. And in Milwaukee, we have a Mayor who looks in the mirror and sees a Governor.
Still, two weeks after reluctantly announcing that he's running for Governor, you still have to wonder exactly what Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was thinking?
I'm sure it was flattering to be courted by the elites of the Democratic Party (both State and national) as the last, best hope of the Party to retain the Wisconsin Governorship. Still, like a school child being offered a marijuana cigarette on the playground, it's hard to believe that Barrett lacked the willpower to "just say no".
First, there is the practical reality that Barrett's quest to replace Jim Doyle will be an uphill battle. 2010 is shaping up to be a Republican year and Doyle's staggering 57% disapproval rating poses a pretty strong headwind (especially since Barrett is Doyle's handpicked successor) Further, the fact that a Democratic polling firm shows Barrett as being no better than tied with his likely Republican opponent (before his record in Congess and as Mayor have been deconstructed) underscores how daunting the challenge is.
Of course, he is the Mayor of Milwaukee - and we all know how many of those have been elected Governor over the last century or so.
Second, there's the whole "vision thing". Perhaps more appropriately, as applied to Barrett, there's the "lack of vision" thing.
An even cursory examination of Barrett's campaign announcement leaves one with the question, "Why is this guy running"?
Here's what we know thus far. If elected, he doesn't want to move to Madison. He has no specifics about how he'd govern. He's worried about jobs, the economy and improving schools.
Great, I'm sure he likes puppies and kittens too!
Actually, if the campaign is about "jobs, the economy and schools", it's tough to see how Barrett gets too much above 45%. I mean. as Mayor of the City of Milwaukee for the last several years, he has presided over a City with an 11% unemployment rate, a declining tax base, a faltering economy and a school system that everybody admits is failing (but nobody agrees on how to fix).
"Let Tom Do For the State What He's Done For Milwaukee" hardly strikes me as a winning slogan!
Third, on a very basic level, I guess I'm surprised that Barrett let ambition overwhelm everything else. That is, I always thought that he enjoyed being Mayor of Milwaukee and carted about the City. However, by running for Governor, he's pretty much guaranteed that any help for the City of Milwaukee will be put on hold for at least the next year.
The reality is that any proposal that he may have - reform of MPS, tax relief, job creation, transit, you name it - will now be viewed through the prism of his campaign for Governor and put on hold. In other words, at a time when Milwaukee really needs help, Barrett has pretty much taken himself out of the picture.
Then there's the personal element of this decision. Running a statewide campaign requires an incredible commitment of time and energy. Wisconsin is a big State and campaigns are incredibly expensive. Jim Doyle raised and spent over $10 million getting re-elected in 2006. Many people think that the 2010 race will cost a minimum of $13 million. For Barrett, even giving him credit for the $800,000 he has sitting around in his Mayoral campaign account, that means raising about $240,000 per week for the next 50 weeks (or $34,000 per day).
I get tired just thinking about it.
Regardless, campaigning and fundraising doesn't leave much time for governing (or anything else). Even if President Obama agrees to do a fundraiser or two for you.
Wisconsin has become a blue-leaning State and Barrett may well defy the odds and win next November. Still, I can't help but believe that there will be a time sooner rather than later - maybe some winter evening while he's being driven between Wausau and Stevens Point en route to a $25 per head fundraiser attended by 50 people - that Tom Barrett asks himself, "What could I have been thinking and why did I let myself get talked into this"?
At that point, he might do well to remember Wagner's Rule of Life #12.