- - Sunday, April 1, 2012

MADISON — Unions backing the successful effort that forced Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker into a recall election are suddenly facing 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 narrowly lost to Mr. 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 Kathleen Falk, the former longtime leader of Dane County, home to the state’s capital city.

While leading the state’s largest city, Mr. Barrett has at times clashed with unions on education and budget issues. He also refused to promise, unlike Ms. Falk, that he would veto a state budget if it didn’t restore collective-bargaining rights — prompting unions to ask him to stay out of the recall race.

But on Friday, just hours after the state elections board officially ordered the election, Mr. Barrett ended weeks of speculation by announcing his bid. The primary is scheduled for May 8, and the general election is set for 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.”

SENATE

Panel chides Vitter, but claims no offenses

Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar was on track for a pay raise that would have brought his salary on par with other Cabinet secretaries — until Sen. David Vitter gave him a quota. Until Mr. Salazar each month approved six new deep-water permits to allow exploratory oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Mr. Vitter would block the raise.

On Friday, the Senate ethics committee chided the Louisiana Republican for undermining public trust, but stopped short of charging him with rules violations, because no guidance had been issued on such a tactic.

In a statement Friday, Mr. Vitter said the committee had validated his action by dismissing the complaint and that he was glad he had “killed Ken Salazar’s salary increase.”

“He has completely failed us on energy policy,” Mr. Vitter said. “And I’ll absolutely place a hold on any raise for him in the future.”

The ethics committee indicated that might be problematic. Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, and top Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia wrote Mr. Vitter that “going forward, such actions will be viewed … as improper conduct reflecting discreditably on the Senate.”

CAMPAIGN

McConnell: Time now to focus on fall election

The Senate’s top Republican says it’s time for his party to turn its attention to the fall presidential campaign, though Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stopped short of endorsing front-runner Mitt Romney as the party’s nominee.

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