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Inside Politics: Milwaukee’s mayor throws wrench in union plan

- - 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.

But the Kentucky Republican told CNN's "State of the Union" that it's in the best interest of his party to coalesce around the strongest candidate to beat President Obama in November.

Republican voters will weigh in during primaries Tuesday in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Mr. Romney is ahead in the polls heading into those contests.

INTERIOR

Top Indian Affairs official resigns for church post

SALT LAKE CITY — The top official for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is resigning to accept a full-time leadership position with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ending three years with a department that Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar says "opened a new chapter" in U.S. relationships with Indian tribes.

Larry Echo Hawk, the assistant secretary of the interior for Indian affairs, is being appointed to the Quorum of the Seventy, the Mormon Church's third-highest governing body. The announcement from the church came Saturday during its semiannual general conference in Salt Lake City.

President Obama appointed Mr. Echo Hawk, 63, to oversee the BIA in 2009.

During Mr. Echo Hawk's tenure, the Interior Department settled a $3.4 billion class-action lawsuit with American Indian landowners over mismanaged royalties. The settlement reached in late 2009 is under appeal.

Mr. Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation, was elected Idaho attorney general in 1990, the first American Indian to be elected to the position in any state. He ran unsuccessfully in 1994 for Idaho governor as a Democrat. He was a Brigham Young University law professor for 14 years before leading the BIA.

CAMPAIGN

Romney's staff pulls off April Fools' gag

MILWAUKEE — Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney may have forgotten that Sunday was April Fools' Day.

His staff did not.

They took Mr. Romney to a room he thought was packed with supporters gathered for a pancake brunch. It was supposed to be his first campaign stop Sunday as he courted Wisconsin voters ahead of Tuesday's primary.

Rep. Paul Ryan introduced Mr. Romney as he waited backstage. There was some cheering, but his staff told Mr. Romney not to expect a big crowd. When he walked out, the room was completely empty.

His supporters were actually gathered in another room upstairs. Mr. Romney shared the story once he made it to the right room.

His staff plans to post a video of the prank on a blog.

From wire dispatches and staff reports