Walker blasts Democrats for not acting on exclusion of women
Updated 5:29 pm, Monday, March 12, 2018
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Gov. Scott Walker questioned Monday how Democrats can say they stand for women while not challenging a private business association that excluded female Democratic gubernatorial candidates from a recent forum.
Democratic party officials say they had no influence over who the Construction Business Group invited to its February forum, and the association said it merely invited top fundraisers from each party. Still, Walker's tweets underscore how difficult it will be for organizations to choose who among 17 Democratic hopefuls to invite to forums and debates as the August primary approaches.
The CBG held a forum on Feb. 22 and invited Walker as well as Democratic candidates Tony Evers, Matt Flynn, Andy Gronik, Mahlon Mitchell and Dana Wachs. The group didn't invite a dozen other Democrats, including state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys.
In several tweets Monday, Walker criticized Democrats for allowing CBG to exclude the two women.
"Democrats say that they stand for women but exclude female candidates from debates and forums?" the governor tweeted.
State Democratic Party spokeswoman Melanie Conklin said the party had nothing to do with who got invited.
"There was not a forum sponsored by Wisconsin Democrats," she said in an email to The Associated Press. "He is not telling the truth and he knows it and hopes this gets traction."
CBG Executive Director Robb Kahl said in a telephone interview that the group couldn't invite all candidates because they had only an hour and limited space. He said the group decided to invite the top six fundraisers from each party.
"It didn't matter if you were a man or a woman," Kahl said. "It's pretty simple. There's no nefarious intent."
Wachs, a state representative from Eau Claire, didn't attend because the Assembly was in session the day of the forum, Kahl said. Walker also didn't attend because he disagreed with the question-and-answer format, he said.
Walker campaign spokesman Nathan Craft said that's false and that the governor didn't attend because of a scheduling conflict.
Vinehout campaign spokesman Greg Leaf said private groups can invite anyone they want.
Roys responded to an AP email asking if she was concerned about candidates being shut out of forums and debates by accusing Walker of attacking women's rights and painting herself as a champion for women. She didn't address the question about debates and didn't reply to a follow-up email.
The problem of who to invite and who to exclude from forums and debates could grow more intense as the primary approaches and candidates fight more fiercely to be heard.
The East Side Progressives, a Madison-based social justice group, invited nine candidates to a forum in January. Nan Brien, a member of the planning team that set up the forum, said the group couldn't invite all the candidates because there are too many to have any sort of meaningful discussion. The group instead picked candidates who had a campaign manager and a social media website.
"We wanted people to leave with a real idea of where the candidates stood," she said. "It's absolutely critical as we move forward that we're really seeing a debate between those contenders most likely to be successful."
Mike Wittenwyler, an attorney who specializes in campaign finance, election law, ethics and lobbying cases, said he believes organizations should develop objective criteria as CBG and the East Side Progressives did. He suggested looking at fundraising, poll support or actual campaign apparatus.
"There are only just so many people you can put on a stage," Wittenwyler said. "It depends on where different organizations draw a line. You have to have (criteria) because some members (of the organization) will say why didn't you invite this person?"
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