State Rep. Jeff Stone is a Republican lawmaker who supports Gov. Scott Walker up and down the line. He's been happy to advertise that in his campaign for Milwaukee County executive -- until now.
Stone, one of 51 Assembly Republicans who voted in the middle of the night to pass Walker's union-busting budget review bill, now says he doesn't really support the union-busting. The Journal Sentinel reports:
Stone said Thursday that although he voted for Walker's budget-repair bill and its elimination of much of the collective bargaining for public unions, he didn't agree with those provisions.
"I understand it's a major issue to the unions," Stone said. "It's not necessarily the way I would have drafted this budget-repair bill. I would have approached it in different ways."
Stone said he would have preferred to leave the collective bargaining intact, but felt the other provisions in the measure made the repair bill worth supporting.
"It's not a perfect bill," Stone said.
Not a perfect bill? No kidding.
Stone had a chance to help make it better. Democrats introduced dozens of amendments and debated for three days on proposed changes. Stone, voting in lockstep with the Republican majority, opposed every one -- including one that would have removed the union-busting provisions.
What's really going on, of course, is that Stone has discovered there is a tidal wave of opposition to Walker's proposal, and to the Republican's ham-fisted tactics to try to stifle dissent and ram the bill through. With the election for county exec a month away, the issue threatens to swamp his candidacy.
Surprisingly, he says he didn't see it coming, suggesting he may have a long-range vision problem:
Stone said the union issue pushed by Walker had turned into something "that's got people more excited and energized than anything since I've been involved in politics in Wisconsin. It's not necessarily the issue I would have wanted to focus completely on.
"I'm having to adjust," Stone said, when asked the impact on his race. "It's challenging."
But he added he doesn't think it will hurt his chances in the county executive race.
Really? If he's right, and the voters pick a Walker clone, they'll deserve what they get. But Milwaukee County voted 62-38 for Tom Barrett over Walker for governor four months ago, and Walker hasn't exactly improved his standing since then.
Stone's campaign manager says, "Jeff had never intended to have lines drawn in the sand like this. It's like you put the Grand Canyon between everybody."
Exactly, And from all indications, Stone's on the wrong side of the chasm.
His opponent, Chris Abele, supports collective bargaining rights but also has called for all unions, including police and firefighters, to be included in the bill and required to pay a bigger share of their health and pension benefits, just like the other unions, which would actually save taxpayers more money than the Walker/Stone proposal.
Abele, a Democat running as someone who can work with both parties, seems to be attracting more support from business executives than Stone. Maybe that's because Abele, a philanthropist, also has more business experience than Stone. Abele's on the right side of the issue, but he's no union goon.
If Stone doesn't figure out a way to counteract this issue, it may be the death knell for his campaign. Today's transparent attempt to backtrack didn't help -- and may actually start to cause him slippage in his base.