An endorsement from a controversial police association is causing trouble for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett as he pursues the Democratic nomination for June’s gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin.
Allegations of domestic violence have been leveled against the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA) executive director, Jim Palmer, opening Barrett and other Democrats up to charges of hypocrisy for accusing Gov. Scott Walker of waging a "war on women."
The Washington Free Beacon has obtained a court injunction for a temporary restraining order filed against Palmer by his ex-wife.
"Jim has engaged in aggressive, physical contact with me in the past, and has received anger management for those actions. However, he still cannot control his temper," she writes in the court filing. Palmer also had a physical altercation with his 14-year-old son, the ex-wife claimed.
Palmer disputed those claims in an email to the WPPA obtained by the Free Beacon.
"Court records show that there was nothing to substantiate any violent or physical aspects to any of this," Palmer wrote. "Harassment injunctions were issued against me and my ex-wife and they did not limit or restrict our contact with one another. If there were some physical aspects to all of this, that would not have been the
Palmer also defended himself in an interview with the Free Beacon.
"The last time I looked I wasn't on any ballot," Palmer said. "To try and use the alleged details of my personal life to somehow undercut an endorsement decision I did not personally make, it's just shameful to see that kind of politics of personal destruction."
Barrett’s acceptance of Palmer and the WPPA’s endorsement amounts to gross hypocrisy, Republicans say.
"If these allegations are true, then it is absolutely shameful that Tom Barrett, for political purposes, would falsely attack Governor Walker's record on women's issues while standing next to a man with an alleged history of using physical force against his own wife," Wisconsin GOP spokeswoman Nicole Tieman said in a statement to the Free Beacon.
Critics have also raised questions about the behavior of the WPPA in the recall fight. The union has engaged in boycotts against businesses that failed to toe the labor line and refused to maintain order in the capital during protests.
The endorsement shows Barrett is desperate to shore up union support—and unions are desperate to maintain their power, Wisconsin-watchers suggest.
The WPPA endorsement was more "evidence that the recall election is about Big Labor's political power in state politics and not about collective bargaining reform or what is good for the state of Wisconsin," said Brian Simka of Media Trackers, a conservative non-profit watchdog based in Wisconsin.
"Unions, and particularly public sector unions, are not so much concerned about specific issues and how they apply to their membership as much as they are deeply concerned about preserving their position as kingmakers in the political process," Simka said.
Unions such as the WPPA may attempt to shift attention away from labor after being stung in previous battles against Walker, said Christian Schneider, a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Center.
"Once we get past the primary, the unions are going to want this campaign to be run on everything but the union stuff," said Christian Schneider, a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. "We saw this before. They ran ads saying Walker cut education and health, but nothing about the collective bargaining, which was what the whole thing was about."
The WPPA has reason to divert attention from its recent behavior.
Under Palmer’s leadership, the WPPA signed on to a letter with several other large unions threatening to boycott a local bank company and Kwik Trip convenience stores if they did not oppose Walker’s collective bargaining reforms.
"The undersigned groups would like your company to publicly oppose Governor Walker’s efforts to virtually eliminate collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin," the letter reads. "In the event that you cannot support this effort to save collective bargaining, please be advised that the undersigned will publicly and formally boycott the goods and services provided by your company."
The threats alienated recall supporters, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported those threatened actually saw business improve. The executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees International Union eventually backed away from the boycott threats, attributing them to "overzealousness in the field."
The WPPA also joined other public sector unions in protesting at the state capitol, going so far as announcing it would not enforce rules against protesters.
During the showdown in Madison, Palmer and the WPPA issued a statement saying its officers would not eject protesters camping in the building.
"Law enforcement officers know the difference between right and wrong, and Governor Walker's attempt to eliminate the collective voice of Wisconsin's devoted public employees is wrong," Palmer said in the statement. "That is why we have stood with our fellow employees each day and why we will be sleeping among them tonight."