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The race between state Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) and Milwaukee County Supervisor Chris Larson may be the hottest legislative contest in Sept. 14 primary. And that doesn’t even include what the candidates themselves are saying.
The district, which stretches from Milwaukee’s blue-collar south suburbs to the city’s affluent east side, is heavily Democratic. But it has a sharp ideological split and Plale is again facing a challenge from the left, based on his support of private school choice and his role in killing a state global warming bill, among other issues.
One outside group is attacking his voting record, another has come to his defense and voters have been buried in a pile of direct mail pieces featuring competing claims.
On the pro-Plale side, the American Federation for Children-- a group that supports the Milwaukee private school voucher program -- is touting Plale’s role in retaining jobs at Bucyrus International, a maker of mining equipment and an important employer in his district. Former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, a Republican, heads the group’s state operation.
One direct-mail piece features a photo of Wynn Sandahl, identified as a 12-year Bucyrus employee, on the cover with this quote: "It’s the honest truth. Senator Jeff Plale saved my job."
It says on the back, "Milwaukee County almost lost 300 jobs. Then Senator Jeff Plale stood up for our community," and inside notes as a result "300 workers just like Wynn Sandahl still report for work everyday at Bucyrus."
That’s some personalized constituent service.
But what role did Plale, a state legislator, have in an issue that turned on the Obama administration and the U.S. Export-Import Bank?
Export-Import banks are trade promotion agencies that provide financing for projects that, collectively, generate billions of dollars in business and stimulate economies. In this case, the U.S. Export-Import bank, funded by Congress, initially declined to support a $917 million loan to an India-based power company, which planned to use about $600 million to buy mining machines from Bucyrus.
After the rejection, Bucyrus CEO Tim Sullivan started calling a host of local business leaders and elected officials to put pressure on the bank to overturn its decision. At stake, he said, were up to 1,000 company jobs, 300 at the South Milwaukee plant -- work that would go instead to an overseas supplier of the equipment.
Among those Sullivan dialed was the state senator who represents South Milwaukee, Jeff Plale.
A state legislator, of course, has little -- if any -- influence over a Washington agency that handles international trade matters. But having local officials line up with Bucyrus was important, said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
"The list of folks who were helpful includes Sen. Plale," said Sheehy, who also credited U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, both Democrats; U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), and Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
As for Plale, Sheehy said: "He did more than his fair share in terms of helping."
What did he do? A check of more than a dozen Journal Sentinel stories about the mining equipment deal found no mention of Plale.
Plale told PolitiFact Wisconsin he attended a June 30 rally timed to coincide with a visit by Obama to Racine. Plale said he also called a contact in Chicago who he said was "close to (Obama chief of staff Rahm) Emanuel" and told the person -- whom he would not name -- that the Bucyrus matter was an important for his district. He asked that the message be forwarded to Emanuel.
"Whether he did that or not, I don’t know," Plale said.
The morning of June 30 -- hours before the president arrived in Racine -- the Export-Import Bank indicated that it would reconsider its decision. Although the matter won’t be settled for certain for weeks, the bank took another step in August 2010 that will allow the Bucyrus equipment sale.
So, the jobs aren’t yet saved, but it appears they will be.
Of course, the job the American Federation for Children is concerned about now is Jeff Plale’s.
To support its claim, the only thing the group cites in the literature is a commerce association report on the impact of the deal, which says 1,000 jobs could be affected when suppliers are considered. That report makes no mention of Plale.
So did Plale save the job of Bucyrus employee Wynn Sandahl and some 300 others, as the group claims? Plale did what was asked of him as a local lawmaker to pressure the Obama administration and the bank. But so did many, many others. Plale’s role was a bit part in an international drama, but the group gives him sole responsibility. We rate the claim Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
American Federation for Children, campaign literature, distributed in district
Interview, state Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee), Sept. 9, 2010
Interview, Tim Sheehy, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president, Sept. 9, 2010
"Economic Impact of Additional Bucyrus International Production," Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel coverage of Bucyrus loan dispute, various dates, 2010
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