Mary Burke’s no-promises promise

MJS Mary_Burke_governor_announcement.jpg

Opening Remarks

Burke tells The Associated Press that she will not commit to making specific commitments on some of the biggest issues in the race, including whether she will undo Gov. Scott Walker’s law effectively ending collective bargaining for public workers.

Burke also says she won’t make any specific job creation promises, like Walker did in 2010 when he pledged to create 250,000 private sector jobs over four years.

Today’s TMJ

Most candidates for public office make pledges, promises to their core constituencies and to voters across the political spectrum that they’ll get results. They lay out their agenda early on, not often enough bold ones, and they’re not always achieved entirely, but they’re agendas nonetheless.

It’s a rare cowardice and timidity that would inspire a candidate to make not having a platform explicitly a platform. Wisconsin Democrat candidate for governor Mary Burke has done just that.

At one level, action agendas inspire one’s base. In Ms. Burke’s case, there’s a base of lefty activists that she desperately needs to inspire to work on her behalf, because they’re just not excited about her.

Ms. Burke’s promise to make no promises might be a poke at Gov. Walker that he’s fallen short of his pledge to help create 250,000 new jobs. But even inside the Madison liberal hive that jab is a token. Not laying out a vision for Wisconsin is an affront to liberal activists who know exactly what they want: get rid of Walker’s reforms.

Moderate and independent voters, on the other hand, have a less specific requirement: get results. Candidates usually define what kind of results they’re going to pursue. In Ms. Burke’s case, she doesn’t seem to want to achieve any specific results. So far she seems distant from the wishes of Wisconsinites, who do know what results they want their politicians to achieve and vote accordingly.

By staying mum about whether she’ll roll back Gov. Walker’s reforms, among everything else she’s mum about, Ms. Burke turns the freezer dial even colder on the very liberal activists she desperately needs. An unknown to most of Wisconsin, other than she’s a very wealthy Madison liberal hive-minder, she turns off moderate and independent voters by having no goals, by failing to lay out the results she would try to achieve.

The reason for her strategy is pretty obvious: she can’t lay out an agenda that will fire up grassroots supporters without turning off Wisconsin’s independents and moderates who believe Walker’s approach is working.

Walker has a bold vision, a positive agenda, and a strong base of loyal supporters. Ms. Burke, barring a huge turn of events in her favor, appears to simply be walking into a bandsaw.

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About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s a communication specialist with experience in the private sector and on various campaigns. He's the communications director for the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy. Commentary here is strictly his own.