Mary Burke, the Democrat running for Governor of Wisconsin, encounters criticisms for having limited political experience but a resume that — she and her supporters contend — boasts significant and applicable business guile. It’s not that Ms. Burke’s credentials at Trek inherently qualify or disqualify her to be governor. Those are the accusations for simple-minded non-thinkers. Rather, her credentials leave questions to be answered. And as she continues to leave clues about what she might stand for as governor, always in the spirit of “moving Wisconsin forward,” her policies, like her politics, seem to persistently be contradictory, either philosophically or pragmatically.
Below are, I believe, fair questions. In a sit-down interview, they wouldn’t be designed as gotcha gimmicks. I provide analysis and my best guess after them, because that’s the best I have to go on until I get a more satisfactory answer. To that end, they would be good questions in a broad sense for Scott Walker to also tackle.
1. What was your decision-making process to run for governor?
High-minded notions of moving Wisconsin forward are platitudes of the casual voter who’s barely paying attention. But even as her platform materializes and campaign ads once again pollute commercial breaks, there will be little more than these ethereal claims. Her first concrete jab at Scott Walker — the ill-fated lost-jobs claim from her first TV ad — has even left many on the left wondering who’s running this campaign. Ms. Burke can employ the typical Democrat strategy of not being a Republican, but if that’s the case, she can’t get caught lying after such a short time in the game.
Part of the strategy of the non-platform platform in the non-campaign campaign model is to make her seem either apolitical or above the political fray. This runs counter to the realities that likely pushed her forward as a candidate. The DPW aggressively focus-grouped and researched the type of candidate who might be able to beat Gov. Walker, now that Mayor Barrett has patently given up. Out of this analysis emerged Ms. Burke, whose mystery and brief political stint make her great on paper with left-wing voters, and might give her a chance with the rest of the population.
She is an unpolitical candidate brought into being by traditional political maneuvering. That part of the narrative simply will not do, and for that reason, there will never be an honest answer, from the candidate, about why she wants to be governor.
2. What is a fair tax rate for rich people? Who should be considered rich?
In the context of the national and statewide discussion about an increased minimum wage, Democrats are starting to acknowledge that the economics of the decision might be shaky, but if nothing else, paying low-income earners more makes for good social justice. Therein is a tenet of liberalism: manipulate economic policy for positive social outcomes.
But as a private citizen, Ms. Burke has not made an effort to influence lives and change social outcomes as a legislator, or by willfully donating her fortune to the government. Instead, she has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and hours of time on charities and organizations that can have meaningful impacts in a community. Her philanthropic history is tremendous and admirable. Within that history is a message of perseverance and hard work, one she hopes gets ingrained in both the beneficiaries of her beneficence and the staffers in between. As was reported in 2011:
Her big financial gifts are often structured with an eye toward results. Her pledge to Madison Prep was made to ease the financial burden on the district, but she also stipulated that Madison Prep had to raise matching funds of $500,000 a year. [my emphasis]
That same eye for results has governed Act 10, which seeks to improve education and lesson the government’s economic burden toward unions by implementing realistic systems, not pandering to a voting bloc. It is this reality Ms. Burke must understand if she truly possesses the business sense she argues qualifies her to be Governor of Wisconsin.
As a pragmatist who believes in results, will her economic policies be designed to be politically popular with her party or to be economically pragmatic for the good of the state? It was reported today that part of Wisconsin’s surplus has come from higher-than-expected tax revenues, in a climate where taxes are now less than they were under Governor Jim Doyle. Lower taxes make for good economic policy; will it be Ms. Burke’s?
3. In Wisconsin, is there too much, too little, or just enough regulation to make for a prosperous state society?
This one is a doozy, but answering it would allow her to paint in broad strokes and outline a vision for her tenure as governor. Hopefully the answers would lead to concrete stances and proposals, not vague assertions of prosperity.
The outcome of legislation on oversight for Common Core will be leveraged into hours and hours of debate and campaign-ad programming. Part of Ms. Burke’s aversion to the proposed law stems from her belief that there are already systems in place to do that job:
Burke said education standards should be written with a long-term focus in mind to provide consistency in schools, and that there is “no sense” in giving the job of writing them to politicians.
“That is what the (Department of Public Instruction) is for,” she said. “That’s why we elect a state superintendent, and it belongs in that agency.”
What is the litmus test for determining whether the government should expand the bureaucracy or find efficiencies by using existing infrastructures? Here it appears she is appeasing liberal educators by eliminating the possibility of government oversight executed by a conservative administration and legislature.
For Democrats, a larger bureaucracy and more spending are equated with better government and a better society. Republicans know this to be false. Until now, Ms. Burke has been functioning as a good soldier of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, but the next eight months will reveal how closely Ms. Burke intends to toe the party line and the price she puts on her integrity.