Burke in stock: Is Mary Burke liberal enough for state Democrats?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

I met Mike Konopacki 30 years ago on Labor Day on the grounds of the South Central Federation of Labor. For a buck, celebrants could take a sledgehammer to a Toyota, which was then winning U.S. market share. The concept of actually competing with Japan to build better, more fuel-efficient cars did not occur to the unionistas on the labor temple grounds — only the supposed unfairness of losing in a competitive marketplace. It’s something they have in common with today’s Capitol Solidarity Singers, who lament the unfairness of thrice losing to Scott Walker’s Republicans.

As an editorial cartoonist, Mike uses his pen as a sledgehammer. Some rich capitalist — always represented by a paunchy, middle-aged white guy — is sticking it to the proletariat. A recent cartoon featured a Daddy Warbucks type saying he’d like to wish a happy Labor Day to his employees — but he doesn’t speak Chinese! The irony is that the Great White Hope of Wisconsin’s Labour Party doesn’t speak Chinese, either. 

We are talking about the Democrat(ic) party bosses’ Chosen One, Mary Burke. The lady bears a yard sign-friendly name and holds an MBA from Harvard (Walker is a college dropout, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates). Her personal wealth suggests she could partially self-finance a gubernatorial bid against the well-stocked incumbent. Yes, she is a one percenter like Mitt the Romney. 

Mary Burke did a stint heading a state cabinet agency, Jim Doyle’s Commerce Department. She would be the first female gubernatorial nominee for a major party in Wisconsin. Top that off with a private-sector business background in the family bike company; it’s a neat contrast to Scott Walker’s career in government. Now that’s triangulation! Best of all, Mary Burke has put down thinner tracks than a Trek racing bike. Attack her record? What record? 

All of which suggests to party boss Mike Tate that the lady can win. But are Democrats ready for Mary Burke? Like Joe Stalin on Red Bull, the party of Brett Hulsey is purging its moderates, people like Milwaukee Democrats Shirley Krug (once the Assembly minority leader) and Jason Fields, for supporting school choice for disadvantaged children. The last moderate Senate Democrat, Tim Cullen, turned out the lights on re-election.

Would a Gov. Burke vow to reinstate public employee contract bargaining privileges? Kathleen Falk’s vow to do so branded her as an abject panderer. Tom Barrett, the eventual nominee, never uttered the words “collective bargaining.” Even reintroducing mandatory payroll deduction of union dues could be a hard sell. Government employees would balk at the reduced paycheck. They’re getting along fine without the union.

Which is where Konopacki’s Chinese cartoon comes in. Most of Trek’s bicycles — the affordable models — are manufactured in China. No Trek worker anywhere is represented by a labor union. The Koch Brothers have signed more collective bargaining agreements.

Burke’s only campaign experience was her election to the Madison School Board, where she triumphed over the opposition of the teachers union, a key Democrat(ic) constituency. Burke cast the only vote against a 4.47% tax levy hike in September.



She pledged personal resources to fund the Urban League’s unrealized charter school, another anathema to the union. Burke blew off last month’s Fighting Bob Fest, leaving potential rival Kathleen Vinehout — one of the 14 “flee-baggers” — to pander to the Hugo Chavez wing of the party. (Featured speaker: avowed socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont.)

Voters admire courage. Scott Walker stared down 100,000 union activists besieging the State Capitol, was the only governor to beat back a recall, and became a national political rock star. Bill Clinton’s takedown of race-baiting lefty “Sister Souljah” helped separate him from the pack in 1992. Ronald Reagan’s angry “I paid for this microphone” communicated the former B-movie actor’s steely resolve in the 1980 New Hampshire Primary.

Trashing Walker, Graeme Zielinski-style, won’t cut it. If Mary Burke is the answer, she needs to articulate a positive vision for Wisconsin. She could start by giving her party a slap of Mennen Skin Bracer. Start by telling the cartoonish Solidarity Singers to get a life. That will tell moderates outside the People’s Republic that she’s serious about governing. 

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.