Burke makes jobs focus of Wis. gubernatorial runFormer Wisconsin commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke has officially entered the race for governor.
By: By M.L. Johnson and Thomas Beaumont, Associated Press, Superior Telegram
MADISON — Former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke officially announced Monday that she would run for Wisconsin governor, giving Democrats a candidate with the business credentials and personal wealth many believe is needed to successfully challenge Republican Scott Walker.
The Harvard-educated businesswoman worked for Trek, a company her father founded in 1976, in a variety of capacities, including as its director of European operations, helping to start and oversee companies in seven countries.
"Wisconsin has been very good to me and my family," Burke said at an afternoon news conference. "I want to make sure we are creating the opportunities and jobs so Wisconsin is good for many families."
Many see Burke as the most viable Democratic candidate for governor because she can use her personal wealth to fuel her campaign and combat Walker's fundraising prowess. The governor reported raising $3.5 million in the first half of this year. For the 2012 recall election that was the most expensive in state history, he raised nearly $38 million.
Burke did not say how much of her money she would invest in the race.
Her business background also gives Democrats a fresh face from outside government, which some feel is needed after Walker defeated Milwaukee Gov. Tom Barrett in the 2010 governor's race and in a recall election two years later.
"This is a breath of fresh air, change of pace," said Paul Maslin, a Madison-based pollster and strategist who worked on Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk's 2012 campaign for the Democratic nomination during the Walker recall election.
"No one is saying we're the favorite," said Maslin. "But his approval rating is under 50 percent, and she gives us a shot."
Walker has noted that the race will likely be fought over a small percentage of the electorate, given how voters statewide already have assessed him for the position twice.
He did not comment directly on Burke's candidacy during an appearance Monday in Eau Claire but said the 2014 election will be a choice between "moving forward or backward."
"Whoever (the opponent) is will take us back to the failed policies of the last few years," Walker told the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, adding, "I think in the end voters are going to focus on the future."
Burke left Trek in 2005, when then-Gov. Jim Doyle tapped her to serve as Commerce Department secretary, a position she held for two years. Walker succeeded Doyle, who decided during the recession not to see a third term amid his lowest approval ratings ever.
Joe Fadness, Republican Party of Wisconsin executive director, said Burke, as part of the Doyle administration, had a record of raising taxes on "hard-working families" and implementing policies that hurt the state.
"A vote for Mary Burke is a vote to take Wisconsin backward," Fadness said in a statement. "Burke was part of the team that left Wisconsin with a $3.6 billion budget deficit, big tax hikes, and massive job loss - a mess that was fixed by Governor Scott Walker."
Burke said Wisconsin had 84,000 more jobs when she led the Commerce Department than it does now. She also referred repeatedly to a ranking that put the state 45th out of 50 in projected job growth.
"We need a growing economy," she said. "We need to create jobs."
She did not, however, provide specifics on how she might achieve that.
Burke also sidestepped questions about Walker's signature law stripping most public employees of their collective bargaining rights. She said she believed collective bargaining was appropriate for public workers but did not say whether she would seek to repeal the law.
Anger over the collective bargaining law led to last year's recall election, but the race showed unity among Walker's opponents had frayed. Labor unions backed Falk, not Barrett, who won the primary only to lose again to Walker.
Some Democrats fear a repeat next year if there is a primary, and Republicans are ready to take advantage of it. While Burke is the only candidate to declare thus far, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout said she is still considering running and expects to make a decision early next year.
"The governor is going to bring the entire coalition of the right. This isn't a knock on Burke, but I don't know who can bring together all the disparate parts of the coalition of the left," outside of former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, said Dan Blum, a senior aide to Walker's recall election last year.
"If the electorate looks like it did during the recall, then it's going to be really hard for Democrats, if they can't expand it," Blum said.