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Mary Burke, who is challenging Scott Walker in the 2014 Wisconsin governor's race, filed a fundraising report today that shows her campaign took in $1.8 million in its first 12 weeks.
That's just about equal to what Walker raised in the first 12 weeks of 2009, when he first ran for governor. (The candidates are not required to file financial reports until the end of the month, and the Walker campaign has not yet released its numbers for this quarter.)
Speaking to an audience of union members at the Labor Temple in Madison the same day her campaign released its report, Burke called today's fundraising number "really strong."
"That's going to send an important message," she added.
Besides putting Walker and her prospective primary opponents on notice that she is a formidable foe, raising a lot of money is a way to attract more money.
As Burke put it: "We've got to make people want to invest in the race here in Wisconsin. Because we know how much out-of-state money Walker is going to bring in."
In an email to supporters, campaign manager Maggie Brickerman cited the fundraising as evidence of the campaign's momentum, noting that 82 percent of contributions came from Wisconsin residents across all 72 counties in the state. More than 5,600 people contributed, 88 percent of whom gave $100 or less.
"It's going to be a tough race. It's going to be a brutal race. It's going to be an expensive race," Burke said, promising that she would "outwork" Walker.
"I'm going to put in what I can of my own resources, but that's just a fraction of what will be needed," she told the group. (Burke contributed $400,000 of the $1.8 million reported today.)
And, to the union folks assembled at the Labor Temple, she made a plea to help get out the vote:
"It's going to take a lot of doors being knocked on. It's going to take a lot of phone calls," she said.
Burke, the only Democrat to announce against Walker so far, is not labor's ideal candidate. A moderate millionaire who helped run the non-union Trek Bicycle company founded by her father, she has not made restoring public employees' collective bargaining rights -- the impetus for the historic protests and the efforts to recall Governor Walker in 2011 -- a centerpiece of her campaign. Instead, she has focused on growing the economy in Wisconsin.
"I believe public employees have the right to collectively bargain and they need their unions to do so," Burke told the labor group.
But when asked by Judy Davidoff of Isthmus if there were any parts of Act 10 she agreed with, Burke said "Yes, I do believe [state employees] paying a fair share of health care and pension costs is something we needed in order to be able to balance the budget."
At the Labor Temple, Burke's got a polite reception. The first question was about how she could square her assertion that she supports collective bargaining with her support for Walker's move to make union members help pay for their benefits.
Burke told an anecdote about a friend who worked for the state in information technology. After Act 10, she said, he felt so disrespected that he quit his job -- and is now making 50% more in the private sector. This proves, Burke said, that public employees are not overpaid, despite the Republican stereotype.
"The reason I support contributions to health care and other benefits is because the public should be aware of compensation -- that public employees are not overcompensated," she said. "It's an issue in the public mind, if public employees have something they do not, they think they're over-compensated."
Instead, she implied, public employees should be paid more but should contribute to their benefits in the same way private-sector employees do.
That prompted a bit of polite push-back from a police officer in the group, who pointed out that public employees gave up pay raises in negotiations in order to protect their benefits. "I feel the rules of the game are being changed at the end of the game," he said. Burke nodded.
Burke was more in tune with the group when she answered questions about a bill to create more charter schools throughout the state and allow entities other than school boards to authorize the expansion. (She opposes it). She agreed with a questioner that Walker and the Republicans in the legislature have launched an "assault" on public education. And she was particularly critical of the governor's plan to abolish the income tax in Wisconsin and replace it with an increased sales tax.
Burke called Walker's tax plan "craziness" which would damage the state economy and kill jobs by driving people across the border to shop in other states.
"It will be a tax hike on 80 percent of people in Wisconsin -- they would pay a LOT more," she said. "For the 20 percent who would get a tax cut, it's an enormous cut," she added.
"It takes money out of the hands of people who spend it, and puts it in the hands of people who invest it. It kills the economy."
Asked about right-to-work legislation, Burke said, "That's what this race is about. That's why it's so important.... vouchers, the elimination of the income tax and raising the sales tax, right-to-work -- these things are in the pipeline if we don't do something."
In her prepared remarks, she told the group: "We need a governor that's going to focus on the things that matter to the people of Wisconsin."
Then she listed those things:
--women's freedom to make their own health care choices
In a dig at Walker, who has turned away hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal government for high-speed rail and a Medicaid expansion, she added:
--fighting for Federal funds to help expand opportunity
--And, finally "for schools -- not siphoning funds into private, unaccountable voucher programs."
Burke also told the labor group about how Trek treats its employees with respect.
"Trek is the type of company that treats its employees well, and values their participation."
While Trek is not unionized, "the single largest shareholder is the employee stock ownership program" -- so employees buy into the company's success.
It was not exactly music to ears of the assembled labor representatives. But, combined with today's fundraising news, it was enough to make them feel moderately hopeful.