By Ruth Conniff on October 07, 2013

It's official. Today former Trek Bicycle exec, Democrat Mary Burke announced she is challenging Scott Walker in the 2014 governor's race.

Even before she announced, Burke's name began generating a lot of buzz for several very good reasons:

  • She has millions in personal funds to pour into a race against the biggest-spending governor in state history, with and his nationwide network of rightwing billionaires.

  • Unlike Scott Walker, Burke is an actual job creator. A Harvard MBA with deep roots in Wisconsin, Burke has years of business experience an executive at Trek Bicycle -- the Wisconsin company founded by her father, Richard Burke, in 1976. Mary Burke oversaw Trek's operations in seven countries before she was tapped by Governor Doyle to run the state's commerce department.

  • It's a great year for a woman candidate in Wisconsin. The Republicans have overreached badly with their attacks on women's health, closing four Planned Parenthood clinics in the last year, eliminating comprehensive sex ed, putting up more and more barriers to birth control and abortion, and ramming through an ultrasound requirement over the objections of women legislators and their Democratic colleagues who were told to "sit down right now!"and gaveled into silence when the Senate cut off debate in an incident that went viral on youtube.

In the video announcing her run, Burke dwells on Walker's abysmal job creation record, pointing out that Wisconsin now ranks 45th in job creation, while neighboring states like Minnesota are experiencing a much stronger economic recovery.

"That's sixth from the bottom," Burke points out. "We can do better than that."

The problem, she says, is that Madison, like Washington, DC, is "so focused on the next political fight, it's pulling our state apart and our economy down."

Burke's campaign is a departure from the politics that drove the failed recall effort against Scott Walker. While the Republicans are trying to paint her as "as out-of-touch Madison activist," the truth is that Burke is neither the unions' candidate nor one of the Democrats who fought Walker's attack on public employees in 2011.

"As Democrats desperately work to defeat Scott Walker, they have recruited an out-of-touch Madison activist to wage an attack against the reforms that have put Wisconsin back on solid financial ground," Joe Fadness, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, told the Associated Press.

This is the same line of attack the Republicans used in the Tammy Baldwin/Tommy Thompson Senate race.

But it didn't work against Baldwin, and it is even less likely to work against Burke. If anything, Burke might have more of a Mitt Romney problem. The telephone poll included a question about a sabbatical she once took to go snowboarding.

While Baldwin did, in fact, have "the most liberal voting record in Congress," as Thompson repeatedly pointed out, Burke is from a conservative, business-minded family and is viewed with suspicion by some Dane County progressives.

Union leaders don't like the fact that Trek has no union employees, and that Burke oversaw the company's operations in seven countries overseas -- as opposed to making sure jobs stayed at home in Wisconsin. Nor are they charmed by her assertion that Trek is such a good employer, it doesn't need a union.

She also ran afoul of local progressives for her support for Madison Prep. Burke's proposed gift of $2.5 million to help start the charter school for African American and Latino kids put her at the center of the major controversy over Madison's achievement gap and whether Madison Prep was the answer. But Burke withdrew her support when the Urban League rejected school board oversight.

Burke has also denounced the Republican drive to voucherize public education. However, she doesn't regard school "reform" as a dirty word -- which makes some public school advocates very nervous.

When she ran for school board, the progressive blog Forward Lookout asked "Who Will Mary Burke Fire?" in a post noting that Burke provided financial support for a study of cost-savings measures in the Milwaukee Public Schools that included firing teachers.

Burke does not reject the idea that outside-the-box ideas might improve public education. She has her own ideas, which some people might not like, but she is not a tool of the all-powerful school choice lobby.

She is a true independent, one that Wisconsinites can relate to.

And that could make her a real threat to Walker.

Photo: Screenshot via Mary Burke for Wisconsin.

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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