RACINE — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke stopped in Racine Thursday, a first as her year-long campaign to unseat Gov. Scott Walker gets underway.
The Journal Times asked the Madison school board member and former Trek Bicycle executive questions, many submitted by online commenters or through social media.
Q: You said you met with Racine-area small business owners and listened to their concerns. What were they telling you?
A: I think, overall, it was a feeling that there’s so much potential here. People love the community. ... I think they saw the potential, but they also felt that there were challenges and that there were a lot of things that would happen if there was just a little bit more support or infrastructure around some of the community types of projects, and I think that whether it’s historical renovations of some of the vacant and empty buildings; whether there’s more that could be done around arts and cultural types of attractions that would bring people into Racine from maybe off of the interstate; as well as issues with how things are handled when road projects get done, and obviously that effects local business and just ... the impact that the overall economy has on peoples’ discretionary income, I think is important to them. And so, a lot of positives, but also a lot of seeing of opportunities.
Q: In Racine County — and particularly in the City of Racine — one of our chief concerns is unemployment. What, if elected, would you do to foster economic growth, and can you speak to the issues in Racine specifically?
A: I think there’s a number of things. First and foremost, I think that we need to have a more entrepreneurial climate. We’re 48th in the country in terms of getting new businesses started. And I think we have all the potential in the world here in Wisconsin, but we do need to take advantage of making sure that people have those opportunities to get businesses started, whether it’s access to capital; whether it’s opening new markets; whether it’s networking. Those are all things that are important to being successful. I was an entrepreneur when I was in my twenties, and it’s challenging — it’s not easy. So, I think that we have to look at that very seriously, because it’s a number that hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last few decades. I think we also have to make sure that we are helping small businesses grow. And we did talk about access to capital. There was a program that I implemented when I was secretary of the Department of Commerce, the angel investment tax credit, and so, venture capital. This was a good program, but we have to be bolder here in Wisconsin. We see other states around us that have put much more resources into this, particularly in investment funds, and this is money that we can get back. It’s not money that’s just being spent and isn’t. But it’s how we invest and help businesses get started. And I do think there is a real opportunity, but we have to be more aggressive in allocating resources to that.
Q: One question on many of our readers’ minds is a proposed Kenosha casino — something the governor has yet to decide on. What are your thoughts on the project, and would you approve it?
A: Well, I think first and foremost I would have taken a different approach. I think there should have been more work done on what the overall impact would be to the state’s economy and to jobs. I don’t think that it’s just transferring jobs from one area to another, that there’s a lot of benefits to it. I question whether there’s actually the opportunities to create a lot more jobs. This is not just gambling. It’s entertainment, it’s along the border, the other states like Iowa and Illinois have certainly gambling and entertainment options. So could this be something that could actually create more jobs overall? That’s the approach I would have taken. I think that’s how we should be looking at it. So, that would then drive my analysis and drive my decision.
Q: Also from an online commenter — if elected, would you try to repeal Act 10?
A: Well, I think that Act 10 was done in a way that left our state divided and weakened, and I certainly do not support it at all and I wouldn’t have signed it. I think in that position I would have negotiated fairly but firmly on the changes that were needed to balance the state budget, but leaving our state strengthened and united. And I think this went well beyond what had to be done to balance the budget, and that’s where it went wrong. I believe our public employees should have the right to collectively bargain, and I would work with the legislature to make sure that they would be able to.
Q: On that note, if elected, you’d very possibly be a Democrat governor working with a Republican-controlled Legislature. How would you accomplish Democrat reforms, and — generally — what is your strategy when working with those across the aisle?
A: I think it’s about working together. It’s about compromise. It’s about making sure we all sit down at the table and hash out our differences. But first and foremost, let’s put as our priority what’s best for the people in Wisconsin. And I think that if we always keep that in mind, that can reach resolutions that are going to be things that are good for people.
Q: Another reader asks, what is your stance on concealed carry? If elected, would you seek to repeal or change current law?
A: I think that most states do have concealed carry, and I think that that is something we have to make sure that people are safe, first and foremost, and that we do have the licensing around it that is protecting the general public.
Q: And so do you support the current law as we have it now?
A: I think ... as long as we have safe communities I think that’s fine.
Q: One of our readers wrote in a letter to the editor that yours was a “just-trust-me campaign.” The lack of specifics so far has been a frequent criticism — how do you respond, and when can voters expect specifics?
A: Obviously with a year left to go, that’ll to be a priority, is to make sure that people understand where I stand on the issues — what my priorities are, what my values are, and the type of governor I would be. In terms of specifics around say, economic policy, that’s something that I’ll be putting together. But I think I’ve made myself clear on a number of issues, whether it is collective bargaining; whether it’s the mine; whether it is the casino, how I would have — health care, taking Medicaid money (that Gov. Scott Walker rejected) ... So, as issues come up, as people ask their question, I’ve certainly answered that, and if there’s more research, more work that’s needed, that’s something that’ll come during the course of the campaign.
Q: The state GOP has sought to cast you as a wealthy elitist, and some of our online commenters do wonder how you’ll relate to the needs of middle- or low-income Wisconsinites. How do you respond to criticism like that?
A: First of all, the value that I grew up with is — the more you have, the more you should give, and my dad when he started his first business, you know, had young kids and struggled to save money and feed and take care of the family, so the upbringing I had certainly improved as he did better, but it’s not — I wasn’t born in a way that reflects, perhaps, values that are any different than the normal person in Wisconsin. I live a life that’s very integrated into the community. I live in a very average neighborhood in Madison. In fact, I live a block and a half from where my mom grew up, and my grandfather was a mailman. You know, my great-grandparents were farmers, and my mom was the first in her family to go to college. ... I care deeply about the issues all families are facing in Wisconsin, and struggling to get by. ... So, I think what’s important in a governor is someone who listens and someone who has the compassion and care to understand the struggles that people are facing.
Q: Noting that urban areas are traditionally more Democratic, a Twitter commenter asks, how do you plan to engage with rural voters?
A: I don’t know if it’s because my great-grandparents were farmers and my grandparents grew up on farms, but I just feel a closeness to the rural areas of Wisconsin, and to our agricultural heritage. I think it’s a strength of Wisconsin, and I have gotten out ... almost 6,000 miles in five weeks on the car. And, to me, that’s the heart of who we are in Wisconsin, and so I feel very passionately that the issues that people face in our rural communities are issues that are incredibly important to me.
Q: How do you raise your profile, around the state, and specifically with your party’s grassroots base that was so engaged during the recall?
A: There’s no doubt that five weeks into the campaign it’s no surprise that people don’t know me all around the state. The benefit of coming into this with the 30-year career that’s mainly in the private sector and education is that I’m not that well-known, but I also bring an incredible amount of expertise and experience that I think is very important in state government. So, I’m looking forward to the next 12 months and getting out and talking with folks, making sure that they get to know me and I get to know the concerns that they have, and what they want to see in leadership in this state.
Q: Finally, a Twitter commenter wonders, how do you win this race against Governor Walker when Tom Barrett has failed twice? What makes this time different?
A: Well, I wouldn’t have gotten into this if I didn’t think that I could win, and I know that there’s a path to winning, and what I hear from people all over the state is that they’re not comfortable with how divided we are, and they believe that there is another way, where we have leadership that brings us together, that focuses on how we solve our issues and puts the politics aside. And whether it’s Washington or Madison, I think people are tired of the politics, and I think they want to see a leader who brings the different perspective.
WHO: Mary Burke
WHAT: Democratic candidate for governor
OCCUPATION: Madison school board member
FORMERLY: Trek Bicycle executive, state Department of Commerce Secretary
CAMPAIGN BEGAN: Oct. 7