Mary Burke On Her Candidacy For Governor

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Mary Burke On Her Candidacy For Governor

Premiere Date: 
November 22, 2013

The former Commerce secretary and Trek exec. is the only announced Dem candidate so far.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

First, ready, set, go. The governor’s race is on. The democratic candidate Mary Burke announced her candidacy last month. Ms. Burke is a former executive for Trek Bicycles. She severed as commerce secretary under former governor Jim Doyle and holds an MBA from Harvard University. Mary Burke joins us now. Thanks very much for being here.

Mary Burke:

Thanks, Frederica. It's my pleasure to be here.

Frederica Freyberg:

We just read, an MBA from Harvard, Georgetown undergraduate, global business executive. This is a pretty fancy resume. How do you think you’ll be able to relate to Wisconsin voters and they to you?

Mary Burke:

I'm a fourth generation Wisconsinite. My great grandparents were farmers. My grandfather delivered the mail. In fact I live in a house that 50 years ago he delivered the mail to.  My mom was the first in her family to go to college. So I really feel that the Wisconsin roots that I have go very, very deep. When I travel around the state to Eau Claire or Ashland or Kenosha or Milwaukee, or wherever we go, you know, we have something in common with-- in Wisconsin. I think that people here believe in working together, focusing on the issues that matter most, and making sure that as governor, those are the things that I would be paying attention to.

Frederica Freyberg:

I read that your brother called you the brains of the family. What motivated you to run for governor?

Mary Burke:

Hopefully that position needs a few brains. I think that I care so deeply about Wisconsin. I just love this state. I think we have great people, so much potential, and I’m concerned about the direction that we’re headed. I believe we should be aiming to have the top-most vibrant economy in the country. We should be building on the foundations that we have in agriculture and tourism, and manufacturing and  high-tech. And  we have to focus on the issues that are most important to the people of Wisconsin. And put the problem-solving ahead of politics. Use common sense. I think that’s how we move Wisconsin forward.

Frederica Freyberg:

Why do you think you can beat an incumbent governor who is self-described as unintimidated?

Mary Burke:

Sure. Well, I would say that makes two of us then in terms of being unintimidated. But I think it really gets back to what the people of Wisconsin-- what I hear from them. And clearly people are not satisfied with this divisive type of leadership. And also the lack of focus on the issues  that matter most, as-- I was in Eau Claire just a couple of weeks ago talking to a couple. They have a family farm. They were one of those 77,000 people who got the letter saying they would be losing their BadgerCare. You know, they struggled to get by, and now they don't know where they're going to turn to be able to receive healthcare coverage for themselves and their two kids. Those are the issues that matter most. You know, are people going to be able to afford healthcare coverage. Are the jobs going to be there? You know, just yesterday new jobs numbers got released, the sort of, gold standard of jobs numbers, and show that our economy is really sluggish. We added just 16,000 jobs in the last year. That's not going to get us to where we need to be to get people back to work. So I think that's what we have to make sure that we’re focused on. That's what the people of Wisconsin are going to look for in determining who they're going to  vote for in this election.

Frederica Freyberg:

You talk about job creation, employment numbers, and point, again, to Wisconsin's kind of lackluster performance in that regard. How would you help to grow the economy in this state?

Mary Burke:

Well, I look back to the experience that I had at Trek. I grew the division that I ran from $3 million to $50 million in sales. This was selling Wisconsin products all over the world. I’d take that experience and say, how will we use that to help Wisconsin companies sell their services and goods all around, not only the United States, but the world? When I was at the Department of Commerce, we had a 4.8% unemployment rate and 84,000 more jobs than we have currently. I got a call from the people in Park Falls that said the mill was closing there. I brought together local business people, city and county officials, labor leaders, commerce staff, and we hammered out a plan on how to get that mill back up and running. That was 300 jobs in Park Falls. That, to me, is type of effort and focus we need to have to make sure that we’re not only creating jobs, but we’re also saving jobs. This last jobs report showed that in the last year we have not created one, single, new manufacturing job in Wisconsin.

Frederica Freyberg:

I was just about to ask you about that manufacturing number. You would do that by increasing exports? Or how do you get at that kind of stagnant manufacturing growth?

Mary Burke:

Well, a couple of things. One is definitely exports. With my experience at Trek, there are markets all over the world we can selling Wisconsin  products to. The other things is we need to have a healthy economy right here. I was in a shop in Manitowoc and heard from a woman there and asked her how her business was going. She’s like, you know, it hasn’t come back from 2008. I really need-- For me to be able to grow and hire more people, I need costumers who are able to pay. So we need to have a growing economy, over all, that generates demand for products.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation replaced the commerce department of which, of course, you’ve said you were secretary under Governor Jim Doyle. Would you maintain the WEDC, or would you scrap it and go back to commerce? And how do you think they should be graded in their performance?

Mary Burke:

Well, I think that it was the wrong move at the time at which we to be doubling down and making sure we were completely focused on creating jobs. So here-- You know, changing the format and the structure at a time when we really should be out there creating jobs, I think, was the wrong move wrong time. But going forward, I would focus on the function more than the form, and say, are we doing the things that are necessary to get people back to work in Wisconsin and growing those jobs? So I think we just have to be more aggressive. I’ve-- The latest report from WEDC showed that actually they didn't even use all of the resources that were given to them. And at the same time, I hear from business owners who can't get credit. So something’s not right there. We have to be more aggressive in terms of helping entrepreneurs get started and new businesses grow.

Frederica Freyberg:

A little bit of a left turn here, but as for your family owned business, Trek Bicycles. What’s your response to the US labor department finding that up to 24 employees of Trek are eligible for these special federal aid dollars because they lost their jobs due to foreign trade, namely apparently, Trek manufacturing bicycles in China and Taiwan?

Mary Burke:

Sure. Well, I can tell you that Trek really does more than any other bicycle company in the US to keep manufacturing here. They produce more bikes in the US than any other company. And over the past 20 years, Trek’s payroll in Wisconsin has more than doubled. Trek employs nearly 1,000 people right here in Wisconsin. You know, in addition, Trek buys over $40 million of good and services from local Wisconsin businesses, which creates more jobs in the state.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now back to this state politics and policy, would you work to overturn Act 10?

Mary Burke:

I think Act 10 was the wrong way to go. If I had been governor, I would have made sure that I negotiated firmly but fairly for the changes that were needed. But Act 10 left our state divided and weakened. I think our public sector employees do have the right to collectively bargain, but that doesn’t stand in the way of making sure we have affective, efficient, and accountable public sector in state government. So I would be sure that we were attracting and retaining the type of employees that we need to have to make sure we’re moving forward as a state.

Frederica Freyberg:

Would you work to overturn it?

Mary Burke:

Well, I would work to restore collective bargaining.

Frederica Freyberg:

On education. Presumably this is also a priority of yours given that you are on the Madison school board and familiar with the issues around k-12. What would you say is the number one thing Wisconsin needs to do to make sure that its schools maintain their high quality?

Mary Burke:

Well, I think we have to make sure that they are not only maintaining quality, we actually have to improve the quality. You know, there were recent reports out that showed some of our reading scores are among the lowest in the country. And we have to make sure that we’re  focused on quality and affordable education, whether it’s our k-12, our technical college, or our university system. We’ve seen dramatic cuts to these. And the other thing that I really worry about is this move towards the voucher system which has now been expanded statewide. It has not proven to be affective in terms of improving student learning, and to expand it without that research, I think,  is a bad move. Especially in light of that it pulls resources from local neighborhood schools.

Frederica Freyberg:

So you think that school funding should be increased?

Mary Burke:

Well, I think first and foremost we should use what funds we have effectively, but then we need to look at were we do to make additional investments to address the challenges that we are facing in the schools.

Frederica Freyberg:

One thing that was interesting to us was that you were the lone ‘no’ vote on the Madison school board in approving its latest budget. Why did you vote ‘no’ on that?

Mary Burke:

Well, that budge had a $16 million increase in spending over the last two years. And I didn't think that we had done enough in terms of looking at how we could be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers. It came with a 3-1/2% increase in the tax levy. This is ad a time at which wages in Dane County are actually stagnant. So when we’re asking taxpayers to dig deep into their own household budgets to cover the increase in the schools, I think, first and foremost, we have an obligation to make sure we look within our own operations to see if we could be negotiating tougher with venders, whether we could be holding off on out of state travel. I mean, these are things that don’t effect learning in the classroom. And I think we have to make sure that we are balancing our budgets and we’re doing it in a way that is responsible to what our taxpayers can afford.

Frederica Freyberg:

You spoke earlier in our interview about the BadgerCare program and how, under Governor Walker as part of his entitlement reform, he moved people only in the 100% poverty and lower onto Medicaid, and then is moving the others off into the marketplace. Would you expand BadgerCare and those kinds of Medicaid programs in Wisconsin, as former governor Jim Doyle did? Or would you maintain this kind of  level where we have it now?

Mary Burke:

We turned down hundreds of millions of dollars when we decided to throw 77,000 people off of BadgerCare. This was coverage that was going to be paid for by the federal government. And I believe that as governor we have to fight hard to make sure that the taxes that Wisconsin pays into the federal government-- These are the taxes that Wisconsin residents are paying. We should be fighting to get as much of that back into Wisconsin, to fuel our economy, as we possibly can. So this isn't only about having affordable healthcare coverage for people in the state. It's about making sure that we are giving our fair share of Wisconsin taxpayers’ money back into the state.

Frederica Freyberg:

Mary Burke, we leave it there. Thanks very much.

Mary Burke:

Thanks for having me. 


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