Wisconsin Gov. Candidate Mary Burke

On the Campaign Trail: Wisc.’s Mary Burke Stressing Education and Jobs

Pam Hughes

Wisconsin Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke stopped in Milwaukee on September 29, delivering a campaign speech that stressed education and jobs to a crowd of 1,000 folks in the downtown Wisconsin Center.

Burke’s speech was flanked with the words of two iconic African-American women, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Burke’s main slogan “A New Direction for Wisconsin.” stresses her record as a private sector job creator in her father’s Wisconsin-based company Trek Bicycles. Burke, a Harvard MBA, stated that Scott Walker’s 2010 promise to create 250,000 jobs in the state in four years has fallen far short.

Trek has come under criticism, however, for sending jobs overseas. Burke’s campaign jobs plan has also come under recent attack for a consultant’s lifting of passages from previous Democrat clients’ gubernatorial campaigns in Delaware, Indiana and Tennessee. The consultant was fired.

This transgression pales in comparison, however, to the drafting of GOP bills by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) or the writing of legislation by Florida mining company Gogebic Taconite that was signed into law by Gov. Walker.

The iron ore mining legislation threatens the watershed that the Bad River Band in northeastern Wisconsin depends upon for subsistence and rolls back strict environmental laws by stating that environmental harm is inevitable in iron ore mining, paving the way for West Virginia style mountaintop removal in one of the most pristine watersheds in the world.

RELATED: Gogebic Taconite May Be Backing Off Mining Proposal

Burke has categorically opposed the legislation as written, but is not opposed to mining, according to Mark Rolo, Bad River Band spokesperson. Burke’s campaign website states that she “opposes the GTAC mine.“

Rollo said that Burke had attempted a telephone call with the Chippewa Federation, comprised of the Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, Red Cliff, Sokaogon and St. Croix Ojibwe Bands, but that the call was cut short. The tribe has not made a formal invitation to Burke to visit the watershed and the reservation, said Rollo.

Rep. Moore  (D-WI.) introduced Burke and ignited the crowd with her signature red-hot rhetoric.

“Scott Walker has ravaged this state up and down,” Moore said, citing his negative record on equal pay for equal work, funding for Planned Parenthood and on the poverty level of working mothers. “I ain’t havin’ it, ya’ll.”

Milwaukee, one of the most poverty-stricken cities in the country and one of the most segregated, is also at the forefront of the disparities between black and white children, cited by the Annie E. Casey Foundation 2014 report that ranked Wisconsin the worst state in the country.

The Casey report used over a dozen indicators involving economics and education. Burke also stressed the value of programs that help young people graduate from college.

“Unfortunately, for too many, those opportunities are getting further and further out of reach,” she said.

Burke’s long-standing personal philanthropy in eradicating poverty is well-known through actions such as nonprofit board service, support of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and a personal contribution of $450,000 to a homeless housing project.

In contrast to this record of caring, and somewhat disconcerting to the folks in attendance, was the lack of sufficient seating, especially for the disabled on crutches and elderly on walkers who had been standing in line for two hours on a warm day to get into the auditorium.

Many people sat on the floor, leaning up against walls. Others leaning against the press equipment platform were summarily rousted back into standing positions.

Burke’s mother was comfortably seated to the left of the stage, however.

Press members in attendance were also upset because they were stopped from interviewing attendees in the main room and asked to stay in a cordoned-off area in the back of the auditorium. Indian Country Today Media Network, however, managed to get a few brief interviews before being escorted back to the press area.

“Is she going to make a difference in the black community? I marched with Dr. King. I was a Freedom Rider,” said Edwina Matthews.

Barbara Begale, on crutches with two knees heavily wrapped, managed to get a chair. Her first operation was botched, she said, the state laws prevented her from suing. A recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel special report showed that while errors were increasing, payouts were dropping and that Wisconsin law favored doctors in malpractice instances. Only the state of Florida has similar laws.

The inadequate accommodations for elders, and the candidate’s lack of addressing the range of issues specific to Milwaukee’s African-Americans such as incarceration rates and neighborhood violent crime, were overcome, however, by the radiance, eloquence and grace of First Lady Michelle Obama.

The First Lady described the advances that African-Americans had made since 1966. She described the determination of a young man named Lawrence who lifted himself despite tremendous odds.

“Those kids never give up and neither can we,” she said, stressing that ten votes per district can make the difference.

She closed her speech with a courageous display of affection, walking four- and five-deep into the crowd, hugging, shaking hands and listening intently, a picture-perfect campaigner who connects with her audience.

The etherealness in the room ended as soon as she was whisked away, and the auditorium emptied.

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