Mary Burke and Wisconsin Politics

Mary Burke has been in the news the past few months for being a possible Democratic Party candidate to run against Gov. Scott Walker in the 2014 election.  I was inspired to write this because of a Tweet from somebody over in the UK, who wrote, “A “friend” of a political party is a better friend if they are a critical friend. Do not blindly follow your leader.”  It is in that spirit that I write this post.  I do not know Ms. Burke, and this is not meant as a personal attack on her.  Rather, it is a criticism of the media coverage surrounding her political future and the message it sends about Wisconsin politics.

Make no doubt about it, I am a liberal.  I spoke in front of the JFC back in February 2011, on the very first day they took public testimony, arguing that Gov. Walker’s attack on unions was deplorable and against international norms.  I have written about Gov. Walker on both Twitter and here on my blog (see for example my pieces about employment in Wisconsin and my critique of his 2013 State of the State.)  Needless to say, I am very hopeful that a well-qualified candidate, with great vision and optimism to take Wisconsin forward, will oust him from office in 2014.

So when I read about Mary Burke and how much money she has, I am disappointed for Wisconsin politics.  Those of us who have followed Wisconsin politics since Gov. Walker took office are well aware of the tremendous amount of money flowing in from external sources to support Walker (i.e. the Koch brothers.)  So yes, it will be an uphill battle requiring a massive amount of funding to go against Walker.  If we read some of the media accounts about Ms. Burke, however, it is her money that makes her the most promising candidate.  Scott Bauer, writing for AP, wrote that Burke is “seen by many as the most viable candidate because she could tap her personal wealth to help fuel a run.”  It’s not because of her actions as a philanthropist or her time in WI state government that make her a viable candidate, but because of her money.  Joel McNally, writing for The Capital Times, wrote a bit more about Burke’s past and why she might be qualified to run for governor, but he concluded with the following statement, “Don’t worry about a millionaire buying the election. Millionaires will buy the next election no matter who wins.”  Sean Sullivan and Aaron Blake, writing for The Washington Post, stated that “If Democrat Mary Burke jumps in the race against him, Walker will be up against a candidate with a business background and a personal fortune to spend.”  Finally, Jack Craver, writing for The Capital Times, proposed that “Mary Burke’s wealth is one of the main drivers of her likely candidacy for governor.”  Are you noticing a trend?

The message that is being sent to us then, is this- if you want to run for office, it does not matter how intelligent you might be; the quality of your ideas is irrelevant; your values and ethics will not sway voters; what matters most, is the amount of money you have and might be able to raise for the campaign.  That’s what has become of Wisconsin politics.  Gone are the days of Robert M. “Fighting Bob” La Follette, who “angrily [denounced] the use of money to shut out the voice of the people.”  Instead, we live in an age where money trumps all else.

Thanks for reading.


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