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John Roach: As governor, Mary Burke could bring much-needed balance

Published On: Dec 24 2013 04:20:46 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 26 2013 11:37:19 AM CST
John Roach's Column

By John Roach 

Now that Mary Burke has thrown her bicycle helmet into ring, the battle to challenge Governor Scott Walker has begun.

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout is also making moves that indicate a bid, but as this piece is being written, Burke is the only announced candidate for the Dems.

At first glance, Ms. Burke seems the perfect counter to Walker's polarizing reign that has seen right-wing Republicans and left-wing union activists turn an affable, curd-chewing, Packer-cheering population into a mean little circus. Our political climate has not been this charged since the Armstrong brothers were lobbing homemade bombs out of a Piper Cub over the Baraboo Hills.

Burke is a private sector Democrat with impressive academic credentials and solid business experience based on one of Wisconsin's great modern business successes, Trek Bikes.

Trek Bike is like our new Harley Davidson, except not as loud and fat. It is apt model for how we'd like our state to be—cool, modern, environmentally sensitive, smartly run, well-designed, with plenty of models for everyone but still, at its heart, wonderfully simple.

The family business allows Burke to emotionally connect to the ninety percent of voters who don't belong to a government union in a way the Dems have not done in far too long a time.

Further, Burke can occupy the sweet spot near the middle that saw Wisconsin reject a Walker recall, while at the same time going for both President Obama and Tammy Baldwin. That space includes responsible environmental stewardship, enlightened positions on gay and women's rights, and common-sense solutions for the public school crisis and racial achievement gap in Wisconsin.

But the union question looms.

Rescinding ACT 10, and returning to the unbalanced, pay-for-play cash model that dominated the Dem strategy for the last three decades, seems politically unrealistic and just plain wrong. The real challenge for Mary Burke will be to paint a vision, for citizens and government workers alike, for a new post-ACT 10 model that attracts and retains smart, qualified, committed public servants and treats and compensates them with the professional respect they deserve, while also providing citizens a government that features accountability, smarts and consequences before entitlement and protectionism.

But there is another matter that overrides all the issues.

It is less about the "what" of government and more about the "how."

Even if you agree with some of Walker's moves, the manner in which he has done them leaves a sour taste. Tommy Thompson he is not. Every maneuver seems fraught with controversy and toxicity, rather than productivity and a sense of community.

For the last three years, it seems like Scott Walker has been sitting in an undisclosed location and every week or so he sneaks outside in the dark, throws a cherry bomb into a neighbor's trash can, and then rushes back inside to watch while the whole neighborhood goes nuts.

To quote David Bowie, Walker keeps putting out the fire with gasoline.

Walker never quite realized that after he was elected, he was everybody's governor. He never did what my old high school coach George Chryst counseled his players: "Be humble in victory and proud in defeat." Walker has surely been quick to act, but too slow to explain and reason.

In the end, Walker seems more an ideologue than a leader for all.

And that is Mary Burke's real opportunity.

She can solve problems, not create more of them.

She can work to bring people together instead of drive them apart for political gain.

Never veering too far right or left.

Keeping us in balance as we move down the road.

You know.

Like riding a bike.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at
Find more of Roach's columns here

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