- SEE THE FULL INTERVIEW IN THE VIDEO ABOVE.
Madison Democrat Mary Burke's passion and enthusiasm to become Wisconsin's next governor seems clear.
Some specifics of her policy stances and campaign plan, however, remain unclear.
"I wouldn't get into this race unless I had a good chance of winning the entire race," she said in an exclusive interview Monday. "I'm excited to be in this campaign, and excited to be the next governor of Wisconsin."
The former Trek Bicycle executive and state Commerce Secretary announced her candidacy on October 7. If she becomes the Democratic nominee, she'll challenge Governor Scott Walker in the November 2014 election. In the first weeks of her campaign, she has looked to raise her name recognition without delving deep into specific policy views.
Burke stopped short of giving a straight yes-or-no answer when asked if a large iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills, like the one Gogebic Taconite wants, would be a good or bad thing for northern Wisconsin.
"I think we always have to balance job creation with protecting our natural resources," she said. "Our natural resources are so important to so many people in Wisconsin. But also, we do need to be creating more good-paying jobs in Wisconsin, and putting the emphasis on that."
She said a proposal by Sens. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), officially Senate Bill 542 a session ago, would have accomplished the balance. That bill was defeated earlier this year.
Burke has said collective bargaining for public employees should be a right. Many Democrats would like to see her push for a repeal of Act 10 to restore those rights. Burke has been unwilling to take that stance so far.
"As governor, I would have made sure that I negotiated fairly, but toughly for the changes made, and done that through collective bargaining," she said.
In his 2010 campaign, Walker promised the creation of a quarter-million Wisconsin jobs in his first term. On the current pace, he will fall short of that pledge. Burke was unclear if she would make broadcasting that trend a cornerstone of her campaign.
"The values that I grew up on are the values many people in Wisconsin did. I think one of those values is, you know, you don't make promises you can't keep," she said. "So, my promise, as governor, would be that 110 percent of my focus and energy will be on the people of Wisconsin and making sure we're addressing the issues that are most important to them, and that is job creation. I'll give it 110 percent every single day. That will be my promise."
Walker made Wisconsin jobs his focus through his campaigns, and has made it his top priority while in office. Burke says she would do something similar.
"I'll be focused on creating jobs," she replied when asked about her first action in office if elected. "We have an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent. Next door in Minnesota, it's 5.1 percent. We have to make sure that we are building the foundation, setting the priorities that are what the people of Wisconsin care about."
She pointed to her role in reopening the paper mill in Park Falls while she served as Commerce Secretary under Governor Jim Doyle.
"It was really important to not only the people of Park Falls, but that whole area," Burke said. "That was 300 good-paying jobs. We focused on that, got it reopened, and it's still open today."
Wisconsinites remain curious about what tone her campaign will take. She took a strategy growing in popularity – making a recorded video – to announce her campaign last week.
She didn't say whether people in Wisconsin could expect negative ads from her campaign and outside groups supporting her.
"I want to be focused on how we move Wisconsin forward," she said. "And I think that's a positive message."
Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) is the only other Democrat known to be considering a gubernatorial run.
She has said she would decide after January 1.
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:
Ben Meyer: "Would a large iron ore mine like the one Gogebic Taconite wants to create in the Penokee Hills – overall, would that be a good thing or a bad thing for northern Wisconsin, in your view?"
Mary Burke: "I think we always have to balance job creation with protecting our natural resources. Our natural resources are so important to so many people in Wisconsin. But also, we do need to be creating more good-paying jobs in Wisconsin, and putting the emphasis on that. I think there was legislation that was on the table that balanced those two, to make sure that we could go ahead and create jobs but also protect our natural resources. That was legislation by Senator Jauch and Senator Schultz and I think if we had gone ahead with that, we would have been able to do both. But I think the legislation that was passed did not put the safeguards in place that really are needed to make sure we have that balance."
Ben Meyer: "Switching topics, with regard to Act 10. What I've read a little bit about, early in your campaign, you've said collective bargaining for employees should be a right, for public employees. But you haven't quite said yet, I'd go so far as to repeal Act 10. For the thousands and thousands of folks in Wisconsin who are strongly against Act 10, does that message provide a problem for them, in getting their vote?"
Mary Burke: "What I can tell you is the approach I would take is, certainly, there were changes that needed to be made to balance our budget. But Act 10 went well beyond that, and also did it in a way that divisive, leaving our state fractured and weakened. As governor, I would have made sure that I negotiated fairly, but toughly for the changes made, and done that through collective bargaining. I think it's important that our public sector employees do have a voice. I spent a lot of my career at Trek Bicycle. I know from that that your organization's success comes from being able to have a qualified, committed workforce that is motivated to helping accomplish the mission. I think we need the same in our public sector, whether it's our teachers or firefighters, or our police. So we need to be able to attract and retain a great workforce. We need to make sure that they are committed but also accountable for the mission. Moving forward, we need to focus on how we can accomplish that."
Ben Meyer: "In the part of the state where I'm from, the Northwoods, you mention politics, you mention campaigns, and often times what I hear from folks, or see from folks, is they kind of roll their eyes and say, my goodness, the attack ads, the negative ads. If I could just take that out of politics, it would be so much better. In your campaign, and groups supporting you, can we expect to see attack ads? Can we expect to see negative ads from those sources?"
Mary Burke: "What I can tell you, Ben, is I want to be focused on how we move Wisconsin forward, and I think that's a positive message. I think we built on the assets that Wisconsin has – tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, high-tech. We really have so many possibilities in this state. What I want my campaign to be about is to be talking about those possibilities, making sure we're focused on creating jobs, on the things that the people of Wisconsin really care about. So that's going to be my message throughout the campaign, and making sure we have leadership that brings people together, so that we're doing our best work, that does put problem-solving ahead of the politics."
Ben Meyer: "As I'm sure you know, Governor Walker, in his 2010 campaign for governor, said, I promise Wisconsinites that I'll create 250,000 jobs for Wisconsin. It looks pretty likely that he's going to fall short of that. Is that going to be a central theme of your campaign, making that clear to folks, how he has fallen short, if he indeed does?"
Mary Burke: "I'm going to be focused on what my approach would be. I'm a fourth-generation Wisconsinite, born and raised. My great-grandparents were farmers. My grandfather delivered the mail, and my mom was the first to go to college. The values that I grew up on are the values many people in Wisconsin did. I think one of those values is, you know, you don't make promises you can't keep. So, my promise, as governor, would be that 110% of my focus and energy will be on the people of Wisconsin and making sure we're addressing the issues that are most important to them, and that is job creation. I'll give it 110% every single day. That will be my promise."
Ben Meyer: "Would a Democratic primary be good or bad for you?"
Mary Burke: "I wouldn't get into this race unless I had a good chance of winning the entire race. That's what I'll be focused on. I respect everyone's individual decision to decide whether it makes sense for them to run or not. I'm excited to be in this campaign, and excited to be the next governor of Wisconsin."
Ben Meyer: "What's your message to folks that say, look, you're a wealthy person, correct me if I'm wrong, you're a millionaire, that makes it tough for you to relate to the issues facing the middle class? What's your response?"
Mary Burke: "As I mentioned, with my background, my family's background is relatively modest, with my great-grandparents being farmers and my grandfather delivering the mail. The values I grew up on are the values many of the people in Wisconsin did. I'll take that into this race. Over my 30-year career, I've worked hard like many people. I started with a lemonade stand when I was little, and summer jobs when I was 14. I'm proud of the career I've had. I think that's what the people of Wisconsin are going to care about. Am I bringing to this race the things that are going to be necessary to lead this state and to make sure we're creating a vibrant, healthy economy?"
Ben Meyer: "If you're elected, what's the first thing you'd do in office? What's the first thing you'd do in the executive office, or perhaps the first legislation you'd push for? What's the first thing you'd do?"
Mary Burke: "Certainly, I'll be focused on creating jobs. We have an unemployment rate of 6.8%. Next door in Minnesota, it's 5.1%. We have to make sure that we are building the foundation, setting the priorities that are what the people of Wisconsin care about. First and foremost, I'll be reviewing all of the different programs that we have, and talking with folks. I want the state to be a good partner with our local communities and seeing how we can help support them by creating jobs in local areas. When I was Commerce Secretary, the paper mill in Park Falls closed. We made it a priority to say, how do we bring people together? How do we make sure we get that open? It was really important to not only the people of Park Falls, but that whole area. That was 300 good-paying jobs. We focused on that, got it reopened, and it's still open today."
Ben Meyer: "We're out of time. Thank you so much for your time."
Story By: Ben Meyer