Mary Burke

Mary Burke, candidate for governor of Wisconsin, fields a question at the Waunakee EMS Station Sunday.

Citing her past leadership in education and job growth, Mary Burke made the case last week for why she should be Wisconsin’s next governor.

The only one so far to declare her candidacy for the state’s 2014 gubernatorial race, Burke was the featured speaker at Sunday’s Grassroots Organization of Waunakee (GROW) meeting. She is running as a Democrat, presumably opposing Gov. Scott Walker.

Burke was previously an executive at Trek Bicycle, a company her father started in his barn in Waterloo. Today, that company has just under 1,000 employees.

Burke expanded the company during her tenure there, creating more jobs, she said, before being appointed under Gov. Doyle to head up the Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

During that time, Burke said, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was at 4.8 percent, and 84,000 more Wisconsin residents were employed compared with today.

“I’m running for governor because I love Wisconsin,” Burke said. “I’m really concerned with the direction we’re headed.”

Burke is a fourth generation Wisconsinite, and her father was a mail carrier. She currently lives on one of his former routes.

As secretary of commerce, Burke said she was proud of helping to keep the Park Falls mill from closing, thus saving 300 jobs.

Burke also has been involved in the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and was co-founder of the AVID/TOPS program, a college preparatory program that is intended to narrow achievement gaps. More than 90 percent of the participating students went on to attend post-secondary schools, Burke said. Burke said the entire community, including business leaders, provided support.

“We all came together because that’s how we meet challenges,” Burke said. “I call it the Wisconsin way. As governor, I’m going to fight every single day for the people of Wisconsin.”

Burke promised not to turn down federal funding to improve the state’s economy or to fund health care. She also promised not to let mining companies write legislation or to expand the private school voucher program.

“No more will I let us languish as the 48th state in the country in new businesses started,” she said.

Burke fielded a number of questions from GROW members and others in the audience, as follows:

•Would you accept federal funding for the Affordable Care Act?

Burke said accepting these funds would be a high priority.

“It shouldn’t be called federal money; it should be called Wisconsin tax dollars. It fuels our economy and helps make health care more affordable,” Burke said.

•How many jobs were lost as a result of rejecting rail transit funding?

Burke said “that train money has left the station.” But she noted that federal funds are always available for research, education and health care.

“We have to make sure we have an aggressive approach,” she said.

•Do you support public transit initiatives such as a Regional Transit Authority? Burke said she does support a regional approach but believes each city’s infrastructure should be studied.

•Would you Restore the Department of Commerce to its previous entity?

Burke said the function, not the form, should be the main focus of this agency. She would make sure the focus is on creating jobs and restoring public accountability and transparency to the agency, she said. But the form is not a concern.

•Do you support private school vouchers and tuition tax breaks for parents?

Burke said the tuition tax breaks are an entitlement program. The $30 million for that program “does nothing to improve education and nothing to improve the economy. It’s just a giveaway.”

As a member of the Madison school board, Burke said she opposed expanding the voucher program. As governor, she would keep the current cap of voucher student enrollment in place and require schools in Milwaukee and Racine to be accountable.

•How would you repair relationships with teachers?

Burke said this starts with respect.

“It’s awesome work. We have to make sure that’s the attitude,” she said.

Burke has gone on record in support of collective bargaining for public employees, she added.

“You do not have thriving schools and you do not have thriving students without teachers,” she said.

•How do you view the changes to the Wisconsin Veterans Association prohibiting National Guard members from serving on the board?

Burke said she would roll back most of those changes and try to ensure funding for veterans goes to the appropriate place.

•How would you eliminate disparities in the legal, criminal justice and health care system?

Burke said she would want everyone to have the same opportunity to succeed regardless of age or income. She cited her experience with the Boys and Girls Club as an example of her hard work to to close the achievement gap.

•What is your view on the mining rules?

Burke said regulations have been weakened. Bipartisan legislation that would have kept necessary protections in place and allowed job creation was cast aside, she said.

“Instead, they adopted legislation that was written by the mining companies,” Burke said. “Once the environmental damage has been done, you can’t take that back.”

•What is your “war machine?”

Burke said in the past nine weeks, she has put 10,000 miles on her car driving to places like Hudson and Rice Lake and doing media interviews.

It does take resources, she said, adding that nearly 70 percent of Scott Walker’s fundraising comes from out of state.

“It will be about people working hard,” Burke said. “It will be take a tremendous effort. You have to understand that this is an incredible challenge but one that’s doable.”

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