How not to defeat a polarizer

RedState starts by listing the predictions of Gov. Scott Walker’s imminent defeat:

Permit me this little amusement.  All bolding mine.

  • The Daily Beast, August 25, 2014 (“The Tea Party Governor Backlash of 2014″): “Wisconsin’s Scott Waker is frequently talked up by RNC types as a leading 2016 contender, but he’s fighting for his political life at home, beset by a tsunami of scandals and running neck and neck with Mary Burke. Walker’s most-favored Midwestern governor status in D.C. is in trouble despite a misguided arrogance born of his surviving a recall attempt. His efforts to rein in the public sector unions have been successful, but his style and tone—and did I mention scandals—could make him an unexpected loser on Election Night.”
  • NPR, October 28, 2014 (“In Wisconsin Election, Gov. Scott Walker Fights To Hold On”): “[Craig] GILBERT: Well, you know, one thing that we’ve seen in all the public polling is that, as divided as the state was in the middle of that kind of raucous recall fight, it’s even more divided now. It has not got – there hasn’t been a lot of healing in Wisconsin. And Governor Walker hasn’t really added to his coalition, politically, since those elections. And if you think about 2010 being a really conservative wave election, and you think about 2012 – winning a recall where some voters, you know, had reservations about Governor Walker but didn’t like the recall process – you can sort of see how this election really ought to be closer than those two elections and is.”
  • Politico, October 29, 2014 (“Scott Walker limps toward 2016″): “The politician who confidently lectured Mitt Romney in 2012 (“He has to say that I’m a reformer like Scott Walker,” Walker told The Weekly Standard) has tumbled into yet another fight for his political life. Far from a conservative Clark Kent, Walker is visibly straining in the closing days of his race against Mary Burke, a wealthy former Trek Bicycle executive and member of the Madison School Board.”
  • The New Republic,  October 28, 2014 (“Scott Walker Is Scared He Might Lose—and He’s Already Blaming His Fellow Republicans”): “The polls are generally not trending well for Democrats in the final days before the 2014 midterms, but it’s increasingly looking not inconceivable that the party’s loss of the Senate could be accompanied by a loss for one of the party’s biggest bête noires: Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. If polls showing him effectively tied with former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke weren’t enough, Walker has been giving off the distinct vibe of a man in a bit of a panic.”
  • Salon, October 30, 2014: (“5 Tea Partyers who could lose reelection next week”) “Walker was never going to glide to reelection in a state that in 2012 elected progressive Democrat Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)4%, the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator.”
  • Slate, November 3, 2014 (“The Most Important Race in America”): “On a portable stage in the parking lot of a strip mall in front of the Eau Claire GOP field office, sandwiched between a Curves and an Office Products Co. store, Gov. Scott Walker is keeping his chin up. After the beating he’s taken, that’s no small feat. Walker, Wisconsin’s incumbent Republican governor, is in a tough statewide contest for the third time in four years, and this one is much closer than it was supposed to be.”
  • ThinkProgress, November 4, 2014 (“A Pro-Environment Candidate Could Kick Scott Walker Out Of Office Tonight”): “With the final polls showing an extremely close race between incumbent Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) and challenger Mary Burke (D), an influx of last-minute donations and high-profile supporters indicate the importance of the race on a national scale.”
  • Wonkette, October 25, 2014* (“Scott Walker Gets Some Chris Christie All Over Him, On Purpose”): “With a little over a week to go before Election Day, Scott Walker is increasingly a man in need of a helping hand.”

The result?

52.3 to 46.6, or Walker +5.7.  And, in case you were wondering: in the 2012 recall election the final score was 53.1 to 46.3, or Walker +6.8; and in the general 2010 election the final score was… 52.3 to 46.6, or Walker +5.7.  Which basically means that every stupid thing that Democrats and progressives went through for four years – the marching, the protesting, the abuse of property rights, the extended temper tantrum, the expensive and pointless recall election, the licking of wounds, the picking of a new candidate, the concerted efforts to manufacture scandals, the half-open conspiracy to target conservative groups, the abandonment of whatever dubious progressive principles energized this original dispute in the first place, and the decision to simply focus down into a monomaniacal desire to just get rid of this one, solitary, insufferably Republican son of a [redacted] - all of that?

ALL OF THAT DID NOTHING.  Nothing at all.  It was like the Left wasn’t eventhere.  And this was the one election that the Activist Left absolutely, totallyneeded.  For their own pride’s sake, if nothing else; sure, they could not get back the House, lose the Senate, even maybe lose a few governor’s races – but this one.  This one, the progressives needed.  Just to show that they wereworthy of victory.

:pause:

…I don’t even need to write it, do I? Not at this point.

Recall the claims (probably accurate) that some of Walker’s 2012 votes were from people who didn’t like Walker but didn’t think he deserved to be recalled. Based on those vote percentages, those voters totaled all of 0.8 percent of the electorate.

Why should this be surprising? The total of Mary Burke’s campaign was: I’m Not Scott Walker. Burke never gave one demonstration that she was capable of being governor beyond maybe getting elected. There are Democrats who might be capable of running the state, whether or not you’d vote for them. Burke isn’t one of them.

Why didn’t Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) run for governor? Maybe Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris should have run for governor instead of losing to the seemingly beatable Sen., now U.S. Rep-elect Glenn Grothman. Or maybe a Democrat with demonstrable business experience should have run instead of Burke. (If such a person could be found.) Or Democrats should have convinced Sen. Dale Schultz (Dale Schultz Party-Richland Center) to run for governor as an anti-tea party independent.

Any of the people in the previous paragraph were not likely to have not merely lost, but dragged down the rest of the Democratic ticket, as Burke did.

Post-election media schadenfreude

Enjoy the snark sent from the Wisconsin Reporter to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its Dan Bice:

Dear Dan: Go ahead, man. Lean over the toilet and let it out.

It must have been hard to include Wisconsin Reporter – even backhanded – among the winners in your post-election “Winners and Losers” column.

Don’t fight it, Dan. I’ll hold your hair.

In crediting Michael Grebe with Gov. Scott Walker’s Election Day win over Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, you note that Grebe – Walker’s campaign chairman and head of (what you call) “the conservative Bradley Foundation” – “has poured money into online outlets that dig up dirt on Democrats and liberals.” One of those groups, you say, is our own Wisconsin Reporter, “the first,” you note, “to write up the allegations that Burke had been forced out as head of European operations at Trek Bicycle in 1993.”

But here’s where you’ve got it wrong – PR-wise, I mean. Don’t try to diminish the accomplishments of Wisconsin Reporter. Claim them as your own.

You, Daniel Bice, deserve some credit here. We got this idea from you.

Wisconsin Reporter’s Matt Kittle did indeed break the news that Burke was fired from the family-owned firm. She was fired by her brother – and can we all just say, “Yikes!” because, you know, we’ve all kind of been there with family.

This contradicted Burke’s campaign-trail assertions – that she was a pyrotechnical success while overseeing Trek Bicycle Corporation’s European operations. And you, Dan Bice, were the first to see it.

Let me wipe your nose and explain how you ought to spin this.

On Sept. 8, Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel observed that Burke’s “résumé includes an odd and little-explained two-year gap between management positions at Trek, her family-owned business, in the mid-1990s.” You noted there were differences in the explanation for what you said “has been dubbed a ‘snowboarding sabbatical.’”

“I do want to fill in the blanks or resolve any inconsistencies,” Burke reportedly told you. “There are different things out there, and I want people to know the truth.”

Did Daniel Bice let that go? He did not.

Feeling better? I thought so. Check this out.

In that same article, you observe that Burke said she left her family’s company because she was tired. You give her the benefit of the doubt – though it was clear to smart readers even then that you doubted. You report her assertions: Burke told you she’d spent “several years setting up five Trek offices in Europe and overseeing two others. She lived in Germany, Holland and Spain during this span. She has said Trek’s European sales jumped from $3 million a year to $50 million annually.”

And here’s the key, Dan. At that point in her narrative you tell readers those are sale “numbers that have not been independently verified” – and you link readers to a story from January (January, Dan!) in which the Journal Sentinel’s own PolitiFact reported that Burke and Trek couldn’t/wouldn’t back up those numbers with documents. Writing on Jan. 8, your colleague Tom Kertscher reported that “Burke and Trek – a company founded by her father and run by her brother – have repeatedly refused PolitiFact Wisconsin’s requests to document her claim.”

You see where I’m going with this. Drink this Sprite; it’s supposed to be good for the tummy.

You stopped because you couldn’t find documents. But that didn’t stop Mary Burke from making the claim.

So Matt Kittle tracked down executives who worked with her – people willing to tell Wisconsinites what really happened to Mary Burke at Trek in 1993. With one exception, those people feared going public with their accounts – feared that Trek or other Burke supporters would make their lives miserable.

Kittle got one person on the record along with four – four! – other Trek employees to speak anonymously about their direct knowledge of Burke’s termination. And when that story appeared, it took you, Dan Bice, just a few hours and two colleagues to confirm it independently.

And then it got a little weird, didn’t it, Dan?

Because it took one of your Wisconsin Journal Sentinel colleagues just a few more hours to dismiss Kittle’s findings (and, by extension, your findings, Dan) as “20-year-old twaddle.” He called the revelations about Burke – published now by Wisconsin Reporter and the Journal Sentinel! – “a classic political trick, an October surprise of innuendo and half-truths.”

I’m not sure which part of Burke’s firing he regards as true, but I can tell you (offline) the whole truth about what I’d say to one of my colleagues for knee-capping me like that in public.

All this internal sturm und drang – a colleague writing in your paper’s “Our View” section to suggest that the appropriate thing to do with unpleasant news is to sit on it – all of this, I say, may account for the fact that you’re (what’s the word?) vomiting a little maybe as you congratulate Grebe for his “investment” in Wisconsin Reporter.

But saying that, Dan – saying that Wisconsin Reporter’s Mary Burke expose produced “big returns for Wisconsin Republicans” – gives you too little credit.

The truth about Mary Burke isn’t a Republican win. It’s a big win for all of Wisconsin. And your telling of it so far gives you no credit for that big “return.”

Feeling better?

I’m guessing not.

The Wisconsin State Journal, meanwhile, endorsed Burke. How did that work out for Burke?

The cynic in me says the State Journal endorsed Burke because of fear of blowback from its subscribers, which being largely from Dane County are largely liberals. The State Journal used to be the conservative newspaper in Madison, but obviously the newspaper I have read since I was 2 years old has forfeited that title.

 

The tide flows in from the right

This election was supposed to be too close to call in Republicans’ efforts to retain control of state government in Wisconsin and in states where Republicans were trying to win Senate races to take over the U.S. Senate.

Never mind.

It is hard to see how this election could have gone much better for Republicans. Gov. Scott Walker was reelected. Brad Schimel was elected attorney general. The candidate who pledged to work to eliminate the state treasurer’s office won, replacing the candidate who made the same pledge four years ago and then changed his mind.

Walker won because of a combination of enough voters thinking he’s doing a good job as governor, and enough voters thinking Mary Burke wouldn’t be an improvement. Schimel ran on not being a partisan, which is refreshing in our hyperpartisan days, because (contrary to what Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm thinks) justice shouldn’t have a D or R tag on it.

The Republicans gained a seat in the state Senate, replacing Sen. Dale Schultz, the leader of the Dale Schultz Party, with an actual fiscal conservative (and a CPA), Rep. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green). That was despite Schultz’s efforts to anoint a successor not named Marklein, who committed the unpardonable sin of running against his own party’s incumbent.

Marklein touted himself as being an independent, which seemed a stretch. So did opponent Pat Bomhack, which was a ridiculous assertion given that state Democratic Party leadership (if that’s what you want to call them) recruited Bomhack (getting Bomhack, who had never won an election before, to switch races, in fact) to run against a candidate that wasn’t raising sufficient money and, perhaps, seemed as if he might not do everything Senate Democrats wanted him to do.

The winner list definitely includes U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, who seemed to me too conservative to win in the Sixth Congressional District, which does include some Democratic parts. So does the 17th Senate District, where Marklein won. Since I don’t live in the Sixth anymore, I neglected to find out the last time it sent a Democrat to Congress, but it’s been quite a while. The 17th, meanwhile, has elected exactly two Democrats since statehood. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) is in the majority party in the Senate, and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) is not.

Sometimes, elections aren’t about who wins, but who loses. That certainly includes Burke, whose campaign was summed up in four words: I’m Not Scott Walker. Burke showed nothing, and neither did anyone on her behalf, that demonstrated her ability to be governor. The loser list also includes Democratic attorney general candidate Susan Happ, who showed that she apparently doesn’t run her office very well, and gives plea bargains to people who don’t deserve them.

Who else lost last night? Barack Obama, beyond question. Iowa now has two Republican U.S. senators, with military veteran Joni Ernst replacing pottymouth Tom Harkin. Obama’s home state, Illinois, will have a Republican governor. Union thug Richard Trumka predicted that Burke would defeat Walker. Wrong again.

Schultz lost, though he was not running, because his sort-of-endorsed would-be replacement lost. Schultz hates the tea party (which means he apparently hates a lot of people who voted for him), and yet didn’t present himself as an alternative to too-conservative Republicans and too-liberal Democrats by running for governor as an independent.

Not everything went well, but it never does. U.S. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) was reelected despite his achieving nothing in Congress. Secretary of State Douglas La Follette was reelected despite his doing nothing on taxpayer expense. The latter can be explained by Republican opponent Julian Bradley’s refusal to advocate to eliminate the office, which meant voters had no actual choice. Voters did have an actual choice in the state treasurer race, and look how that worked out.

People who don’t like last night’s results will blame them on big money, or stupid voters. Both are the Lament of the Loser. As for the money complaint, too much money is spent in getting and keeping office because the stakes are too high in elections, both in Wisconsin and nationally. The answer is not campaign finance “reform”; it’s cutting legislative pay and staff and reducing the size and scope of government at every level.

Politics is like sports except that the season never ends, and therefore there is no final winner. Ads for the 2016 presidential race will begin in 5 … 4 … 3 …

 

Whom to vote for today

The election is today, which means we need only hang on until 8 p.m., after which the damnable political ads on radio and TV and in your mailbox will end.

(Before I go on: Read the Obligatory Disclaimer on this page, so you know that these are my opinions and my opinions alone.)

Republicans replaced Democrats left and, well, left in the elections four years ago. Having endured an illegitimate recall, Gov. Scott Walker is now running for his second term, amid questions about whether he’s going to run for president soon after this election.

Every election is a referendum on the incumbent, or at least the incumbent party. The incumbent party in Wisconsin is quite obviously the Republican Party, to which voters entrusted state government four years ago.

Walker cleaned up the fiscal mess left by the James Doyle administration to the point where the state budget is running a surplus, and the rainy-day fund ignored by Doyle has actual money in it. Only reflexive Walker-haters (which include those legislative Democrats who suddenly discover interest in fiscal responsibility — this means you, Kathleen Vinehout!) can claim state finances aren’t in better shape than they were four years ago.

School districts, municipalities and counties complain about not getting enough money from state government. I don’t mean to be cynical (for once), but school districts, municipalities and counties have claimed they aren’t getting enough money from state government during my entire lifetime regardless of whether the governor is a Democrat or Republican, or which party controls the two houses of the Legislature.

One good thing about the Republican Party (which is not perfect, and, as I have said before, does not include me among its membership) is that it has fiscal conservatives who put their work where their mouths are. This includes Rep. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), running to replace Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center). Marklein is who you can thank for the UW System tuition freeze, which will certainly go away without Marklein in the Senate and Walker back as governor.

There are people running for office — for instance, Rep. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville), running for the 15th Senate District — who claim that (insert function of government here) needs more “revenue.” Ringhand brought that up herself about local (that is, non-state) roads. Ringhand may be right. But when I asked her what in government should be cut so that local roads got more money, she didn’t have an answer for that; only that more revenue was needed.

That is why if you didn’t vote for a single Democrat Tuesday, you would be making the right choice. Democrats are fiscally irresponsible and fiscally unconservative. Fiscal conservatives do not raise taxes, and they certainly do not raise taxes as a first choice. Until the time when — or, more likely, if — Democrats let back into their party such actual fiscal conservatives as former Democratic Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, Democrats cannot be trusted with your tax dollars. Based on some comments Democrats have made, the state Democratic Party will not be happy until we are number one in the nation in state and local taxes.

Walker also cut taxes. He didn’t cut them enough, as far as I’m concerned, but Doyle raised taxes $2.2 billion in a state that has taxes that are already too high. Mary Burke hasn’t said she’ll cut taxes, and she didn’t oppose Doyle’s tax increases before she started running for governor.

Walker has been criticized for being divisive. Complaints of divisiveness are always from the losing side, or the side that thinks it’s losing. Besides that, if you believe divisiveness is the number one political sin, then Abraham Lincoln shouldn’t have fought the Civil War to end slavery, and non-whites should have shut up about their civil rights, because the civil rights movement was divisive. So was the anti-Vietnam War movement. If you complain about divisiveness, then you’re complaining about people exercising their First Amendment rights.

The Act 10 public employee collective bargaining reforms didn’t go far enough, because people paid by our tax dollars should not be allowed to be in unions. What Act 10 did, however, is to put the correct people in charge — people we elect to run municipalities and school districts — in such issues as pay and benefits. That means that, for instance, bad teachers, while not being able to be fired immediately, now can be put on a path of improve-or-leave. The unions should never, ever, ever, ever have their hands on tax dollars, and that is what they were able to control in the bad old days.

The election therefore is not about being divisive; it is about what the incumbents did, and what they promise to do. It is also about whether the alternative is better, instead of being merely, in Burke’s case, Not Scott Walker.

Burke is the most unqualified major-party candidate for governor in my lifetime in this state. I wouldn’t vote for Tom Barrett, and before him Doyle, for dog-catcher, but one couldn’t really argue they weren’t qualified to be governor; they were just wrong on the issues. Burke is not only wrong on the issues, but she has proved at no point that she can even make decisions, let alone the right decisions. If you want a puppet of the public employee unions, Burke is your choice.

Walker didn’t meet his jobs pledge. And yet the state created more jobs in his four years in office, no thanks to Barack Obama, than the Doyle administration lost in its eight years in office. (Which, by the way, includes years of economic expansion nationally.) The state unemployment rate is lower than two-thirds of states and the national average. And for the first time in more than three decades, personal income growth now exceeds the national average. So to say that the state’s economy is in bad shape compared to other states is a lie. (This means you, Ruth Conniff!)

Voters for Burke and other Democrats should also remember this: Even if Burke wins, and even if Democrats take the Senate, Republicans will remain in charge in the Assembly. This means that Act 10 is not going away. This means that concealed-carry is not going away. This means that the state minimum wage is not going up.

The bad guys in government are (among others) the public employee unions. Walker and Republicans stood up to the unions. That should be enough reason right there to vote for Walker and other Republicans.

“Other Republicans” include someone who had nothing to do with Act 10, Waukesha County district attorney Brad Schimel, now running for attorney general. In addition to the well publicized cases where Jefferson County D.A. Susan Happ made the wrong decisions in prosecution (including, worst of all, someone who shot to death two people and gets to get out of prison in five years instead of dying in prison), Happ has already said she won’t defend laws she disagrees with. We have had quite enough politics in law enforcement as it is. Schimel says he will defend and enforce laws regardless of which party enacted them.

State treasurer Matt Adamczyk also deserves your vote because he wants to get rid of his office, as his predecessor Kurt Schuller said he would advocate, but now refuses. Secretary of state candidate Julian Bradley should get points for not being Doug La Follette, but Bradley does not want to get rid of the useless secretary of state office.

The correct WSJ opinion

The Wisconsin State Journal endorsed Mary Burke for governor.

That says three things. Anyone who claims the State Journal takes conservative editorial stands cannot read. The State Journal made that decision because it was concerned about losing subscribers among Madison’s too numerous government employees. The previous sentence says everything you need to know about Madison — too much government, and intolerant of any non-liberal point of view.

Who has the correct view? The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto:

The most important single election next Tuesday is for governor of Wisconsin. The incumbent, Scott Walker, was elected in the Republican wave of 2010 and embarked in 2011 on a serious, substantive program of reform. He succeeded in his effort to eliminate “collective bargaining” for most government employees, a boon to the state fisc and a blow to politicians, mostly Democrats, who benefit from public-sector electioneering at taxpayer expense.

Because of the latter effect, the Walker reforms provoked furious outrage and extreme tactics. Democratic state legislators fled the state and hid out in Illinois to deny majority Republicans a quorum and forestall passage of the bill. Opponents tried to unseat a state Supreme Court justice and mounted a recall drive against the governor. Both efforts failed; in the 2012 recall—a rematch with 2010 opponent Tom Barrett—Walker expanded his margin of victory. Watching MSNBC that night was awesome.

(The recallers did succeed in capturing a state Senate majority for the Democrats, but the victory was Pyrrhic. The decisive recall came after the end of the 2011-12 legislative session, and the GOP retook the majority in November 2012.) …

With so much at stake, the campaign has been high-minded and substantive. Haha, just kidding. As we noted last month, Walker’s opponent, Mary Burke, put forward boilerplate policy proposals—literally copied from proposals used by earlier Democratic candidates in other states. In the tradition of Vietnam veteran John Kerry and businessman Mitt Romney, she is running what is known as a “biographical campaign,” one focused less on what she’d do if elected than on what she did before going into politics. Like Romney, her experience is in business. She was an executive at Trek Bicycle Corp., a privately held company founded by her father.

As Kerry or Romney could tell you, a danger of a biographical campaign is that it opens you up to criticism—fair or not—from people who had experience with you then. That’s what’s now happening to Burke. It began with a Tuesday piece from the Wisconsin Reporter, a nonprofit investigative-journalism website:

In attempting to explain her two-year work hiatus in the early to mid-1990s, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has said she was just burned out after an intense period of leading European operations for Trek Bicycle Corp., her family’s Waterloo-based global manufacturer.

In fact, Burke apparently was fired by her own family following steep overseas financial losses and plummeting morale among Burke’s European sales staff, multiple former Trek executives and employees told Wisconsin Reporter.

The sales team threatened to quit if Burke was not removed from her position as director of European Operations, according to Gary Ellerman, who served as Trek’s human resources director for 12 years. His account was confirmed by three other former employees.

“She was not performing. She was (in) so far over her head. She didn’t understand the bike business,” said Ellerman, who started with Trek in 1992, at the tail end of Burke’s first stint as a manager at Trek.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel credited the Wisconsin Reporter for the scoop and advanced the story with its own reporting:

Two former high-level executives of Trek Bicycle claim that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke was forced out as head of European operations for her family’s business 21 years ago—an allegation that Burke and the company denied, labeling it a last-minute smear campaign.

“I’m not saying she was incompetent,” said Tom Albers, former Trek chief operating officer who left the company in 1997. “Maybe this job was too big for her.”

As in Kerry’s case, there are Trek veterans who see matters differently. Also as in Kerry’s case, Burke’s supporters are attempting to discredit her critics with a series of ad hominem attacks. A Journal Sentinel editorial makes that clear right up top in the headline: “Attack on Mary Burke: Consider the Source.”

The bulk of the editorial consists of six paragraphs, each of which begins “Fact” and all but one of which end “consider the source.” (The other ends “Indeed.”) Here are the first and third:

Fact: The initial report surfaced in The Wisconsin Reporter, a pseudo-journalistic publication bankrolled by conservative foundations. The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation gave the Reporter $190,000 in 2012 to help underwrite the website. The Bradley Foundation’s top executive is Michael W. Grebe, who also chairs Walker’s campaign committee. Consider the source. . . .

Fact: A second source, dug up by Journal Sentinel reporters, says it’s his understanding that Burke was “fired” from her job directing Trek’s European operations 21 years ago. . . . Albers left the company in 1997 and considers himself a conservative. He became the top executive at a Trek competitor, Specialized Bicycles. Consider the source.

That’s a bit awkward, isn’t it? The Journal Sentinel tells us we can’t trust what we read in the Wisconsin Reporter, then tells us we can’t trust what we read in . . . the Journal Sentinel. It’s the liar’s paradox! Though it’s easily resolved when you consider that in most major newspapers, the newsroom and editorial pages are separate operations. We leave it to the reader to decide which, in the Journal Sentinel’s case, is more trustworthy.

The editorial’s attack on the Wisconsin Reporter is entirely ad hominem; there is no criticism of the actual quality of the site’s journalism. If the editorial didn’t have such a transparent political agenda, one might suspect sour grapes over getting scooped. In the second paragraph, the “source” we are supposed to “consider” is not the Journal Sentinel, but the Journal Sentinel’s source, who turns out to be rather partisan (which we should note the news story made clear).

To be sure, the criticism of Burke is also ad hominem. But ad hominem arguments are not necessarily fallacious. Information that contradicts a candidate’s claims about her own qualifications surely is relevant to the question of how to vote. The motives of those making such counterclaims are also relevant, as the Wisconsin Reporter acknowledged in its original story: “Full disclosure: Ellerman is chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party.”

The Journal Sentinel news story added that Ellerman “ran as a sham Democratic candidate” in one of the state Senate recalls, and Daniel Bice, a columnist at the paper, reported that Ellerman’s Facebook page included truculent postings about President Obama.

It’s reasonable to argue that Ellerman’s claims deserve to be heavily discounted because of his strong partisanship. Perhaps Albers even gets a slight discount because he “considers himself a conservative.” (That he works for a Trek competitor would be relevant only if there were some reason to think that Burke, if elected, would use her office to benefit her family’s company.)

Further, as noted above, Burke has defenders among her former colleagues. One is former CEO John Burke, who said: “Mary is a good person. Mary spent 55 years building up her reputation. All of a sudden, you get this character assassination.” Another is Steve Lindenau, who was managing director of the Germany office. From the editorial:

“I think given her work intensity, she would put in super long hours,” said Lindenau, who is now chief executive of Easy Motion Electric Bikes-BH Bicycles. “She was on a very aggressive growth pattern for Europe. It’s a family-run business. Maybe she just got burned out and needed a break.”

So what are Lindenau’s politics? The Journal Sentinel doesn’t say. What about John Burke’s politics? In terms of party and ideology, again we have no clue. But it seems a safe bet that in this election, he’s not supporting Gov. Walker, whose opponent is Burke’s sister.

The problem with the Journal Sentinel’s defense of Mary Burke is not that it is ad hominem but that it is one-sidedly so. And on that score the newsroom is as guilty as the editorial page. Guiltier, in fact, since editorialists are under no ethical obligation to be balanced.

The editorial bemoans the criticism of Burke as “a classic political trick, an October surprise of innuendo and half-truths” and avers that “no voter should base his or her decision on 20-year-old twaddle.” But such are the hazards of a biographical campaign.

Which raises the question: Why isn’t Burke running a substantive campaign? As Collin Roth of RightWisconsin.com observed in February: “Mary Burke has been largely incoherent on Act 10,” the collective-bargaining reform law. “Sometimes she opposes, sometimes she likes the healthcare and pension provisions, sometimes she wants to reinstate collective bargaining rights, and sometimes she simply didn’t like that the law was divisive.”

One possible answer is that she doesn’t think a full-throated campaign of opposition would win the election. Established Democratic politicians in the state seem to have agreed when they begged off on challenging Walker, leaving the field open for Burke.

Yet even if Walker’s reforms are secure, a loss for him next Tuesday would be a huge victory for Big Labor—a show of union power that would discourage other governors from undertaking similar reforms by sending the message that success is politically fatal. That’s why the race is so important even though the campaign isn’t especially edifying.

 

Burkean lessons about business and politics

The right-wing blogosphere lit up yesterday because of Wisconsin Reporter‘s report:

In attempting to explain her two-year work hiatus in the early to mid-1990s, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has said she was just burned out after an intense period of leading European operations for Trek Bicycle Corp., her family’s Waterloo-based global manufacturer.

In fact, Burke apparently was fired by her own family following steep overseas financial losses and plummeting morale among Burke’s European sales staff, multiple former Trek executives and employees told Wisconsin Reporter.

The sales team threatened to quit if Burke was not removed from her position as director of European Operations, according to Gary Ellerman, who served as Trek’s human resources director for more than 21 years. His account was confirmed by three other former employees.

“She was not performing. She was (in) so far over her head. She didn’t understand the bike business,” said Ellerman, who started with Trek in 1992, at the tail end of Burke’s first stint as a manager at Trek.

Ellerman said Richard Burke, Mary Burke’s father and founder of the family business, asked Tom Albers, Trek president and chief financial officer at the time, to fly to Amsterdam to evaluate Mary’s performance.

It wasn’t a pretty picture. The European operations were in disarray, Ellerman said.

Full disclosure: Ellerman is chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. As to the possibility that his accounts are politically colored, Ellerman said, “I was there. This is what went down.”

A former employee with the company told Wisconsin Reporter that John Burke, Mary’s brother and current Trek president, had to let his sister go.

The former employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal from the Burke family, said Mary Burke was made to return to Wisconsin and apologize to a group of about 35 Trek executives for her treatment of employees and for the plummeting European bottom line.

Managers in Europe used to call Burke “pit bull on crack” or “Attila the Hun,” one source said.

“She never made money in Europe when she was there … Germany was gushing blood and it would take profitability from everywhere else,” the former employee said.

“There is a dark side to Mary that the people at Trek have seen … She can explode on people. She can be the most cruel person you ever met,” said Ellerman, who started a consulting business after he was “asked to leave” Trek in 2004 over a difference in hiring philosophy.

As HR director, he said he heard plenty of complaints about Mary Burke, but he said she was “hands off and everyone knew it. She was absolutely bulletproof. She could do anything she wanted.”

To a point, apparently.

In her campaign against Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, Mary Burke has bragged that European sales climbed to $50 million on her watch. She originally said the increase was closer to $60 million in a 2004 resume to officials in Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration, the Democrat who in 2005 tapped Burke to be his secretary of the now-defunct state Commerce Department.

Ellerman and the other employees tell Wisconsin Reporter that Burke’s sales boasts are lies, that the European division did significantly lower numbers — at least $10 million lower — during her tenure as director. Most of the sales increases, they said, were in Trek’s United Kingdom market, which was well established before Burke arrived, and in the Japan operations, which Burke had nothing to do with. Any growth in sales was well offset by the losses sustained in Germany and other European countries, according to the former executives.

Trek is a privately held company and does not disclose its sales or earnings figures. Mary Burke, too, has refused to provide documentation of the numbers. …

“She had a list of excuses, but the fact is she made fatal errors. She thought she knew everything,” the former employee said.

John Burke, who at the time was vice president of sales and marketing, was forced to “unravel” the mess his sister Mary made of the European operations,” the former Trek employee said.

The former employees’ recollection of Burke would seem to jibe with Burke’s predecessor at the Commerce Department.

“She’s a disaster,” Cory Nettles, secretary of Commerce under Doyle from 2003 to 2005 told one of Doyle’s top aides in a 2006 email, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story published earlier this month.

Nettles told the newspaper he didn’t remember sending the email, which the Journal Sentinel obtained in an open records request.

Regardless, he said he does not feel that way anymore.

The Burke family, publicly at least, has had nothing but smiles and accolades for Mary Burke, praising her business acumen.

John Burke’s book about his father, published in 2012, refers to Mary as “the brains in the family.” In the book, One Last Great Thing: The Story of a Father and a Son, a Story of a Life and a Legacy, John applauded his sister’s performance in Europe.

“I hired my sister Mary, the brains of the family, to move to Europe and run the business. Mary and her team opened Austria, Spain, the Benelux, and France the following year. Trek’s business in Europe took off,” John Burke wrote.

That’s revisionist company history, sources insist.

Following her forced apology, they say, Mary Burke left her family company in a huff in 1993, taking off for the snowy mountains of Colorado and Argentina — her “snowboarding sabbatical,” as some of the candidate’s critics have derisively put Burke’s personal work stoppage.

While Burke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that she wanted to “resolve any inconsistencies” about her time away, the details and the timing remain foggy.

Burke told a Doyle administration official in 2005 that she was burned out from her European Trek stint.

“This had been a very demanding job, and as a result I decided I needed some time off,” Burke wrote, as quoted in the newspaper story. “I joined some Spanish friends of mine and moved to Argentina to snowboard for three months.”

Not true, according one former Trek executive.

“She made the statement that she was burned out. She wasn’t burned out. She was fired. (The firing) was definitely over performance issues and there were major people problems over there,” said the executive who also asked not to be identified because the source believes the extraordinarily wealthy Burke family will “destroy any individual” who brings such information public.

She did some other things during her two-year break from Trek, but full-time employment during that period wasn’t Burke’s scene.

Burke’s resume notes that she returned to Trek in 1995 as director of forecasting and strategic planning.

Not quite true, according to Ellerman and other sources.

“I remember (Richard “Dick” Burke) talked to (John Burke). I was there. Dick said we need to bring her on, so they put her in a marketing role and she worked for the marketing director for a while,” Ellerman said. It didn’t last. “She was creating dissatisfaction in the marketing world so John came to me and asked me, ‘What can I do?’ I said, ‘I can’t touch this.’”

Then, Ellerman said, Burke’s father and brother created the strategic planning role.

Another employee who worked with Burke confirmed Ellerman’s account. …

Ellerman claims that throughout Burke’s tenure with Trek, she showed that she was not a person who could bring people together.

“She is very divisive, very opinionated, but she’s not smart enough to have the right opinion,” Ellerman said. “But she’s a Burke, and she got to do whatever the hell she wanted.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel adds another named source:

“I’m not saying she was incompetent,” said Tom Albers, former Trek chief operating officer who left the company in 1997. “Maybe this job was too big for her.” …

Albers said in an interview Wednesday that he was sent to Europe by Richard Burke, the company founder and Mary Burke’s father, to look into problems with the European sales expansion that Mary Burke had been entrusted to head up in the early 1990s.

Albers said John Burke had concerns that his sister was not working out as the point person on the difficult job of switching from outside distributors of Trek bikes in Europe to a company sales force that spanned different countries, cultures and languages.

“I came back and pretty much reinforced what John Burke had told (Richard Burke) that this wasn’t working, and a change had to be made and a change was made,” Albers said. “I felt she was under water and it was going to be very difficult to turn it around.” …

Albers said that he spoke with Mary Burke when he visited Europe and could see why the challenges of the job might have left her frustrated or burned out.

“From my standpoint, there was some truth to that,” he said, citing the difficulties. “But I think there was more to it.”

Trek’s European operations were losing money and there were many people problems there because of Burke’s “my way or the highway” approach to managing personnel, Albers said. At the same time, Albers repeatedly emphasized that Burke faced an unusually difficult job in having subordinates in different countries with different backgrounds from her own.

Albers said that in his understanding Burke “was fired,” but noted he did not know how the decision was discussed within the Burke family.

Albers said he had resolved to answer questions if asked about Mary Burke but not to volunteer them himself. He said he was concerned that he would face criticism and attempts to discredit him and repeatedly said that he respected Trek as a company and was concerned about appearing to detract from it.

Albers’ statement might apply to how most business people feel about getting into politics — they have justifiable concern about how their political activities might hurt their business. Recall that during Recallarama such Wisconsin companies as Johnsonville and Kwik Trip were boycotted by Democrats because their employees dared to exercise their First Amendment rights to donate to political candidates. (Not that that appears to have hurt either, since conservatives quickly organized a “buycott” to support businesses that gave to Walker. For that matter, Maria’s Pizza, boycotted because its owner put a Walker sign on the front lawn of her house, soon found itself with … much more business.) At least one conservative I’ve seen on Facebook says he will never purchase a Trek bicycle. I’m sure that’s not what the Burkes had in mind when Mary thought about running for governor.

The important word in the term “family business” is “business.” Just because you have the right last name does not earn you a right to participate in company management. I’ve watched that lesson play out since I got into the business media two decades ago. (The corollary, however, is that in a family business the right last name might make someone untouchable, even if that person is proven incompetent. Fans of the Milwaukee Brewers found this out during the post-Bud Selig/pre-Mark Attanasio era.)

Reading this gave me more respect for the Burke family (not that I lacked respect for the business; as I’ve said before, the Republicans made a mistake attacking Trek Bicycle when Trek is a great Wisconsin business success story), at least until WITI-TV‘s report of Trek’s reply …

“This last-minute attempt to disparage Mary’s contributions to Trek is attributed to Gary Ellerman, Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. Mr. Ellerman was fired from Trek in 2004. His politically motivated characterizations of Mary and her tenure at Trek are inaccurate. When Mary was in charge of Europe, she grew sales from $3 million to $50 million. In 1993, Mary decided that it was time for her to make a change and she left Trek. In 1995, John Burke asked Mary Burke to return to Trek to help with some key areas of the business. After she returned, Mary assumed the lead of Trek`s Global Forecasting department.”

… which really doesn’t deny Ellerman’s statements other than the sales figure. Trek as a private company (that is, a company whose stock is not available for public purchase; that is, 99.9 percent of U.S. companies) does not have to release public information about itself — financial information, who does what at the company, or anything else. The credibility of that statement is open to question, however, without more detailed information from Trek, though Trek doesn’t have to release that information.

Mary Burke herself didn’t exactly clear up things either. After she made the nonsensical statement, “This is the sort of nonsense, six days before an election, baseless allegations that are deterring from the issues, frankly that are really important here in terms of getting people out and making sure they understand the issues” (try diagramming that sentence, Madison English teachers), Wisconsin Reporter reported this Wednesday night, which too isn’t really the opposite of Ellerman’s claims.

Any father out there also can sympathize with Dick Burke’s telling his son to find a place in the company for Dick’s daughter, whether or not Mary should have been working for the company. I have a hard time believing the phrase “You’re fired, Mary,” would have been used in any sense. And I can see John Burke writing something nice about his sister because he’s his sister, whether or not it’s entirely accurate.

However, nearly all of Trek’s employees and all of Trek’s customers are not from the Burke family. If a family business fails, yes, the family members who participate in the company take a financial hit, but so do all its employees, all its customers (including all the bicycle stores that sell Treks) and all its vendors. That’s why the state of the business is paramount in a family business.

This is why family businesses transitioning to a new generation bring in outside consultants to evaluate the next generation and which of them (if any) are best suited to lead the family businesses into the next generation. Sometimes those evaluations leave hard feelings among the non-chosen ones, but the failure to choose the right leader(s) helps explain why so many family owned companies flounder after the founder’s generation exits. That also explains why some family businesses have family members who have an ownership interest, but don’t work for the company.

As it is, everyone knows that Mary Burke’s campaign is summarized in four words: I’m Not Scott Walker. So maybe no additional comment is needed, but a fair appraisal of Burke as the would-be governor requires it.

No one should care whether Burke is Miss Sunshine in her dealings with other people, unless you work for or with her. Voters should care, however, how competent she is in executive duties, since the governor is the state’s CEO. Notice sentences like “She was not performing. She was (in) so far over her head. She didn’t understand the bike business.” And “She had a list of excuses, but the fact is she made fatal errors. She thought she knew everything.” And “Maybe this job was too big for her.” No expert in business would consider any of that to demonstrate competent management or leadership.

Burke also brought this on herself by touting her business experience. At no point has she said what she did — strategic decisions she made, initiatives she led, or her product or service or marketing innovations — that created this 16-fold increase in European sales. We haven’t even heard what Trek employees working for Burke did, nor have we heard from those employees what a great boss she was. (We did hear those things about Mitt Romney two years ago, which should have convinced more voters than it did.) We’re all supposed to believe, just by her own claims, that she’s a whiz at business. (Which begs the question of if she’s so great in business, why isn’t she in business now?)

Irrespective of what she did at Trek (and mischaracterizing what she did at Trek), combining classless unpleasant rhetoric with advocating anti-business policies makes for a toxic stew. Burke is the candidate of the anti-business party, and she has done nothing to suggest that the views of her party’s mainstream are any different from her own. (She hasn’t said her own position on offshore outsourcing, which her party opposes and her family business does.) If you are honestly trying to win over undecided or nonpartisan voters, you have to give them a reason to believe that you don’t represent the bad people within your own party. (For instance, Bill Clinton, as well as Gov. James Doyle’s famous comment, “We should not, we must not, and I will not raise taxes,” a few years before Doyle raised taxes $2.2 billion.)

The evidence is that Burke as candidate is only parroting what Democratic constituent groups tell her to say. She wouldn’t be the only political candidate to be a puppet; voters have to decide if what a candidate says is what the voter agrees with or believes. It certainly makes you wonder what kind of governor she would be, though.

 

Stick it to Madison

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel picked up a comment of Gov. Scott Walker Thursday:

In the tightest race of his political career, Republican Gov. Scott Walker turned up the rhetoric Thursday by saying many voters in the liberal bastion of Madison are driven by anger and that his supporters need to counter that tide by showing up at the polls.

During an appearance in Pewaukee, Walker quoted former Gov. Tommy Thompson as saying, “Unfortunately, anger is a greater motivation than love.”

Walker continued, “There are a lot of people who love what we’ve done across the state. There are many people in Madison who are angry and they’re going to vote no matter what. We have got to make sure that people who love what we do understand they have to come out just as strong. If they do, we’ll win this election.” …

It’s not unusual for Republicans to attack the two biggest cities that support Democrats — Milwaukee and Madison.

But Walker’s aim was a bit more personal, since he appeared to be attacking voter motives as well as Madison, where Burke is a member of the school board. Madison was also the site of large protests against Walker and the Republicans during the battle over Act 10, which curtailed collective bargaining for most public-sector workers.

Walker quoted Thompson, so I will too: During the debate over state funding for Miller Park, Thompson at one stop encouraged people to tell their state legislators to “stick it to Milwaukee.” Hence the headline.

Walker’s statement shows, however, that he is certainly kinder and gentler than I am. I would have been using the “stick it to Madison” phrase every day starting with day one of my first gubernatorial campaign. Sticking it to Madison would be a great unifying theme for such initiatives as decentralizing state government — moving the Justice Department to Milwaukee, for instance (since Milwaukee is the state capital of crime and other social pathologies).

Walker also used an sufficiently strong word — “anger,” when the word “hate” is more appropriate. Remember when Ann Richards described George H.W. Bush as having been born on third base and he thought he had hit a triple? Replace Bush with Madison, and there you have Madison. Though not the highest point in Wisconsin, Madisonians look down on the rest of the state. Madisonians ostracize anyone with more conservative views than theirs. Consider the screed from Ruth Conniff, editor of Isthmus, when a lawsuit was filed against the Madison Metropolitan School District over its violating state law in its contract with Madison Teachers Inc.

And then there was the Recallarama embarrassment:

See, conservatives? Madison hates you.