Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Some of the themes that will shape the governor's race

With the governor's race a dead heat in the latest Marquette poll, Gov. Scott Walker and Mary Burke take to the debate stage again on Oct. 17, 2014.
With the governor's race a dead heat in the latest Marquette poll, Gov. Scott Walker and Mary Burke take to the debate stage again on Oct. 17, 2014.

What will you be told about the candidates for governor?

And how much of it is true?

On June 18, 2014, when state Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate and state Republican Party vice chairman Brian Schimming spoke at a WisPolitics.com forum in Milwaukee, some of the 2014 campaign themes became clear.

"I think he’s a man of action. He’s taken bold action," Tate said of Gov. Scott Walker. "And we’ve seen the results. And the results are not producing for Wisconsin families, and that we’re still hurting and we’re hurting much more than the states around us. And I think that when the nation’s recovered all jobs they’ve lost in the Great Recession but Wisconsin still hasn’t, I think that Scott Walker needs to explain."

Said Schimming of Madison School Board member Mary Burke, the likely Democratic nominee: "Let me tell you how confident Mary Burke is about where she is on the jobs issue. The very first television ad -- not the one down in September when you expect it to be all messy and everything -- the very first television ad from the Burke campaign told a flat-out, certifiable lie … that was that unemployment under Scott Walker was up. Flat-out lie."

Based on the ground Schimming and Tate covered, here’s a look at some of the themes they sounded and some related claims we have already rated.

We’ll take it in five sections, starting with what was said at the forum and following with the related fact-checks.

1. Doyle-Burke economic record

At the forum, Schimming joked that when Walker took office in January 2011, he "got a note" from outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle that said, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re $3.6 billion in the tank. We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in this state. Unemployment that I’ve given you as the new governor is over 7%.’ And it had been 9.2% under Jim Doyle.

"To me," Schimming added, "the irony of Mary Burke talking about jobs -- because the only time in the last quarter-century in this state where Wisconsin’s unemployment was above the national average was when Mary Burke was commerce secretary."

Tate, meanwhile, said "the real record is how have you handled the crisis that came to your doorstep … Scott Walker has mismanaged that hand."

And Tate said that when Burke was commerce secretary during part of Doyle’s tenure, "unemployment was actually lower than it is now and we had some 65,000 more jobs in Wisconsin than we have now."

Jobs

In August 2013, when Walker said Doyle’s policies led to the loss of 133,000 jobs during Doyle’s second term as governor, we rated his statement Mostly False. The number is on target, but experts agreed Wisconsin’s economy was caught in the same economic crash that crippled the nation -- the recession was deeper and more severe than any single state’s policies. What’s more, Wisconsin actually fared somewhat better than the rest of the country.

Wisconsin did have more jobs when Burke was commerce secretary -- 84,000 more than when she made the claim in October 2013. But we rated her statement Half True, as she overstated the credit she and Doyle deserved.

Unemployment

Wisconsin unemployment was 7.7% when Walker took office, as Schimming indicated. We noted that in giving a Pants on Fire to Burke for saying, in the ad Schimming cited, that unemployment "is up," from 4.8% to 6.2%, under Walker.

We gave a Mostly True to the Wisconsin Republican Party when it said the only time over the last 25 years when the state’s unemployment rate exceeded the U.S. rate was when Burke was commerce secretary. The statistic is accurate and the claim only indirectly blamed Burke.

2. Walker’s economic record

Schimming told the audience that "when the Democrats come out saying they want to talk about jobs, after we’ve had a 100,000 job pickup in Wisconsin, we’ve added 27,000 businesses in Wisconsin and things are heading in the right direction." He also said Burke made a bogus claim about wages.

Tate said Wisconsin’s job growth and entrepreneurship lags that of other Midwestern states, and that Walker "tries to duck and cover from the fact that he’s not going to come anywhere close to fulfilling the promise to create 250,000 new jobs." Tate also said wages are better in Minnesota than in Wisconsin.

New jobs

As of our latest tally, in June 2014, the state has created just over 102,000 private-sector jobs under Walker.

We’ve rated his promise to create 250,000 jobs in his first term as Stalled.

New businesses

Walker has boasted that 17,000 new businesses have been created on his watch.

We found, however, that Walker’s count includes thousands of limited-liability companies set up by real-estate investors solely to hold ownership of property or properties; and hundreds of nonprofit organizations, often volunteer-run, such as Scout troops and condo associations.

Wages

Burke had said "Wisconsin wages are declining at double the rate of other states," earning a Pants on Fire. Burke cherry-picked an outdated report that turned out to be an anomaly. More recent data shows Wisconsin’s average wages not only growing but topping the national mark three quarters in a row.

Conversely, Burke earned a Mostly True for saying "the typical Wisconsin worker makes $5,000 less each year than our neighbors in Minnesota" under Walker’s policies. The gap has grown or held steady in Walker’s time, depending on the measuring stick used.

3. Obamacare

Tate told the audience: "We’ve got Scott Walker saying, we’re going to kick 68,000 people off of BadgerCare and we’re not going to insure another 73,000 people. And then what we’re going to do, because we won’t take the money from the federal government, we’re going to spend more money to insure fewer people, which puts the cost back on all of us."

Schimming noted that Walker said he didn’t trust the federal government to continue paying the lion’s share of the Medicaid expansion, and said Walker’s position was "don’t take the bait and make a bad long-term decision."

When Walker’s health secretary said Wisconsin was "not walking away from a dime" in federal funds by rejecting an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, we rated her claim Mostly False. We found that in the first two years alone, Walker’s decision cost state government $119 million.

But when Walker said that under his leadership, more people in Wisconsin "have access to health care," we rated it Half True. He made everyone living under the federal poverty line eligible for Medicaid, but far more people are getting access to health care, whether from the government or private carriers, as a result of Obamacare.

4. Gay marriage

Tate noted at the forum that Walker, previously an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, had recently been vauge on his position. Tate said: "If he’s changed his opinion on same-sex-marriage, we welcome that and he should just come right out and say it, and he knows where the majority of the state is. But he also knows, because he’s catering to these conservative right-wing special interests, that he can’t say that. Because you can’t say that and run for president as a Republican."

Schimming responded by saying: "The governor’s been consistent about where his position is. And by the way … it was the governor who was the one who told the state Department of Health Services to start processing those (same-sex) marriage applications. So, the governor has said the people have known where he’s been on the issue from the start" and "the governor’s the one who took action, last week, on that issue."

Walker’s relatively sudden reticence caused us to more closely examine his statements in an In Context article.

We pointed out that, in contrast to his recent guarded remarks, he had supported a 2006 referendum that created a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between one man and one woman; emphasized that support in the 2010 governor’s race; and in February 2014, after the ACLU challenged the state constitution’s ban in court, said as governor he was obligated to uphold the constitution, though defending it would be left to the attorney general.

5. Burke’s Trek record

Tate repeatedly called Walker a career politician and said Burke "is someone who has a tremendous record of success as a business executive, as secretary of commerce and as a leader in philanthropy." He cited her time as an executive at Trek Bicycle Corp., the Wisconsin bike manufacturing company owned by her family.

Schimming, meanwhile, told the audience that Burke "doesn’t want to admit the fact that the company, while she was there, shipped Wisconsin jobs to China."

Burke’s role with Trek can be difficult to sort out.

We examined Burke’s statement that she raised Trek’s annual sales in Europe from $3 million to $50 million during three years heading the company’s European division. Burke and Trek repeatedly refused PolitiFact Wisconsin’s requests to document her claim. And because Trek is a private company, there is little way to independently confirm or refute her statement.