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Nearly two months into her campaign, the picture of Mary Burke as a candidate for governor is something like the Wisconsin sky on many a December day:
Mostly cloudy, with sunlight occasionally shining through.
To be sure, it’s Burke’s first run for statewide office; and it’s early. A primary election, if another Democratic candidate emerges, wouldn't be held until August 2014. And the general election -- almost certainly against Republican Gov. Scott Walker -- is two months after that.
Nevertheless, a PolitiFact Wisconsin review of more than a dozen interviews Burke has done since late October 2013 shows that on key issues, she has stated some opinions but hasn’t staked out many positions or made many specific promises.
By topic, here’s some of what Burke has been saying. We’ve noted Walker’s positions and relevant fact checks along the way.
Burke opposes Act 10, Walker’s signature legislation that all but ended collective bargaining for most state and local public employees. The former Trek Bicycle executive and state commerce secretary said she supports having workers pay more for their benefits, which the law requires, but that she would have sought those concessions through negotiation with the unions.
Act 10 "was something that I disagreed with very strongly," Burke told "The Devil’s Advocates" radio talk show in Madison. "I thought that, hey, if we have fiscal issues to solve in our budget, then let’s make sure that we’re addressing those. But that went went way beyond, and it was about undercutting our unions and taking away what I believe should be their right to collectively bargain."
Asked by reporter Charles Benson of WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) in Milwaukee whether the reforms have had any benefit for taxpayers, Burke said:
"Well, I think we did need to have some changes made. I think it was reasonable to ask our public-sector employees to be paying part of their pension and health care. That's what most people in the private sector face."
At the same time, when pressed by Frederica Freyberg, host of Wisconsin Public Television’s "Here and Now," whether she would work to overturn Act 10, Burke said: "Well, I would work to restore collective bargaining."
So, on one of the most divisive laws in Wisconsin history, Burke is mixed. She opposed it overall and says she’d work to try to restore collective bargaining. But she likes some parts of the law and won’t say that she’d go so far as to get rid of it.
Burke also draws a line on how far she’d go to rein in the school choice program.
A Madison School Board member, Burke opposed the Walker-led statewide expansion of school choice in 2011. She said on "Here and Now" that it "has not proven to be effective in terms of improving student learning. And to expand it without that research, I think, is a bad move, especially in light of that it pulls resources from our local and neighborhood schools."
(Examining claims and counter-claims about school choice, we found that research on student achievement doesn’t clearly back choice supporters or opponents.)
Burke also said she would work to roll back the expansion, but when asked by blogger Heather DuBois Bourenane whether she would repeal the voucher program, she said:
"Well, I would look first and foremost in Milwaukee and Racine, where it already is, and you have 25,000 students in there. I think we have to look to quality of education above all else and I would work first toward that and the accountability. I don’t foresee any time in the near future that the Legislature will be able to work at anything else, and so that’s what I would certainly focus on, is making sure that the accountability is there now, and that would be a top priority."
The Menominee tribe’s proposed casino in Kenosha has vexed Walker enough that he has put off indefinitely his decision on whether to approve it. Burke has said she needs more information in order to take a position.
Asked by the Racine Journal Times if she would approve the proposal, she said:
"Well, I think first and foremost I would have taken a different approach. I think there should have been more work done on what the overall impact would be to the state’s economy and to jobs. I don’t think that it’s just transferring jobs from one area to another, that there’s a lot of benefits to it. I question whether there’s actually the opportunities to create a lot more jobs.
"This is not just gambling. It’s entertainment, it’s along the border, the other states like Iowa and Illinois have certainly gambling and entertainment options. So could this be something that could actually create more jobs overall? That’s the approach I would have taken. I think that’s how we should be looking at it. So, that would then drive my analysis and drive my decision."
(We rated as Mostly True the Menominee’s claim that the casino would be the state’s largest taxpayer and one of its largest employers. We also found that while the proposal poses some threat to jobs and revenue at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, experts doubted that Kenosha complex would drain 40% percent of the Milwaukee casino’s revenue.)
Income tax cut
As with the casino, Burke indicated she needed more information about whether a state income tax cut was a good idea.
Jack Craver of The Capital Times in Madison asked Burke whether she supported a $650 million income tax cut approved in Walker’s 2013-’15 state budget.
"I'd have to see whether it put the state in a strong financial position going forward," she said You've seen where we're now going from a $700 million surplus to getting into the next biennium with almost a $750 million deficit. I'd love to be able to do tax cuts, but they have to be done in a way that is benefiting the state and is setting us up for fiscal responsibility in the long term."
(We rated Burke’s surplus-deficit claim Half True. Her numbers checked out, and she properly identifies a big swing in Walker’s budgeting, but the two numbers aren’t easily compared.)
Burke has indicated she is open to iron ore mining, but said she would not have approved the legislation that paves the way for a $1.5 billion open pit mine planned for far northern Wisconsin. Walker signed the measure in March 2013.
"I think that the legislation that was put through that weakened our environmental legislations, was not one that serves the state well, and does not serve the people in that area, and certainly puts at risk our water and natural resources," Burke told the blogger. "So, I couldn’t, but I do think that there are ways in terms of balancing job creation and protecting our natural resources. But that certainly was not the way that it should’ve been done."
Burke said she opposes requiring photo identification to vote.
(We found that Wisconsin’s 2011 legislation, currently blocked in court, is one of the most restrictive in the nation.)
"I don’t think it’s necessary at all. I don’t think that there has been any evidence of an issue here," Burke told the Sheboygan Press. "And I think that anything that prevents people from voting, eligible voters from being able to cast their votes is standing in the way of democracy and what we’re really about."
In a campaign message, Burke urged voters to join her in opposing "GOP voter suppression efforts in our state."
But we didn’t find a statement indicating that she would aim to overturn the law.
Burke contrasts with Walker on accepting federal funding under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid eligibility in Wisconsin. She told the Citizen Action of Wisconsin advocacy group:
"I would have accepted the federal Medicaid money and as governor I would go back and try to get that back. This is money that Wisconsinites pay as taxes into our federal government."
Walker has said his alternative, which involves moving some Medicaid recipients into the health care marketplaces provided under Obamacare, protects state taxpayers, reduces the role of government in people's lives and makes people more independent.
(We rated as Mostly False a claim by Walker’s health services secretary that Wisconsin was not "walking away from a dime" by rejecting the expansion. We found the state would lose $119 million in federal money during the 2013-’15 state budget cycle alone.)
Burke supports gay marriage. Asked at a College Democrats gathering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whether she would sign legislation allowing gay marriage, Burke said: "If it came to my desk, I would definitely sign it."
Walker has said there is a "healthy balance" in Wisconsin, in that its constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, and it has laws protecting gay people against discrimination.
"I think it’s important for women to make their own health choices in consultation with their doctor and according to their religious beliefs, so, yes, I would want to see that."
(We rated False a claim by Rachel Campos-Duffy, a conservative pundit and wife of Republican Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy, that more than 90% of women change their mind about having an abortion after seeing an ultrasound.)
Burke was less clear on the state law, signed by Walker in 2011, that allows people to carry concealed weapons.
She had a brief exchange on the issue with the Racine newspaper:
Q. If elected, would you seek to repeal or change current law?
A: I think that most states do have concealed carry, and I think that that is something we have to make sure that people are safe, first and foremost, and that we do have the licensing around it that is protecting the general public.
Q: And so do you support the current law as we have it now?
A: I think ... as long as we have safe communities I think that’s fine.
If you would like to comment on this item, you can do so on the Journal Sentinel’s web page.
WTMJ-TV, Mary Burke interview, Nov. 22, 2013
Citizen Action, Mary Burke interview, Nov. 22, 2013
Wisconsin Public Television, Mary Burke interview, Nov. 22, 2013 (quotes at 7:30; 8:20; 10:45)
Audio recording, Mary Burke speech to University of Wisconsin-Madison College Democrats, Nov. 20, 2013 (12:00; 15:30 school choice)
Monologues of Dissent blog, Mary Burke interview, Nov. 10, 2013
WXXM-FM, "The Devil’s Advocates" Mary Burke interview, Nov. 11, 2013 (Act 10 2:40; mine 12:00)
Sheboygan Press, "Mary Burke brings gubernatorial campaign to Sheboygan," Nov. 8, 2013
MSNBC, "Rachel Maddow Shot" Mary Burke interview, Nov. 6, 2013
WMTV-TV, Mary Burke interview, Nov. 5, 2013
WISC-TV, Mary Burke interview, Nov. 5, 2013
BurkeForWisconsin.com, "Stand against GOP voter suppression"
Racine Journal Times, "Meet Mary Burke," Nov. 8, 2013
Capital Times, "One year from election day, Mary Burke lays out views, if not specifics, on several issues," Nov. 6, 2013
Email interview, Mary Burke campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki, Nov. 27, 2013
Email interview, Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Jesse Dougherty, Nov. 26, 2013
WKOW-TV, article on Mary Burke interview, Oct. 25, 2013