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Mary Burke: Don't count her out

By Bill Kaplan

The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.

A few months ago national and state pundits had all but concluded that the reelection of Gov. Walker was a done deal. Instead, analysts - with Walker's encouragement - were talking up a presidential run. However, the entry of Democratic challenger Mary Burke has upset the predicted coronation of Walker. There will be a 2014 horse race in Wisconsin, complicating Walker's presidential ambitions. Burke starts out as a very credible underdog, campaigning across Wisconsin to earn the right to challenge Walker. By now she has been to about half of the counties (rural and urban), knows how to work a crowd and takes nothing for granted.

Burke has stepped into a likely mean, tough and ugly race. Only a candidate with enormous self-confidence, spunk and a vision for a different better Wisconsin would jump into this political arena. As a lifelong Wisconsinite she has been clearly concerned about how low our state has fallen. Wisconsin used to be regarded as a state that was well-governed by Democrats and Republicans. It set the pace for the rest of the nation with the Wisconsin Idea: clean / open government, environmental protection, unemployment benefits, worker's compensation, a progressive income tax, civil rights protection based on race, sex and sexual orientation and more. Democrats and Republicans cooperated to assure collective bargaining and expand health care coverage.

But Gov. Walker has taken Wisconsin backward with his ideological crusade and self-inflicted wounds to the state's economy, rejecting federally funded high-speed rail and Medicaid expansion. Walker is a doom and gloom politician, predicting the sky is falling. Unlike his Democratic and GOP predecessors Walker does not believe in inclusiveness, compromise and problem solving - the essence of effective governing. Mary Burke stands within the bipartisan "Wisconsin Way" of moving the state forward. She has the can-do American spirit, a relentless optimism and above all, listens. Burke can appeal to independents, moderates and Republicans horrified by Tea Party extremism. While Walker bets on failure, e.g., the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and makes pie in the sky promises, e.g., 250,000 jobs (only 42 percent realized), Burke bets on success and reality. And, the latest ACA enrollment numbers bear her out: two million enrolled in private health insurance plans, almost four million set to get Medicaid coverage and tens of thousands of Wisconsinites on the road to private or Medicaid enrollment.

Above all Burke is a straight shooter. She would not govern with a magic wand. Instead, Burke will bring a battered and bruised Wisconsin together. No "divide and conquer". Forward to effective governing and making the state economy work for all Wisconsinites. Perhaps there will be an unnecessary Democratic primary, but splitting hairs between Democrats will not help. Sen. Tammy Baldwin did well without one and beat Tommy Thompson who never recovered from his divisive primary. Finally, the late Senator Ted Kennedy said it best: "Don't let he perfect be the enemy of the (very) good". History is knocking at our door.

-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009.

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