With Vinehout Out, What Happens to Mary Burke?

After months of speculation Kathleen Vinehout has announced that she will not run against Mary Burke in a primary for the Democratic nomination for governor of Wisconsin.  Citing her recent car accident, Vinehout declared that the injuries she sustained have made it impossible for her to run a statewide grassroots campaign.  Vinehout would have had an up-hill climb ahead of her as Mary Burke has raised nearly $2 million ($400,000 from her own wallet) and she has been traveling the state for months.  Vinehout’s campaign would have been a grassroots effort that involved a lot of door knocking and handshaking which would prove challenging since her arm was fractured in eight places.  Scott Walker is one of the highest funded gubernatorial candidates in the country, not to mention that he has the luxury of incumbency.  In order to beat him, Democrats will need to fight fire with fire.  Burke has already locked up several key endorsements such as Russ Feingold’s Progressives United and Emily’s List.


A run by Vinehout was something that the progressive left was hoping for as an alternative to Trek executive, Mary Burke.  Many of them, most of whom you can find singing songs every day at lunch in the Capital Rotunda, feel that Burke is unqualified because she is a millionaire who has been riding the center line all the way to the nomination.  Burke has been somewhat vague in her policy proposals, barely supporting a raise in the state’s minimum wage to $7.60/hour. (a proposal that failed in the legislature recently)  She won’t endorse legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, and she has stated that she supports collective bargaining, but agrees with Scott Walker about employee contributions.


Burke may not be a progressive icon, but she is mounting a credible challenge to Scott Walker.  Unfortunately, to many of us, she appears to be running an “anti-Walker” campaign rather than a “pro-worker” campaign.  Over the next several months she will be vetted more closely, but perhaps not as concisely as a primary would have allowed.  This will preserve her funding for the general election, but will she be ready for the onslaught of right-wing negativity?


Burke is playing it safe right now, but it will be interesting to see if she stays on this course.  Does she start to make bold proposals in an effort to fire up the base?  Does she court Vinehout or Peter Barca as a Lt. Governor?  Or does she stay in the middle of the road and bank on the fact that progressive voters will not miss an opportunity to vote against Walker?


Progressives also have a choice to make: Do they continue condemning the candidate or do they get behind her and push her towards their point of view?  


Mary Burke may not represent everything that Russ Feingold represents, but she is clearly more progressive than Scott Walker.  With the gerrymandered Assembly districts, the next governor will only be as effective as the lower chamber is willing to allow them to be.  There is zero chance that they are willing to roll back any of Walker’s agenda, but there is also zero chance that Mary Burke will advance it.  The only way to stop the right-wing seepage into our state and derail Scott Walker’s presidential ambitions, is to get behind Mary Burke and put her in the state’s highest office.


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