- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 30

Attack on Mary Burke: Consider the source

Mary Burke has made her business acumen a central selling point of her campaign for governor - she brags about growing Trek Bicycle Corp.’s European sales from $3 million to $50 million while she ran those operations during the early 1990s - so it’s hardly a surprise that conservatives fighting to keep Gov. Scott Walker on the job have challenged her claims.

But as of today, we know no more about Burke’s time at Trek than we did earlier this week.

What we do know is that two reports, one in a conservative publication, the other in the Journal Sentinel, have given voice to critics of Burke’s time with Trek - criticism larded with hearsay, innuendo and sexist overtones.

Here’s what we know:

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: That initial report relied heavily on a single source - Gary Ellerman, who Trek says was fired “for incompetence” in 2004 and is now chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. He also ran as a sham Democratic candidate in the 2012 Senate recall primary to help the incumbent GOP senator in that race. He also has a Facebook page of crude posts regarding President Barack Obama and the first lady, even likening Obama’s “hope and change” campaign slogan to a Nazi swastika, reports the Journal Sentinel’s Daniel Bice. The page was taken private about 30 minutes after Bice first posted about it Thursday. 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. “I’m not saying she was incompetent,” Tom Albers, Trek’s former chief operating officer, said. “Maybe this job was too big for her.” 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.

Fact: Another former Trek employee, Steve Lindenau, who was managing director of Trek’s German office during Burke’s tenure in Europe, said he did not think Burke was fired. “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.” Consider the source.

Fact: The story was published by the conservative mouthpiece less than a week before the election - a classic political trick, an October surprise of innuendo and half-truths. It was intended by Walker partisans, if not the conservative mouthpiece itself, to confuse voters. As Burke’s brother, John, Trek’s chief executive, noted: “Mary is a good person. Mary spent 55 years building up her reputation. All of a sudden, you get this character assassination.” Indeed.

Fact: The way Burke is described by some of the sources - strong-willed, assertive, “a pit bull on crack” - sound strikingly similar to the way other strong women have been portrayed once they reach positions of authority. It’s the classic language of sexism, and often it’s meant to undercut a strong female manager. Again, consider the source.

Burke called it “the kind of smear that has gone on since the start of this campaign. … The truth is that after getting five additional offices up and running and managing seven operations, we decided to restructure and there was no need for my position and two of the people reporting to me could directly report to people in the United States,” she said. “I was part of that decision to restructure and did that and then decided to leave.”

Burke left the company in 1993, taking two years off to snowboard, travel and work for a bicycle trade group. She rejoined Trek in 1995. Later, Burke served as Wisconsin’s secretary of the Department of Commerce under then-Gov. Jim Doyle.

Burke had a lousy day on Wednesday. First, the piece questioning her business bona fides and then a Marquette University Law School Poll showing her trailing Walker by seven points among those who say they are most likely to vote.

Neither piece of news is fatal. Her performance during her early days at Trek has been questioned by conservatives for months. And the poll is noteworthy more for the intensity of support Walker appears to be generating among his base (93 percent of Republicans but only 82 percent of Democrats say they are certain to vote). Maybe Democrats can motivate their base in the remaining days to challenge that finding.

No voter should base his or her decision on 20-year-old twaddle from a fired Trek employee who now is a Republican county chairman - all dredged up a week before the election. There are plenty of good issues to vote on, including Burke’s record as a businesswoman. After all, she brought it up. But these reports prove nothing and say more about the attackers than they do about her.


Wisconsin State Journal, Oct. 30

Health and wage questions aren’t so simple

Should the next governor and Legislature accept available federal funds for BadgerCare?

Yes, they should - assuming the federal government is still paying at least 90 percent of the cost. Taking the money makes financial sense for Wisconsin, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

But will doing so “ensure that thousands of Wisconsin citizens have access to quality and affordable health coverage?”

Not necessarily. Our health care system is incredibly complicated. Not everyone will experience positive results.

The Obamacare reforms have improved America’s health care system, offering individuals and families more security in hard times. But the long-term cost of improving benefits and expanding coverage is still unclear.

More must be done to reward the value of care, rather than volume.

So the State Journal editorial board is not endorsing a “yes” or a “no” vote in Tuesday’s advisory referendum in Dane and 18 other Wisconsin counties hoping to pressure state leaders to accept a Medicaid expansion.

It’s just not that simple.

Everyone favors quality and affordable health coverage. But passing an advisory referendum won’t magically make it so.

At the same time, voters in Dane and eight other counties will be asked if the state should increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. At least this question is straightforward.

We support a higher minimum wage. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t been increased in years, despite an improving economy.

But the Democratic push for $10.10 an hour has little chance of getting by Republicans in Congress or the statehouse. And the Democrats have little chance of winning a lock on power in Tuesday’s election.

So a better approach is a smaller wage hike for Wisconsin’s and the nation’s lowest-paid workers. That will quell concern about lost jobs while still providing a boost.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has proposed a $9-per-hour federal minimum wage as a compromise in the U.S. Senate. Collins’ alternative might actually pass, if only majority Democrats would allow a vote.

Or how about increasing the earned income tax credit, which everyone from President Barack Obama to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, has suggested? That would put more money in poor people’s pockets, just as a higher minimum wage would. The process shouldn’t matter as much as the result.

So we’re not endorsing a “yes” or “no” vote in the advisory referendum on the minimum wage in Tuesday’s election, either.

Go ahead and show your support or opposition if you like. Both local referendums on Tuesday’s ballots are sure to pass in liberal Dane County. They were intended, at least in part, to boost turnout.

The real referendum is the election itself. When we choose our leaders, that’s a binding decision for a specified term of two or four years.

Let’s continue to refine and improve Obamacare, especially to control cost. Let’s expand BadgerCare if the federal government is footing 90 percent of the bill.

Let’s give the lowest-paid workers a raise, even if it’s not as big as the Democrats want.


Leader-Telegram, Oct. 30

Seek balance between hysteria and common sense

Nurse Kaci Hickox was understandably unhappy when she returned from West Africa to find herself placed in quarantine in a New Jersey hospital this past weekend because she had contact with Ebola patients.

Hickox said the quarantine was “inhumane,” and that “we have to be very careful about letting politicians make health decisions.”

She was referring to the decision by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to order a mandatory 21-day quarantine of medical workers returning from West Africa, which he later reversed.

The issue quickly turned political (what issue doesn’t?), with the Obama administration calling such lengthy quarantines unnecessary and potentially counterproductive. The concern is that isolating workers for such a long period may discourage them from volunteering to fight the Ebola outbreak in Africa and potentially cause it to spread even further.

Hickox is correct that we don’t want politicians making health decisions. The problem is that when mistakes are made and lives potentially put at risk, the public can’t force action from the health care community, but it can put pressure on governors whom they elect to serve their interests.

Fear of the unknown can be a powerful force, and most of us don’t know a lot about Ebola. But we do know it’s not a head cold, and that after the multiple careless missteps, public concern understandably begins to ratchet up.

If good “health decisions” had been made earlier, governors’ decrees wouldn’t be necessary. Here’s what we do know.

- The first diagnosed case of Ebola in the U.S. was reported Sept. 28. The patient, Thomas E. Duncan, was being isolated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. It later was reported that Duncan was sent home from the hospital two days earlier with a reported temperature of 103 even though hospital officials knew Duncan had been in Liberia. He died Oct. 8.

- The week after Duncan’s death, it was announced that two nurses who treated him also contracted Ebola. One of the nurses flew on a commercial jet from Cleveland to Dallas days before testing positive for the disease.

- Craig Spencer, a 33 year-old doctor who recently returned from Guinea, tested positive for Ebola in New York City. Spencer had moved about freely prior to falling ill, including spending time on the subway.

Government health officials quickly fanned out to retrace Spencer’s travels to help reassure the public that Spencer hadn’t infected anyone else. Out of this case came the increased security measures ordered by Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo also quickly backed off from the mandatory 21-day quarantine.

Hickox, Spencer and others are heroes for volunteering to fight Ebola on the front lines, and we don’t want to needlessly put their lives on hold or otherwise demean or discourage their efforts.

But they also must remember that as one Ebola case in the U.S. turns into four, that anyone who could remotely be infected do all they can to ensure there is zero chance they could be carrying the virus before doing anything that could put anyone else at risk.

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