The Crowning of Mary Burke

Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Mike Tate at a rally on the day enough signatures were turned in to recall Governor Scott Walker.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Mike Tate at a rally on the day enough signatures were turned in to recall Governor Scott Walker. Photo by Callen Harty.

Mary Burke may well end up being the Democratic candidate for governor of Wisconsin and she may also be a good candidate. While I have some concerns about her stands on Scott Walker’s Act 10, jobs, and on school vouchers there is also a lot about her to be admired. The more I learn the more I like her (though my concerns haven’t been answered to my satisfaction yet). I also understand that no candidate is going to support all of my positions to my 100% satisfaction.

What I don’t like about Burke’s candidacy is not the candidate, but her early crowning as the front runner. She has already garnered endorsements from Emily’s List, Representative Chris Taylor, Russ Feingold’s group Progressives United, and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, although its chair, Mike Tate, will equivocate all day about whether he or the party have actually endorsed her. They seem to think she is the one most likely to win. In the old days of politics the parties generally chose the person they believed was the best candidate and the one who was closest to the ideals of the party as a whole. Maybe that will prove true of Burke, but we are still getting to know her.

In addition, Wisconsin media are already all acting as if it is destined to be a contest between Scott Walker and Mary Burke (without considering it’s possible Scott Walker won’t even run due to his ambition to become President; the contender may have to run against J. B. Van Hollen or another of Walker’s henchmen). Even now the media bandwagon marches on despite an October 29 Marquette Law School poll ( that showed Walker ahead of both Burke and State Senator Kathleen Vinehout with 47% for Walker to Burke’s 45% and Vinehout’s 44%. That is without Vinehout officially in the race, which tells me that with the margin of error either race would be too close to call at this point. Even the Marquette University site headlines their article with “Marquette Law School Poll shows Walker in Tight Race with Burke for Wisconsin Governor in 2014”, as if the Vinehout polling numbers also would not be a tight race. She has already been written off and Burke already written in, as if the voters have no say in the matter at all.

The problem with all the endorsements is that we are months away from a potential primary and there is still plenty of time for other candidates to announce their intentions to run. Foremost among these is Vinehout, who has said she will announce in early 2014 if she decides to run (which it’s pretty clear she will). It’s possible that Hari Trivedi, who ran as an independent in the recall election, may run as a Democrat this time around. He will likely be dismissed by the pundits even quicker than Vinehout although his positions could
resonate with many Wisconsinites if he were treated by the press as a viable candidate and citizens had a chance to examine his candidacy. While there don’t seem to be others considering running it is always possible. However, one of the reasons others may be hesitant to declare now is because so much weight has already been thrown behind Burke’s candidacy, leaving others with the understanding that they will not have the support she has already secured. That makes it a harder battle against a candidate with oodles of her own money as well as money from those already acting as if Burke has won the primary or there won’t be one.

There are Democrats who believe a primary would hurt them, that it would cost too much of the eventual candidate’s money while Walker keeps collecting money from ALEC partners, the Koch Brothers, and other Tea Partiers around the country without having to spend it until the general election. They believe it would leave him with a treasure chest too big to overcome. If you believe that money is the sole determinant of the winner then maybe there is a point there. If you believe the richest man or woman wins then you may be right. However, if you believe that candidates need to be vetted by members of their own party, debate each other, stake out positions and the like, then a primary is not a bad thing. Further, a primary reveals a candidate’s weaknesses early, so that they can be dealt with early. If Mary Burke has to answer questions from fellow Democratic candidates about shipping jobs to China then she will be better prepared for the same assault from the Republicans (who ironically along with their corporate allies have sent far more jobs overseas than Burke ever could). The more information the public has about a candidate the more informed the eventual vote. Don’t tell me that’s a bad thing.

It seems to me that endorsements should be withheld until the full field is announced. And then, if Emily’s List or Progressives United wants to stand behind one of the candidates based on comparing all the candidates’ records I say good for them. Endorsing early leaves them stuck with their choice if a better candidate comes along or having to withdraw an endorsement, which doesn’t look good for anyone. Whether I like it or not they are independent groups and have the right to declare their support for anyone at any time. I’d prefer they don’t endorse early because I believe it has the potential to limit the field and may exclude potentially good candidates, but they don’t have to answer to me. The Democratic Party itself, however, should refrain from endorsing anyone, stay out of the fray, and let the people decide. They are not supposed to endorse anyone according to their own rules. If the Democratic leadership has already crowned Mary queen then they have abdicated their responsibility to the people. They need to let the people decide for themselves and then they can throw their weight and money behind whichever candidate the people choose and focus on beating the incumbent with the best candidate as determined by the people rather than the party’s elite.


About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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