Thursday, October 30, 2014


By Dominique Paul Noth

While attending two crowded social events last week, one nonpartisan and one a political fund-raiser, people in the crowd pressed into my hands and pocket a set of instructions outlining how to vote on the five advisory questions on my two-sided ballot November 4 in Milwaukee. 

Curiously their advice – one no and four yes -- matched my own. So at first I thought there must be considerable information out there about the opportunity to express the opinion of voters. And then at other events and outside City Hall during early voting, I ran into squads of citizens unaware of the issues and particularly confused by the nonbinding state referendum.

That’s the one that needs a No but is language tricky. It sounds like a sensible change to the state constitution – until you look under the hood as state Sen. Fred Risser did.

There you will find traps in prohibiting using the state transportation fund for purposes other than transportation. That sounds noble except that “transportation” is not defined. The use of the fund would be determined by bureaucrats doing the bidding of the party in power.

There is some history there -- including excessive attention by the DOT to highway building and double-decker or multiple upon multiple lanes regardless of pushes for variety. Another part of that history is Scott Walker’s refusal of $810 million in federal money to make Wisconsin part of a national train network (isn’t that transportation?) to be paid by the nation’s taxpayers, not the state’s. He turned down big money and big numbers of permanent and temporary jobs that have now gone to other eager states.

He used the political pretenses that trains would cost the state a fortune in maintenance (untrue) and that no one but Democratic politicians wanted economic development along the tracks or an alternative way to get to Madison.  (Have you been stuck on our clogged highways lately?)

Raiding the transportation fund, which comes from the gas tax and vehicle registration fees, for other government services has been criticized by Mary Burke though it was done after she left the commerce department of onetime boss Jim Doyle. Of course no politician today discusses what would have happened to taxpayers if he hadn’t raided the fund during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

She didn’t agree with it then or now, but Walker is unconscionably still trying to make it (five years later) the economic centerpiece of his argument against her!

He doesn’t mention his worse methods of filling the hole in the budget that Doyle faced (Walker has shrunk shared revenue for schools and communities and borrowed money more heavily than any previous governor) – methods that will leave his likely successor, Burke, with a $1.8 billion structural deficit.  (Maybe what we really need is a constitutional limit on how much the state can borrow!)  This question is an easy no.

The other four questions get a yes and are only in Milwaukee County as an expression of the voice of the people. A disgruntled voice right now.

A lot of media has scoffed at the few thousand dollars cost of the referenda. Why should we pay attention to the voice of the people? It’s just an expression of opinion without the force of law. Just a waste of time and money hearing what people think because the legislature and judges may ignore it anyway.  They have before. (Yes, only to see ballot advice overwhelmingly advanced by Milwaukee voters grow into a national movement.) 

The Milwaukee County referenda are listed as four questions. Question 1 has already passed in several communities – basically that corporations are not people and should be treated differently than the living breathing citizen. 

It advises changing the US Constitution to block the worst consequences of Citizens United in a way that can’t be reversed. The question asks for an amendment to say: “Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.”

The wording is careful and legally cunning, expressing what human beings and corporations are entitled to in different ways and defending spending on politics but allowing elected officials to decide limits, so all quarters are protected but put in distinct separate places.

I’m reluctant to add to the Bill of Rights, but this one is necessary given the excess and disrespect the current situation has caused for our electoral process, and given the current Congress that squabbles even over ideas both sides agree on. So I am all for yes.

And yes as well on Question 2 to accept all federal funds for Wisconsin BadgerCare, which means the expanded Medicaid that will save billions of dollars in 10 years and cover thousands left in limbo. 

TV viewers will note how the ads for Walker continue to mislead on the Affordable Care Act, perhaps to halt public demands like this. The ad examples don’t hold up, not even if they pound on you in high volume. Even that so-called lie of the year in 2013.  Obama should have qualified more accurately when he said “If you like your health plan you can keep it,” because he didn’t grasp that thousands of people liked lousy health plans that didn’t fill the ACA bill – or had never used them and were shocked when they were being taken away or changed wholesale by heath insurance companies, which did read the fine print in the law.

But the truth is that most people in both parties appreciate the benefits of Obamacare as long as you don’t call it Obamacare, and if you examine the particulars you’ll see that the rising costs of health care are slowing and that most middle class families are widely helped.

But Walker turned down the expanded Medicaid coverage by the federal government under the ACA, ignoring that throughout history the federal government hasn't reneged on its Medicaid promises and partnerships with the states.  Walker is doing pyrotechnic dissembling claiming that people at or below the poverty line will still be covered by BadgerCare (the state Medicaid) and that everyone else can go the federal exchange even though they don’t make enough money to meet the requirements – by my estimate some 60,000 working people and even by his some 30,000.

His refusal to take the Medicaid money is painfully cruel as well as fiscally stupid, and the people have a right to say so on the ballot.

Yes as well on Question 3, urging the state to raise its minimum hourly wage to $10.10 -- not quite enough to live on but an important step in a better economic direction for low income families and  a major multiplier for local businesses. 

And yes also on Question 4, which is to some degree a “tit for tat” by the county board in reaction to County Executive Chris Abele.  Coming from a wealthy business background, he was apparently frustrated with the give and take compromise of the US democratic process. So Abele reduced the power of the county’s legislative arm by turning to Republicans in the Madison legislature to concoct Act 14. That limited the authority of the largely progressive (but debate minded) county board, giving more control to him, and even convinced voters there were financial savings in reducing the supervisors’ wages starting in 2016 to part time rates even if their duties in many districts remain full time.  

Curiously a Republican hope and a Democratic fear behind all this may be backfiring.  The Democrats argued that only independently wealthy Republicans could afford to take these still influential positions at $24,000 a year.  But it is turning out that a lot of progressive community activists or recent retirees – or pretty active Democratic politicians – are  more willing and able to work for the public interest in these nonpartisan workhorse jobs, and Abele may face an even more progressive and united board in the future.

It is already proving so this Nov. 4 for residents of District 5 with noted progressive activist Charlie Fox, a busy retiree, competing against a one-time county employee, Martin Weddle,  hired by former opponent Lee Holloway, both running for a vacant central city seat.  And in the spring there are more openings as David Bowen heads to the Assembly and David Cullen takes over as county treasurer. The biggest hardship is that younger people just building their finances may be lowballed out of service.

These are the consequences of GOP support for Act 14. Another is the advisory question on the ballot that would also save taxpayer money and should provide a more efficient operation, coordinated staff and fewer spitting matches. 

It’s as if the supervisors are saying: OK Abele, if that’s the game, let’s let the people in on it. How about saving big money and stop all those big fights over nothing? That would be the hope from putting an elected professional manager in charge to focus only on what is good for county citizens. 

It is a bit of payback but the idea of a professional administrator has long been in the air.  It lets the people enjoy progress with less combative movement using a legislative process and checks and balances protected from the explosive personality-driven current situation.  If Abele wants to use his money, the thinking goes, to support candidates and issues he likes, he will be more successful as a private citizen and there would be less tension in local politics and less running to Mama (the Madison legislature) to solve basic county policies. It would more often present a united front to the legislature. 

Abele didn’t intend to become the perfect example of the value of what is admittedly a radical structural change but the county has now suffered 12 years of Walker’s maneuvers and Abele’s maneuvers,  built around financial and insider influence rather than openly discussed ideas.

Personally, since Abele has given tons of money to important political causes, I found it odd and somewhat distasteful when he was openly booed at major Democratic Party gatherings, but the people who turn out every four years for the nonpartisan elections to the county board are quietly the grassroots street-level backbone of the local Democratic Party bringing district diversity and variety to the table. He cut into that with Act 14 for his own benefit and has brought out hostility toward his methods. The upshot may put money back into its proper place in politics (see county Question 1).

Recall that when Abele was first elected it was seen as a breath of responsibility and non-partisanship after Walker, who always had his eye on higher office and to heck with civilities.  Abele campaigned on being willing to listen to the best ideas from experts and all sides. Instead there has been a revolving door of talented people he couldn’t work with -- including Sue Black and Frank Busalacchi -- and they quietly or loudly disappeared when their opinions didn’t suit his.  A professional manager would have listened to the advice.

Abele has since funded his own candidates for public office, many opposing sitting supervisors --  and all lost Aug. 12.  He has been so personal and harsh (without consultation) in how he spends his money on campaigns that he seems to have insulted voters and politicos in the process. Witness the costly ad blitz portraying David Clarke as a deformed cartoon in a cowboy hat. He may have been, but Clarke used those attack ads and the historic ugly portrayal of African Americans to survive when common sense examples would have done him in.

Question 4 asks if the voters would like to see Milwaukee County “transition its management and administrative functions from an elected County Executive to a professional County Administrator.” 

Recognizing that the motives may have roots in politics, this is still a Yes vote.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as pieces at his Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Mary Burke is supported by hardworking public figures (left to right):
 unopposed new Assembly member David Bowen, city treasurer and former senator Spencer Coggs,
 US Rep. Gwen Moore, Burke and Rep. Mandela Barnes.

By Dominique Paul Noth

Before the last Marquette poll came out October 29 I discussed in a broadly read article the inevitable swings in polling, its history and limitations and why journalists rely so heavily on its selective statistics – and why Journal Sentinel leans so hard on determining and trumpeting the Marquette University results.

My article may been an accidental prelude why the latest poll flies in the face of previous polls and no longer admits up front what the pollsters did a week ago – the top Wisconsin races are too close to call in a nonpresidential year.

I couldn’t if I had intended lay the ground more clearly for an unbelievable sudden swing to put Scott Walker ahead in front page JS articles  (seven points among self-reporting likely Republicans  while still virtually tied among registered voters,  an estimate much lower down in the article).

It was almost telegraphed in the patronizing JS editorial and panel discussions among pollsters and opinion makers about Mary Burke’s gains back to even  or slightly ahead a week earlier in the previous Marquette poll.

I still don’t know who will win, but these new results could backfire on the Walker devotees as well as on the private Jesuit university I went to and taught at that receives so much of its funding for such enterprises from rich conservative Catholics, some of whom dislike the new pope as a secret progressive radical.

How that funding would survive a poll revelation that the public actually prefers Burke -- well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

The surface aim might be to discourage turnout for Burke but could rebound into complacency in the Walker camp and fresh determination for proud Mary.

The poll is also curious for now putting Brad Schimel back on top of Susan Happ for AG by numbers previous polls had obliterated a month ago. But that might reflect public belief in the TV ads that have reduced the contest to a war of top cops simplicity – and it may rely on that tired canard among phoned voters that men must be tougher than women.

Still, the desperation in the Walker camp is palpable as are his naked pleas for more money to beat back the Burke tide.

It does come down to what even the polling experts confess -- not just turnout but who turns out their forces best. It should remind every citizen that all applecarts are upended should the general public rouse from its midterm ennui and show up in numbers neither side can anticipate.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as pieces at his Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 

Monday, October 27, 2014


By Dominique Paul Noth

Susan Happ and Brad Schimel during Mike Gousha's AG debate.
Every worry I had about the race for attorney general has erupted in nasty ads and Internet posturing a few days ahead of the Nov. 4 election to determine the second most important position on the statewide ballot.  

In August, assessing a strong Democratic field and liking Susan Happ (though criticizing that politically required need to flash her  toughness in TV ads)  I preferred Jon Richards (who is now working hard for Happ). My reasoning was precisely because of what has since happened.

The AG is a massive managerial position not only setting the tone of law enforcement fairness but working closely with other states’ attorneys general to save taxpayers’ money with combined efforts on consumer fraud and corporation misbehavior, something past Wisconsin AGs have been good at and the current AG has booted away given his political leanings. But the public only sees the “top cop” not the broader requirements

The last thing this office needs is playing politics with the law, yet the Republican view, expressed openly  by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is that Republicans need to win state offices to control the voting apparatus – in effect, rigging the laws in their favor, which is why an independent AG concerned about the citizens not either party becomes essential.

Has fictional TV image taken over AG race?
An AG requires devotion to the nuances of both the state and US constitutions, administrative ability and diplomacy even more than courtroom experience. The open-minded intelligence to deal with larger principles of law, plus competently working with people in trouble and agencies responsible for a labyrinth of rules, are far the most important qualities. But you’d never know it from the TV ads that cater to that Ca-POW! “Law and Order” simpleness.

I feared that if the contest was simply two DAs going against each other, the ads would center to a ridiculous excess on “top cop” generalities – television bites lying about who is tougher on pedophiles, who has convicted more people and who has the largest ad money to pound those side issues to the point where the real needs of the job were obliviated. Since it was already clear that a male DA from Waukesha, Brad Schimel, was going to be unopposed on the Republican side, I worried that even a talented DA from a smaller population county, Jefferson, would face a well-heeled partisan overreach and have to respond in kind.  If the TV audience could be fooled by false emphasis on “soft on crime” (both are DAs with strong courtroom results), could the voters be far behind?

Much of that happened. Schimel has also disappointed observers for first giving lip service to his distaste for partisan ads attacking prosecutors he respects, such as Milwaukee DA John Chisholm, and exaggerating charges against his opponent, but then he backed those same anti-Happ ads even in debate and now has been called out correctly for an ad suggesting she turned a bomber loose when he’s actually in prison after the feds stepped in to take over the case.

TV viewers may wonder if the AG candidates
 are creatures from horror movies.
So the Schimel camp is flat inventing things and the Happ advertisers are pounding too hard so that the poor public, confronted with ads from both sides during sports events, can’t tell one from the other and think that both candidates are “The Creature From the Black Lagoon.”

It would be even worse, except that the Democrats are fortunate that their candidate has become known as above partisanship (she won in GOP territory) and has spoken against the gutter politics in both parties as out of context and out of la-la-land. She is also proving deeply capable on the more important legal, administrative and diplomatic sides, with a great record of success in convictions and a calm measured presence in the debates.  She actually drew the top votes in all races Aug. 12.

But sure enough, party hacks have taken over the airwaves and since few voters watched the debate, the race has been dominated by this extremist advertising message about imagined corruption and pedophilia.

Schimel could be in growing trouble.  Happ is a surprisingly personable candidate who quickly tied Schimel in the recent polls. The citizens may start realizing that both are comparable in the top cop department, that women are as tough as men (he’s subtly playing that gender thing up) and he badly falters in debates on what is really needed in an AG -- an independent voice.

Departing partisan AG JB Van Hollen
The two candidates still are largely unknowns fighting for an open seat after the error-prone party vassal J.B.  Van Hollen decided not to run again, perhaps reading the tea leaves that his GOP partner in collusion, Scott Walker, was facing a tough road and realizing that higher legal authorities were circling in on his series of bad and partisan decisions.

Appeals courts and even the US Supreme Court have already done so. He was rebuked over a voter ID bill that tried to disenfranchise thousands of voters, which he had endlessly sought to defend at taxpayer expense.  Then there was his desperate legal appeals against freedom of marriage (which is what the so-called gay rights decision is really about). Then, despite federal orders to let the state courts decide the legality of the John Doe investigation into excessive campaign coordination (which by basic principle he should have supported), he keeps trying to block it.  These go beyond interpretation of the law to playing politics.

Only settlements in the face of hovering failure prevented him from having the courts slap his wrists again in that bizarre attempt to defend state Sen. Leah Vukmir from releasing her email exchanges with ALEC.  

Yet Schimel has made clear that he thought Van Hollen was the ideal model and he will be happy to follow in his footsteps. That is the obvious conclusion of the Happ-Schimel debates. Happ is clearly the most competent candidate on the high road of what an AG does. 

Schimel spent a lot of time in debates reminding viewers of his resume, his Christian family, and love of tradition, but came across as a foot soldier to the governor he may no longer have rather than the Christ I am sure he is clinging to.

Both candidates sought to downplay partisanship on the air and couched their differences in courteous legalese. Happ went out her way to dismiss the attacks in ads on both sides that involve who is hard or soft on crime since there are so many intermediate factors that make those accusations ludicrous.

But there was a political bias that can be detected in the record involving Schimel and it has to do with political support. He let Scott Jensen plead to less than prison while his critics say that passing on a felon  would never happen with a bigwig from the Democratic Party. He refused to pursue Rep. Joel Kleefisch, the looey’s husband, for helping a wealthy constituent write a law that would lower his child support payments. 

Happ is likely to stand independent from both parties (there is already a disagreement between her and Mary Burke about how to handle first-time drunk driving offenders) and focus on enforcement guidelines free of partisan taint. Schimel revealed that partisan outlooks would dominate his ideas of the AG office. 

Happ has impressed
I like Happ’s constant view of the AG’s office as an ethical center of justice, offering legal advice to the legislature and other agencies if they have strayed from constitutional principles. Under Van Hollen and given the pronounced views of Schimel it would take higher court corrective reversal should Schimel be there to continue the Van Hollen pattern.

Schimel has gotten into trouble again and again in this campaign – not just with loose lips saying he opposed minimum wage increase because he wanted fast food workers to “get a real job” (even national columnists have jumped all over that one and for standing behind his party’s platform even when it runs afoul of both the law and economic realities.

In the debates he indicated he preferred to defend the state legislature over the US constitution, though obliged to do both. He went so far as to say it is the purpose of the AG to protect the state against the only enemy he sees – federal overreach.   Yet the AG oath swears to uphold both the Wisconsin Constitution and the United States Constitution, so there obviously can be intrusion from both directions, and there are clauses in the state constitution that are now apparently  illegal under US Supreme Court decisions.

Objectivity cuts both ways. If some gun haters stampeded the state voters into banning gun ownership, the AG should not defend that since it violate US law.  But Schimel, asked an “if” question  in a TV interview,  said while it was personally distasteful  he would nevertheless feel obliged as AG  to defend a voter majority opposing interracial marriage had that happened.  That opened a specter of going along with state majority opposing any visitors from West Africa or seceding from US health care laws, both patently unconstitutional. How hard would he fight even if his party backed the “distasteful”?

The actual case that scored strong points for Happ in the second debate is the AG’s responsibility to defend a state agency from private lawsuits unless he or she sees a constitutional infirmity, which Schimel could not name. But there is a GOP infirmity about defending the Government Accountability Board (consisting of retired judges from both parties, by the way, approved by the legislature and recognized outside the state GOP as restoring nonpartisan decision-making to election operations). 

Happ nailed Schimel who couldn’t find a reason (echo of Van Hollen) to defend the GAB, but there is one. The GAB has angered Robin Vos and the GOP state machinery by making even-handed decisions following the law. 

A surprise for me is how popular Happ is with voters – to the point that some leading Democrats have a side bet who will get the most voters in winning, Burke or Happ. Frankly, I don’t think state voters are that aware of this contest.

I do worry there is still a gender preference in law enforcement in the public mind, somehow thinking men are stronger than women in addressing crime. But Happ is so quietly confident and authoritative that I doubt she still needs to play up the Harley-riding, hunter-loving side of her image (though she clearly thinks it doesn’t hurt).   She is plenty tough and more attuned to what the job requires if the public can get past false expectations. 

There is a larger underlying issue– and the candidates don’t have to play up politics for the voters to realize it is there.  If Burke wins, she will need an independent AG as opposed to someone who tries to keep Walker’s ghost walking the hallways.  If Walker wins, he will need a check, albeit a minor constitutional check which Van Hollen wasn’t and Schimel won’t be, on his monarchial tendencies.

In either scenario the choice has to be Happ. 

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his own pieces at Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for


By Dominique Paul Noth

Mary Burke puts it all on turnout, and
knows the evidence about polls in not
determinative though she's ahead.
There is a misconception about election polling. It has allowed media to trumpet possibilities and opinions as fact even though the Wisconsin results are tied or swing back and forth among a dozen polling companies. 

Nor is it mentioned how pollsters depend on the media for attention and even play to their special outlets. When Charles Franklin at Marquette University,  who  has a respected reputation within the industry,  expressed amazement to Marquette students at how effectively Mary Burke had “closed the gap”  with Scott Walker among both male and female likely voters, it was Franklin’s perceived gap in a narrowly drawn poll. As for “amazed,” that assumed she stood where his media partners wanted – so far behind that tying Walker was “amazing.”   Perhaps, perhaps not.

These polls don’t trumpet the gubernatorial desires of all Wisconsin citizens,  but selective opinion – people who said in about 1,000 phone calls they were voting and which way.  That’s often right, but that’s  quite different than the population as a whole, especially in a nonpresidential year when less than half the citizens tend to show up.

Breaking events and information on the ground change who shows up.  Foolish to say the state is behind Walker and equally foolish to say the majority wants him gone. No one has measured that. If citizens get excited about this race, all bets are off.

Since journalists don’t have the resources to know the whole and recognize how valid over time the pollsters have been,  they use the polls to pretend they absolutely know, sort of a shorthand excuse that can encompass one-sided or lazy reporting.

We have seen elections where the results went against media expectations (Baldwin over Thompson as one recent case) because the journalists  didn’t listen hard enough to the people and didn’t have extensive polling to lean on.

The polling does allows the media a lot of definitive-sounding posturing even if the election results are too close to call – and too close is the widespread opinion of national poll experts including Charles Franklin, who think the race between Scott Walker and Mary Burke despite any poll swings is a tossup. Or, one or the other could be 10 points ahead. Depends on who is motivated to show up.

Commentators absorbed in politics, like me, speak from interviews, outlook and experience. But we don’t confuse speculations with  facts. Most of the public doesn’t get agitated as we do  until they realize how much those in office can influence their lives. So what drives people to vote depends on many factors. Intense public interest in politics lags behind actual upset or economic harm.  That’s why who shows up is hard to predict in these so-called low turnout elections and candidate groups  try to herd people to the polls whether they are agitated or not. 

That lack of public attention, the reliance on pundits and the amount of money spent by political parties on habit generation among past supporters  allow  distortions in interpreting the polls – and such  nonsense as the Oct. 25 JS editorial.

Here is a newspaper that was so burned in endorsing Scott Walker in 2010 --  and leaning so blatantly toward him in the 2012 by decrying the whole idea of recalls it had once supported -- that it has sworn off endorsing anyone ever again, though a newspaper is supposed to dare expressing ethical editorial opinions whether popular or not.  Safety or cowardice first, you decide.

Moreover this is a newspaper so bad at reading the future,  its community and tech changes among consumers that readership and profits have  sunk like a stone. It was so out of touch that now an out of town group, E.W.  Scripps, has absorbed  JS into its “dead trees” division of less profitable print.

And just as the Scripps management  takes over, the newspaper is shedding both legacy and higher salaried veterans in a buyout equivalent to a Stalinist purge. Sources list the departures as Duane Dudek, Don Walker, Georgia Pabst, Mike Hunt, Bob Wolfley, Jan Uebelherr, Gary Porter, Greg  Pearson, Alan King, Mabel Wong, Tom Tolan, Mike Juley, Roberta Wahlers and  top editors Marty Kaiser and George Stanley.

(Added note Oct. 27 – Though neither has denied or confirmed to me in person, I am getting some blowback on including top editors Marty Kaiser and George Stanley among the rumored departures from Journal Sentinel. But their names were confirmed by three sources inside and outside Fourth and State and included in an internal message discussing who was working out departures. I hate to be wrong, even using more sources than the newspaper does, and am not sure I am, but willing to partly correct and await developments.)

Despite its  record of not  knowing what is happening, JS presumed to lead off its Oct. 25 editorial on the governor’s race with this:

“If the electorate is suffering from the virus known as Walker Fatigue, we haven't seen it yet.”

Should a Foghorn Leghorn type be
governor? Sure sounds like what
JS editorial wants.
I interpret the full editorial as giving Walker the edge in public favor based on the entrenched political powerhouses in his corner, namely Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald, suggesting Burke and company would be better off just rolling over, even dismissing her after some nice words as  “quietly competent” --  as if the public needs  Foghorn Leghorn bluster in an effective leader.

The interpretation is mine  but the quoted sentence is theirs and it is as close to a falsehood as you can find in once-legitimate print.  It’s certainly not based on man on the street interviews or even poll numbers  because those show something else.

Now I simply don’t know what will occur at the ballot box, since I can’t determine how many will cross over to Burke’s side or simply stay home rather than do their former  GOP duty, or maybe get more aggressive in fear of losing their one-time hero.  But it is irrefutable if you know how to talk to people in River Hills, Franklin, Waukesha County suburbs and even at Brookfield Square (right-wing bastions in public perception). There is a growing sense of uncertainty, a wish to believe in Walker’s warts-and-all audacity but a worry over the consequences of his absolutist authoritarian approach to power, plus concerns about what is happening to schools and communities (along with  some curious contentment  about putting unions in their place). 

The upshot? Walker’s reputation is in some disarray among his past  supporters while anger  among  the constant opposition has grown. It could be that passion that isn’t from the right  is keeping some in his camp because they dislike excessive left-wing emotion in politics – I know that sounds snide but it was there in interviews.

Many who voted for Walker in 2010 – and again in 2012 because they wanted a full four years to decide – are not voting for him again, they tell family and close friends. This is a regular election not a recall, they say, and they are disappointed in his four years. But  living in Republican communities they speak their minds quietly and not on the phone to strangers and definitely not to politically entrenched neighbors.  And apparently not to JS editorial writers.  

Now whether that means votes for Burke or hold your nose and vote for Walker -- who can say? But it is certainly there. 

Understanding the limits and the nature of predictions, I generally believe in polls,  though even their operatives concede there is far more guesswork in a nonpresidential year.

Charles Franklin (left) with JS political expert Craig
Gilbert during panel.
The pollster and opinion makers recently discussed their thinking in an interesting Milwaukee Press Club panel.   Watch carefully though and you will see justification rather than explanation for how well Burke as a political newcomer is doing against those entrenched politicos. Charles Franklin doesn’t dwell on the reasons (his final Marquette poll comes out Oct. 29), perhaps because he realizes that he got far more JS coverage when Walker was five points ahead Oct. 3  rather than recently when Burke eliminated the gap (and is ahead in some respected polling models). 

But here’s a funny and it comes right back to JS honesty. Another respected polling company, Gravis based in Florida, had Burke up five points the same week Marquette had Walker up five points, yet not a mention in JS.  The Gravis people told me they noticed and were amused since they thought their sample and methods were as comprehensive. 

But all these pollsters,  and Wisconsin has been inundated, say weekly swings are inevitable, the race is a tossup and turnout will decide. 

There are unnoticed reasons why JS is playing up the Marquette poll so heavily. First, it is local and it is reputable,  run by a university.  But it is also advised by former Journal Communications regulars Mike Gousha and Alan Borsuk. During their tenure Journal Communications had its own expensive and careful Journal polling division, regularly used to headline newspaper and TV opinion reports, much as Marquette’s poll is used now. A private university has filled the gap of the newspaper’s fading fortunes and is being pumped into prominence equally hard.

I don’t know everything about the internal workings of Franklin’s poll team, but I’ve been called with some disturbing examples.  For instance, citizens I know said they were registered regular voters, then  gave their age as over 70 --- and then the Marquette  pollsters thanked them and  hung up without taking their opinions.

All polls are weighted to reflect demographic factors and the argument might be made that  the young  callers had sufficient information from voters over 70. But wait a minute! A 25 year old who says he is a regular voter is frankly less believable than a 76 year old who votes every election for decades, so why not count the totality? This could easily cut both ways and influence  the outcomes.

I have talked to a number of polling experts and they concede their multiple phone surveys, some automated,  are built on assumed gridlock – that is, strong opinions on both sides.  I noted how local pollsters discussing movement toward Burke didn’t change their assumption that the state is equally gridlocked between opposing factions. Marquette said Burke’s gains were mainly greater interest now that the election is close or  that a sliver of “undecideds” are leaning her way.  Except  Marquette identifies the percentage of self-described independent voters at 37% and the motion showed considerable Burke  gains in a segment that once was conceded as  Walker’s – men. There may be a heck of lot more churn than the media pretends in gridlocked Wisconsin.

We are also overpolled by a dozen firms -- to the point of annoyance when the phone rings. “Magic Town” comes to mind. That’s the  1947 Jimmy Stewart movie  about a community that  is a perfect measure of public opinion -- until its residents discover they are being polled and their opinions become unreliable.

I’m not being a Pollyanna for Burke  because I just don’t know. But neither does anyone else. 

I am disturbed by all the pundits who act as if they absolutely know without evidence.  I just wish they had the courage to say what they believe rather than some clumsy “on the one hand and then on the other” obfuscation.

So throw all that media navel-gazing out the window, look at the issues not the misleading ad lures whatever the side, and vote without fear and out of principle. Remember principle? 

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as pieces at his Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 

Monday, October 20, 2014


By Dominique Paul Noth

It’s hard to applaud bravery with a cry of “More work to do!” But that should be the reaction to the Milwaukee Common Council’s unanimous ordinance October 14 barring financial incentives to lure children to its charter schools, demanding this bar be included in any charter agreements the city makes from this point on and urging the state to adopt similar rules to stop “cash for kids” by schools supported by government money.

This is legislative action at the city level that should stir a long overdue discussion in the state. It is already on the periphery of the governor’s race about the rules that should be in place for charter and voucher schools and aren’t, and horribly high taxpayer outlays ($192 million this year for state vouchers alone) that are making scant difference in quality for children.

To lay out the landscape in Milwaukee,  multiple government agencies can approve K-12 charter schools, technically public schools though excused from many conditions, while a direct private or religious school program known as vouchers, or Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP),  has been expanded statewide by the administration of Scott Walker.  In contrast, MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools system with its own publicly  elected board) has never considered cash outlays to attract new students. They do occasional pancake breakfasts to encourage pupils to show up for the state count date.  But UWM has let its authorized private charter schools use the cash or grocery card  gimmick to attract students.  It was this practice at its Urban Day School that first aroused ire

The city ordinance is a firm no-no that covers only its dozen charter schools. It reads: Prohibited Practice a. No charter school shall offer money or any other thing of pecuniary value to a parent, student, teacher, staff member or any other person as an incentive for recruiting a student to enroll at a charter school. b. The prohibition shall be included in the charter school contract and may result in the termination or revocation of the charter school contract.

In making this move, the council also stiffed Milwaukee Charter School Advocates and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, organizations that knew better than to formally oppose but submitted an email of caution given their intrinsic involvement in these schools. Don’t “restrict its schools from using funds to encourage new enrollment,” they wrote  the council, hoping the new ordinance would not eliminate offering free uniforms and the like.

The council was certainly polite but its substitute resolution 140912 put the onus back on the private schools about whether I-Pads, meals or uniforms for kids fall in the category of deceptive advantage.

The council reacted because charter schools were waving cash at adults who brought new students to the school by the signup date of September 19, when students have to be there to be counted for state revenue. To encourage parents in mainly poor areas to look at the money they can make rather than the curriculum and quality being offered children has been called flat bribery by community activists and MPS  teachers who have staged protests around the issue. 

That was in contrast to the original JS story that hinted this  was just a shrewd marketing move in a competitive education field.

MPS’  chart reflects   losses attributable to state funded
 voucher and charter competition. 
JS must know that in the public’s mind this per-student support for voucher and charter schools appears cheaper for taxpayers than what public schools with union teachers cost, so stealing $100 or $200 for non-education purpose from the taxpayer was excused as just the cost of competition.

That’s deceptive and obviously depends on ethics and values. Private schools pass off most special needs students to public school districts, which accept all comers and have expertly trained specialists. That public school ability to address individual needs of pupils is a big part of the costs, while Republican legislators pretend it is all about union vs. nonunion. Perhaps that is why private charter schools think it is no big deal to protect their bottom line by putting taxpayers’ dollars not into the classroom but into marketing.

That claim of being cheaper is suspect because this is not apples to apples. Initial funding for these charter schools and continued funding for voucher schools are hardly transparent even before the taxpayer steps in. A few of these schools fulfill the outlined mission of intelligent experimentation on education models. But they have advantages that school districts lack in buying or building the actual facilities, marketing looseness, short-term teachers and larger class sizes, not from classroom expertise if you accept the results of the limited testing allowed.

Full public schools face far more scrutiny despite critics who regard their procedures as  restrictive. Public school advocates see their own mandated rules as built-in transparency protection for children against those who treat children as a financial opportunity and even parents who take a path of religious familiarity and marketing expertise over education outcomes.

Some educators see these charter private network and voucher practices as similar and aimed at destroying teaching as a career given the high turnover of the Teach for America participants. These college grads are personable but they have one eye on Wall Street and for many reasons less than half outlast their two year contract and several abandon it early.  Long classroom work especially in poor economic regions  always has high attrition, but brightness in college is proving  not sufficient for retention, far less than long training and desire to teach.

And it’s no longer cheap for taxpayers. Even in 2012,  voucher schools were allowed by Madison to serve families with twice Milwaukee’s medium income

While the public still thinks cost per pupil hovers around $4,000 or $6,000 a year, that has long vanished. Under Walker’s administration costs have gone up faster than the low income levels that originally justified the creation of such schools.  Now state taxpayer pay $8,075 per charter school kid though most users of this state aid were originally in a private school.

Voucher schools per pupil have jumped to $7,210 per K-8 student and $7,856 for high school in taxpayer aid.

Along the lines of hidden costs for the state taxpayer, the Oct. 15 figures of allocated state aid for education contain some disturbing numbers for Milwaukee.  On the impending property tax bill if you don’t read one of the multiple inserts from the city, you might assume the public schools of MPS are the largest cost to property owners.  In fact, when read correctly, the Milwaukee Public Schools and its current 79,000 schoolchildren drop out of first place. Under the state formula bookkeeping trickery, MPS is credited on the rolls with money it never sees and students it has lost to competition.

The uninformed public does not realize there are nearly 30,000 voucher and charter students receiving tax dollars that MPS cannot count as Milwaukee public students. Even city of Milwaukee charter schools receive state money (and federal grants) MPS never gets near. Yet the state’s tax cost formula muddies the waters.

There are 10 years left of the state voucher school tax and this year it diverts more than $61 million from MPS that is included in the MPS tax pie. The charter school movement in Milwaukee is growing though MPS’ own selective and tightly monitored charters are largely responsible for any decent comparative ratings.  So MPS sees minimal return from the $9.3 million (of statewide $68.8 million) in Milwaukee taxpayer cost for charters.  In essence that’s $65.6 million of the MPS levy going to voucher and independent charter schools, fully 20% of what the public thinks MPS is getting but never receives. 

Yet the same city supplies the property tax bill and needs to do so much more to clarify it. And city charters also take money away from MPS, though this ordinance now finally insists on the behavior with state money that MPS has always done.

Alderman Michael Murphy
This  Oct. 14 resolution was pushed by Ald. Nik Kovac and joined by the president of the common council, Michael Murphy. 
Murphy replaced Willie Hines who left for another job and was seen as something of a rubber stamp for the city’s charter school committee.  At the same aldermanic meeting where the new rules were discussed and headed for approval, the aldermen approved a new term for Mayor Barrett’s charter chair, Jeanette Mitchell, who formerly served on the MPS board and currently is close with Howard Fuller at Marquette University, whose division vets and approves city charter schools.

This resolution was an obvious good first step -- particularly in protecting the reputation of city charter schools that have sprung up in poor communities where cash gifts may be particularly tempting.  Paying an adult $100 at a UWM charter school (Urban Day) to bring in a new student, or giving them a $50 grocery card at another UWM school upset the community, but it was a city charter school’s effort to give $200 per pupil at Central City Cyberschool that spurred the Common Council into action.

And that was brave since UWM has not stepped in with similar strictures on its dozen charter schools nor has the state Department of Public Instruction even been asked for its opinion, which would have to go before a charter-happy legislature. The city is out there in lone legislative nobility.

On the other hand, this is only the obvious canker sore on the city charter body, which needs to be put under a more intense microscope for questionable practices. Murphy is facing pressure for remedial repair given a growing litany of problems.

Rocketship has technically been approved for seven more schools without  re-examining the one it now runs on the South Side with less students and poorer results than originally promised, and Rocketship  has delayed opening an inner city school, yet the city has not actively questioned its model.  JS education reporter Erin Richards attended a detailed presentation at City Hall a day after she wrote about Rand Paul’s praise of school choice at a Milwaukee voucher school. She or her editors just ignored that  presentation in print. It was  a devastating and well researched academic study on Rocketship’s national behavior and secret intentions.

The city has also given regular charter renewal for a school named after Willie Hines’ brother despite constant failure in performance standards. It has approved other schools that miss their enrollment goals or lose students to MPS, which by law must take them, and it turns out to be part of the $100 million investigators claim has been wasted in ineffective or closed charter schools.

For years there has been a cozy relationship between the city charter approval process and the national charter groups that see profit in the nation’s 50 million schoolchildren or a political way to destroy the power and independence of public education, according to many reliable investigators.

Murphy and the council still have to step up to looking back as well as forward, to examine what other controls should be in place on how these schools lure students, what special rewards they bring to education (because despite the claims of choice, the fruit is in the results) and whether elected officials are being duped by secret money while also robbing taxpayers of the truly responsible choices offered by public schools.

Politically these privately operated or religiously operated schools have a public relations advantage with elected officials.  Parents love their idea of “choice” since the schools receive taxpayer money in their name (sort of like buying someone else a car) and are seduced by the personal contact with their nervous youngsters at the school door and some hugs afterward. But the results on the whole demonstrate little in results and many losses in quality, stirring caring parents to regular flights back to public schools.

For the Common Council and other government entities, it’s time for some deeper fishing with stronger hooks.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for

Sunday, October 19, 2014


By Dominique Paul Noth

In an hour video inquisition by JS staffers,
Mary Burke dominated them as she
 did Scott Walker in the televised debates. 
Unquestionably in the second of only two statewide televised debates that Gov. Scott Walker would agree to, he again underestimated how many vital issues and how much authoritative competence Mary Burke had in her corner as she outmatched him Oct. 17 after roundly beating him, according to news reports on both sides, in the Oct. 9 debate.

This was remarkable from a nonpartisan standpoint. Many did not expect a political newcomer to even hold up much less outpoint a glib, prepared, assured veteran politician going through his third round of elections in four years.

To be sure, she had far more examples of his missteps on her side, and wielded the putdown details pointedly.  But he has the edge in campaign coffers, historical experience, superior ad financing and that polished rhetorical evasiveness that was in full swing Oct. 17. Whenever challenged on specifics, he chatted about how much he loved the Kenosha area (to dodge answering why he  had endlessly delayed deciding on a casino there), how much his kids loved basketball (when asked about public funding  for a new Bucks stadium), how much he was a family man (perhaps to subtly contrast himself to a single businesswoman) and kept repeating last month’s routine job growth and unemployment record (not much lower than the dropping national average)  in a report he roundly criticized in 2011 as unreliable. 

After the handshake of the second debate,
Burke handled Walker so handily that
even many Democrats were surprised.
It was a clumsy performance for Walker. But he benefited from a weakling panel of questioners assembled by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, as if they were going out of their way to demonstrate how predictable were the male talents employed by Milwaukee’s main television stations.

Veteran Charles Benson of Channel 4 stabbed at competence as did Kent Wainscott of Channel 12 but they disappeared into the woodwork in follow-ups and were quickly forgotten in a boring sequence of standard familiar questions that ignored most of the breaking facts in their own 10 p.m. news reports – and then they were done in by Ted Perry whose folksy storytelling style in small doses has appeal on Channel 6 but here quickly became boring. He was drawing more attention to his chatty self than to issues important to voters that a governor has direct impact on.

The panel makeup suggested a lot of backstage maneuvering for equal attention among the market’s major TV stations, as if the broadcasters group thought a pleasant female moderator, Erin Toner from WUWM, would compensate for lack of balance. Milwaukee actually has fine and sometimes aggressive journalists of both genders and various races, yet it chose what looked to cynics like as setup for Walker, since Burke has more female voters and he is dependent on older white males, and the panel looked like his people and were clearly more about manner than substance.

The panelists avoided the breaking political news statements since that  has been a parade of Walker’s follies in trying to earn votes.  As pointed out by such veteran respected journalists as Paul Hayes, John Nichols and James Rowen in the past weeks, Walker has claimed that the $7.25 federal minimum was sufficient as a living wage, that a travel ban should be imposed against West Africa (yet the American who died of Ebola flew in from Belgium), that his ultrasound probe and 24-hour waiting period reflected his concern about women’s health (though they clearly cause embarrassment and suffering for a legal and safe procedure he ideologically opposes), that he is leaving the environment cleaner and more protected that he found it (a claim easily disproved even without that bill written by a mining company) and that requiring drug tests for people on public aid (mostly white, incidentally) was designed to  protect them!

There are smart ways to discuss wages, Ebola, abortion, environment and drug tests without attacking Walker and just giving voters a chance to hear different positions on important topics.  None here. It took Burke statements in the debate  to pursue other deceptions – like Walker’s claim that the state has a work problem not a jobs problem or how his concern for inner city violence hardly meshes with  his $76  million cut in shared revenue that massively hurt city police departments.

The game table may have looked stacked against Burke, but she was unaffected, comfortable with all comers and actually managed to dismiss how often Walker tried to drag Jim Doyle into the debate. This is happening a lot, as you will see below.

She clarified fiscal issues as Walker didn’t. How  if you haven’t paid your bills or if you delay moneymaking projects you could have a surplus state budget today and a $1.8 billion projected deficit for tomorrow. She revealed his only first in the nation – the biggest cuts to education funding among all the states.  

She not only won and outdid him on insights into economic repair, she topped with more believable conviction their common and politically required optimism about Wisconsin’s future. She seemed determined to make inroads not only with her base but also with people who previously believed in Walker, not by attacking him but by exposing that his approach to tax cuts was ham-handed economic ineptitude.

That same week there was an even better  opportunity to see Burke’s command of state issues as well as reveal the methods of journalists at their most aggressive and sometimes most foolish in trying to trap the  candidate into a gotcha goof.

This was the fascinating Journal Sentinel video interview posted Oct. 15 -- or should I say E.W. Scripps interview, since that is the chain that now owns JS.  The newspaper endorsed Walker in 2010 and since then has been bollixed about the negative impact of the personality and  policies it once embraced, so it vacillates between explanation-criticism of Walker and shame – while refusing to ever endorse any candidate ever again.  It may be too late for true balance given how many former subscribers seriously ask me who is paying the reporters’ salaries– Journal Communications, E.W. Scripps or the Bradley Foundation?

Journal grillers (l-r) David Haynes, Mabel Wong and Dan Bice
 seek to get Mary Burke to commit to their plagiarism fantasy.
The video questioners were such a healthy mix -- editor Marty  Kaiser,  newsroom types and columnists (Dan Bice, Dan Glauber, Karen Herzog  and James Causey) and editorial opinion types  (David Haynes, Mabel Wong, Ernst-Ulrich Franzen) -- that they could demonstrate knowledge as well as aggression. Kaiser at least seemed to realize this was a needed opportunity for the public to know Burke better (they know almost too much about Walker) and seemed surprised when she quickly answered the bell with three immediate priority areas of action and cost savings.

But the interview ping-pong was infected with chuckle-inducing efforts to catch Burke in a contradiction or embarrass her. She survived this gauntlet in such cool fashion that it leaves no doubt that along the campaign trail she has found the polish and confidence to handle the media better than her opponent.

The JS media sniping was particularly amusing.  Bice was clearly upset that she hadn’t buckled weeks ago to his efforts to play up that plagiarism charge (this was a few passages in a 40 page job plan where a paid consultant used his own words from job ideas written in other states and he was fired for copying himself without telling her). She calmly reminded Bice she had always answered speedily and honestly and implied that Bice had fallen for a Walker ploy:  “All this was politically motivated to take attention away from really bad jobs numbers.”

A few other things emerged in the discussions. Supposedly experienced JS word masters continued to fail a simple English test on the meaning of plagiarism (which is knowingly using others’ writings).  And despite the continuing horror of world-class ethicists and semanticists, these journalists continue to use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” as polar opposites.

Bice so often insisted that Burke had treated his grilling on this as a minor issue that he demonstrated it WAS a minor issue. Timing of the video’s release also wounded Bice. When he suggested this plagiarism charge had caused an irreparable drop in her poll numbers, she had actually gained back the five points she was behind in the Marquette University poll and is actually now slightly ahead.

The reporters also tried to suggest she loved pursuing commission studies  more than jumping to action  based on her refusal to leap into their “decide this now!” traps to stimulate their stories  and given her well-known reliance on charts and business trends.

But she handled that, too:  “Of course I’m going to take time with a $70 billion budget. There are things I can do right away and things that need to wait until we grow the economy. Obviously we need more revenue. Voters should have expectations, some short-term, some long-term. You have to put things in place that will move the needle.”

Burke explains job plan agenda to JS skeptics
 in  an hour video interview.
But she offered a lot of budget and citizen improvements right away -- an immediate $203 million improvement in the budget and billions more over 10 years by taking the Medicaid expansion (“While Walker says the federal government can’t be trusted, it has never reneged on Medicaid funding and I completely trust it won’t now”).   She would stop the statewide voucher school expansion ($191.9 million cost for state taxpayers this school year alone). “Vouchers expansion is draining resources from public schools and does not improve student learning. The cuts to funding (tops in the nation) and to community livelihood threaten the public education of 900,000 students.”

Yet from years of education work in Madison, she also points out that there are good learning  models in all sectors -  public, charter and voucher  -- and as for the long-term Milwaukee voucher school program “I would accept the landscape as it is” but wanted more accountability.

Perhaps pointedly, perhaps not, she had an example of the perils of an  overly touted  learning model --  notably a voucher pet of JS writers, including several interviewing her on camera as well as education reporters who have variously referred to St. Marcus Lutheran voucher school as “ a darling of local private funders,” “high performing” and “excellent.”

Unbowed here came Burke:  “I was just on the home page of St. Marcus. It’s been touted as a great example. Well, the fact is in reading scores 80% are not proficient and it’s close to that number even for students who have been there three to five years.  That’s not good enough. We have got to do better. We have to really understand what it takes within these schools and within the community and build on models that are working.” 

Her economic plans integrally include Milwaukee’s central city, where she wants more local retail and hiring and anchoring institutions that keeps wealth and ownership in the neighborhood.  Fiscal growth is her first area of experience.

“In economic development we are dead last in Midwest,” she said. “If continuing at the same pace in Milwaukee County it will be six more years before we reach the pre-recession employment that the rest of the country already has. So right away we must look toward starting up more companies, getting access to capital, looking at infrastructure projects,” recognizing the different industry sectors require different approaches. “It’s sharp focus, not just one thing.”

On social issues she is quieter, though she detailed how Walker’s ideas on women’s health were intrusive (“Men who are parents and have daughters want them to have their right to make their own opinions”).

She was quick to criticize kowtowing to special interests (how strange that this was not directly addressed in the televised debate). She told JS: “$700,000 in secret campaign donation from a mining company looks like it should be illegal and smells like pay to play.  There is a difference between getting support from people with shared interests and doing the bidding of organizations who support you – that I will never do.”

You might have missed the variety and full range of the Burke video because of the misleading headline: “Mary Burke distances herself from Jim Doyle policies” – sure enough, that darned Doyle again, stretched to eight minutes of the hour by pestering journalists. She simply said she doesn’t consult with him on this campaign, didn’t like his raid on the transportation fund and his raising of education tuition, but she wouldn’t second-guess his different budget choices during the worst recession in the nation’s history after she had left his administration.  She turned the inquisition upside down by pointing out  her earlier two years as secretary of commerce taught her about business partnerships, had 50,000 more jobs in Wisconsin than now and a lower unemployment rate and, despite naysayers and constant shots at her former boss,  “It was one of best times in Wisconsin in  terms of jobs.”

The interview was filled with more important moments including revealing a refusal to blanket undo all of Walker as many Democrats want.

Even with Act 10. “I’m on record that I will act to restore collective bargaining for public workers, but I do want contributions to pensions and health benefits since both are fair to match what is happening in the private sector.”

Asked if she would eliminate Walker’s lazy Susan of tax credits for specific businesses, she said it depended on whether they worked to produce jobs.  After rattling off the failures of the WEDC under Walker (“Eight different leadership hires, $30 million  not even used, grants with no expectation of job creation or retention”) she revealed: “I will make it work,” adding that  “economic development needs even  a higher level of attention and a more encompassing approach” including directly within her office. “I want to focus my energy on moving forward and not fighting the old battles.”

When questioned whether such personal involvement increased the chances for pay for play, she made clear the distinction between her and the current practice.   “This will be a high ethics administration. I won’t put up with that nonsense. It’s the way I run my life.  It’s the tone and the expectations you set” – which I took as a dig at how Walker operates.

After studying the UW system budget, she said she might keep Walker’s tuition freeze but just for two years because “I need to have more money in the state budget by growing the economy to do all this. What I really want is to bring down the cost of higher education. I want to increase the capacity of our universities since education is key to job growth. If you just say tuition freeze as Walker does, without identifying where you want to cut – that’s irresponsible, easy to get a sound-bite.”  

She gave examples of working with Republicans, including a pleasant hour with one of Walker’s biggest supporters, Kurt Bauer, CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.  

Nor would she  play a typical journalism game of mutual admiration with an opponent. When pressed to say nice things about Walker, she briefly tried (“a great politician, a good family man”) and then threw up her hands to speak candidly. 

“I think the voters appreciate honesty and sincerity. I know I do. I look at the campaign, attacking my integrity and dragging Trek through the mud. I knew all this would go on,  but I’m not going to stand up there and  say the politically correct thing when I don’t believe it sincerely.”

No wonder the editorial board was on a seesaw between trying to probe her views and unbalance her.   Burke had the talent  to remain pleasant and stick to or improvise around her  talking points, with specific details about the plans that make her more than ready for the governor’s mansion. (“It will come down to turnout,” she said.) Her freshness may wear off in time, just as Walker’s already has. But if some find her too focused on economic development and less absolute on social issues, that may strike voters as a welcome change.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its famous entertainment Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with its still operative archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for