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Policy: Labor

Mary Burke comment suggests rift continues between Wisconsin Democrats and Big Labor

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Wisconsin,Scott Walker,AFL-CIO,Richard Trumka

Mary Burke, the top Democratic candidate to face Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November's election, said that the reason why Democrats failed to unseat Walker during 2012's recall election was because they focused too much on attacking his public sector union reforms.

It's the latest example of the long-running division between Wisconsin Democrats and Big Labor over how to deal with Walker.

In a Wednesday interview with the Washington Post, Burke said it was a mistake to let the recall become a "one-issue race" because Walker's controversial reforms were nevertheless "not a winnable issue in Wisconsin." She added that attempting to make the recall about his reforms ironically helped Walker by enabling him to building a national base of support among conservatives.

The Post's report is pretty sparse. It is not clear what, if any, surrounding context there was for Burke's comments. Still, if that is she what she really believes it's not that unusual of an opinion for a Wisconsin Democrat. While union officials still seethe over his reforms, some Democrats were already trying to move away from the issue even before the recall vote.

Big Labor's preferred candidate for the recall was Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, but she lost a hard-fought primary to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who was backed by the state Democratic Party.

While the recall election was initially sparked by the union reforms, by the end of it Barrett was focusing exclusively on the state economy and arguing that Walker had serious ethical problems.

In a press conference call the day after Walker won, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters the Wisconsin Democrats blew their chance by switching the focus. He noted that Big Labor had been successful in rolling back Ohio Gov. John Kasich's union reforms the previous year.

"The election in Ohio was solely about collective bargaining. Here [in Wisconsin] it became about everything but collective bargaining. ... It didn't come in on the debate we would have liked. We would have liked it to have been on [Walker's record] and whether collective bargaining was a good thing or a bad thing. But it wasn't," Trumka said.

Burke's comments suggest that state Democrats believe they didn't make a mistake and that if anything labor still had too much influence in the race.

Walker managed to win the recall with more votes than he won his first general election in 2010, but is locked in a close race with Burke. He warned last week that his reforms were still at risk is Burke defeats him.

The Washington Examiner interviewed Walker about his reforms and the recall election earlier this year. You can read the whole transcript here, part of this magazine's 5-part series Out of Touch With America: Are Unions Obsolete?

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner

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