Family businesses can be tough. They can be incredibly rewarding, but disagreements have a way of creating very tense–and sometimes awkward–family gatherings. In Wisconsin, Democrat Mary Burke is trying to get enough votes to hand incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker a pink slip come Election Day. Burke is trying to run as a moderate, business oriented Democrat that will work in a bipartisan way to get Wisconsin back on track. Politico did an interesting profile on her this past August:
The 55-year-old Burke could hardly be more different than Walker. She’s a Harvard-educated multimillionaire who rarely goes to church; he’s a middle-class son of a preacher who is just now trying to complete his college degree. She’s spent her career in the family business and philanthropy; he’s been in government for two decades. She’s spent much of her campaign trying to win over progressives wary of her background in finance; he became a conservative icon after beating back the unions in an epic clash two years ago.
“I knew I probably didn’t fit the typical mold,” Burke said during an interview, as her campaign bus rolled from a hops farm in Mazomanie to a brewery in Potosi. “While I have the business background, I really — how should I say this? — I prefer the work in the public sector.”
Burke is pitching herself as a nonideological antidote to the rancor and polarization of the Walker years. She introduces herself as “a fiscal conservative” and promises to work with the Republican-controlled Legislature. Though she talks around it on the trail, she would not, for instance, work to fully repeal the union-weakening law that has defined Walker’s tenure.
Burke’s bet is twofold: First, that liberals despise Walker enough to mobilize for her in spite of her pro-business profile. Second, that her corporate bona fides will attract a critical mass of moderates worried about Wisconsin’s lagging economy.
There’s only one problem: her own family reportedly fired her for incompetence.
Burke’s family co-founded the Trek Bicycle Corporation, with Mary becoming their director for European Operations. Let’s just say it was sort of a disaster. She was called “Attila the Hun” and a “pit bull on crack” (via Watchdog):
It wasn’t a pretty picture. The European operations were in disarray, [Gary] Ellerman[ Trek’s human resources for 21 years] said.
Full disclosure: Ellerman is chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. As to the possibility that his accounts are politically colored, Ellerman said, “I was there. This is what went down.”
A former employee with the company told Wisconsin Reporter that John Burke, Mary’s brother and current Trek president, had to let his sister go.
In her campaign against Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, Mary Burke has bragged that European sales climbed to $50 million on her watch. She originally said the increase was closer to $60 million in a 2004 resume to officials in Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration, the Democrat who in 2005 tapped Burke to be his secretary of the now-defunct state Commerce Department.
Ellerman and the other employees tell Wisconsin Reporter that Burke’s sales boasts are lies, that the European division did significantly lower numbers — at least $10 million lower — during her tenure as director. Most of the sales increases, they said, were in Trek’s United Kingdom market, which was well established before Burke arrived, and in the Japan operations, which Burke had nothing to do with. Any growth in sales was well offset by the losses sustained in Germany and other European countries, according to the former executives.
Trek is a privately held company and does not disclose its sales or earnings figures. Mary Burke, too, has refused to provide documentation of the numbers.
When asked to apologize to staff before her departure from the company in 1993, Mary Burke struggled and stammered through the apology much as she appears to do in a video clip of the gubernatorial candidate trying to define the word “plagiarism,” according to one former Trek employee. The Democrat has been dogged throughout her campaign by revelations she lifted large sections of her policy plans from other sources.
Yes, Ellerman is a Republican operative and unnamed sources could lead to disaster when it comes to getting a story straight, but as Guy wrote over at Hot Air, “given how unfairly Walker’s been treated by the local and national media throughout this campaign, I guess Burke is due for some negative press of possibly dubious provenance.”
It is just food for thought.
In other news, Walker is surging, up 7 points over Burke 50/43 in the latest Marquette Law School poll. It was taken out of a sample of 1,164 likely voters. With women voters, the poll found Walker competing nicely with Burke, only trailing by 6 points 49/43. Independent voters are splitting overwhelmingly for Walker 52/37 over Burke–and more Walker supporters say they will vote next week than Burke’s.
Sounds like he’s in good shape.