NOT TOO SWIFT: Scott Walker tries swift-boating Mary Burke on outsourcing issue | WisCommunity

NOT TOO SWIFT: Scott Walker tries swift-boating Mary Burke on outsourcing issue

Scott Walker and his campaign team are hoping you and the news media are as myopic as Mr. Magoo, the cartoon character who couldn't see the truth if it was floating right in front of his face. Team Walker just doubled down on its loud and rather reckless "outsourcing" campaign against challenger Mary Burke. It's a tactic that Madison's Progressive magazine labels "Walker's swift-boat attack on Burke," alluding to the untruthful military service-record charges that third-party conservative groups successfully aired against presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.

Not only is Walker running two TV commercials attacking Burke for her family firm's outsourcing of a handful of Wisconsin jobs to China. The Republican Party of Wisconsin also just filed what looks like a non-starter of a complaint with the state's election board. The complaint says a full-page ad in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in which Trek Bicycle Corporation defends itself against Walker disparagement, represented illegal collusion between Burke's election campaign and the business, even though the ad never mentioned Mary Burke nor endorsed her.

Even if their complaint is justified -- a dubious proposition, at best -- the GOP argument is pretty rich, coming from the political party fighting a John Doe inquiry into whether some of them, Walker included, did the very thing they're complaining about -- only in their own case on a huge, long-running scale and in secret, with meetings between candidates and supposedly independent interest groups.

Republicans apparently think they have every right to operate in such a collusive manner, yet now they're arguing others either must adhere to a far stricter standard. Indeed, those "corporate individual" citizens that Republicans usually champion apparently can't, after all, run independent issue ads, which Republicans heretofore have championed as totally permissible free speech. Reminds me of an old Firesign Theatre riff: How can you be in two places when you're not anywhere at all?

But all of this is a sideshow. The real issue is that Walker's strategy to create jobs in Wisconsin has been a dismal failure. And so arrives the swift-boat tactics, in which Walker projects his own failings onto Burke, unlike Walker an accomplished business leader whose family created one of Wisconsin's most iconic and respected manufacturing firms -- a business that employs 1,000 state residents.

The miserable Walker jobs record was well documented in June by Mary Bottari, investigations editor for The Progressive magazine and the Center for Media and Democracy, based in Madison. She focused on the Walker-created Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which replaced the Department of Commerce as the job-creation arm of state government. Bottari writes:

... At the end of 2013, WEDC told the Legislature and the public it had “impacted” 37,313 jobs. No actuals were included in the report to the Legislature, but its official database includes documentation for 4,796 “actual” jobs. To create those jobs over a two-year period, some $203 million in taxpayer money went out the door in grants, loans and bonding authority.

So there you have it. The number of new jobs WEDC can credibly document is not 250,000; it is not 50,000; it is not 37,000. Walker’s official jobs database can document only 5,840 “actual” jobs reported to be created by firms for FY 2012 and FY 2013. Note that these are jobs created hrough the efforts of WEDC, and the numbers are separate from the state's job numbers reported monthly and quarterly by the federal government.

While WEDC was busy handing out grants, many Wisconsin companies were cutting back or going under. In order to prepare workers and communities for mass layoffs, Wisconsin law requires that businesses with over 50 employees give 60-day advance warning of mass layoffs or closures. In the same two-year period in which the WEDC database indicates 5,840 jobs were created, the state’s WARN data set indicates that 13,616 jobs were lost in the state due to layoffs or closures. (Note: CMD excluded notices that had been rescinded or reported earlier.)

WEDC's lousy performance was accompanied by its questionable grants of public money to two corporations that then proceeded to outsource Wisconsin jobs -- hundreds of them. Furthermore, WEDC was cited by the Legislative Audit Bureau for losing track of its loans. It's also been caught feathering the nests of Walker's business supporters and otherwise itself performing as a lousy, unethical business under partisan political control -- or, more accurately, out of control.

Nothing to say about that from the Walker camp, which prefers to set off all the Mary Burke alarm bells. True, Trek Bicycle outsourced between 15 and 20 jobs to China in 2013, where it has extensive sales and manufacturing operations. However, unlike two far more outsource-happy businesses supported by the Walker administration, Trek's own outsourcing was modest and did not involve state tax-grant dollars.

Team Walker is also now trying to portray other Democrats as on his side in the outsourcing controversy, saying Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) is pushing an anti-outsourcing measure. Yes, but her Bring Jobs Home Act would provide financial incentives for firms to return outsourced jobs to the US.  Uppity memo to the governor: The status quo of letting companies outsource at will is not a solution -- nor is your own tacit, state financial support for such outsourcing.

And then there's this from the Journal Sentinel's Dan Bice, who in a column today wrote that:

 ... Walker said at his own press briefing this week that it's the Democrats who are being the hypocrites. They are the ones, he said, who accused former Gov. Tommy Thompson in 2012 of making millions from corporations that shipped American jobs overseas.

Actually, "accused" is another Walker sleight of hand. It's entirely accurate to say Democrats "pointed out" Thompson's huge earnings from outsource-prone corporate affiliations, because it is undisputed fact that the former GOP govenor (who was at the time running against Baldwin for US Senate) actually did make a fortune that way. Walker wants you to infer that Thompson was unfairly maligned, even while Walker is busy unfairly maligning Burke, who by the time of Trek's comparatively modest outsourcing, had left her executive position in the firm. It's more Walker projectionism.

The embattled governor is creating all this misdirection because in the big picture, he's clearly part of the problem, failing at job creation while laying waste to many public-sector jobs and giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to firms that are already quite well-heeled. Many companies -- reputable and otherwise -- are in search of cheaper labor costs and have outsourced some of their US jobs, and many of those jobs are recreated in developing countries. As long as something like Baldwin's Bring Jobs Home Act remains just an idea, such outsourcing will continue, because the lax US regulatory system and politicians like Walker will allow the practice to go on, even in some cases effectively subsidizing the behavior with the tax code and with tax dollars. 

Far from being at odds with Baldwin's call for a Bring Jobs Home Act, Burke clearly is on the same page, as Bice noted: "In fact, Burke's job plan includes an entire section on how to recruit and retain manufacturers back from abroad." If you can find a printed Walker jobs plan longer than a few paragraphs, I'll bet you won't discover within it any similar proposal. 

Meanwhile, regarding Bice's latest Journal Sentinel column: While he is otherwise quite fair in documenting charges and countercharges from both the Walker and Burke camps, Bice continues the newspaper's pattern of disassociating the Walker administration's award of state tax grants to those two other firms that then proceeded to outsource hundreds of Wisconsin jobs. No mention of that in his column. Burke has made those grants a campaign issue, just like Walker has made her alleged involvement in outsourcing a campaign issue. Alas, no parity exists on that front, at least in Wisconsin's biggest daily newspaper.

Published

July 23, 2014 - 10:44am

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