State governor candidates spar in first debate

Walker, Burke spar over Wisconsin economy, job creation in first debate in governor's race
State governor candidates spar in first debate

The candidates for governor took shots at each other’s record when they squared off in their first debate Friday night in Eau Claire.

The candidates faced questions from four reporters in the debate, hosted by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and covered a large range of topics.

Mary Burke charged early on in the hourlong back-and-forth that Gov. Scott Walker hadn’t turned the state around since being elected in 2010.

“Four years ago, Gov. Walker promised us 250,000 jobs and that’s a broken promise,” said Burke.

But the governor defended his work, saying the state had come a long way.

“We went from losing 133,000 jobs in the four years before I took office to gaining more than 100,000 jobs since,” said Walker.

The familiar statistics from political ads remained at the heart of many answers the two candidates offered Friday.  They also offered different approaches to how they would help create jobs in the state.

“I want to build off successes and put more money into the hands of small business owners,” said Walker.  “Help job creators build from the bottom up an organic economy that says you can do what you want to do.”

“The one thing that I would do specifically that hasn’t been done before is reduce the cost of college,” Burke said, elaborating that her job plan said the state needs more than 670,000 new degree holders to compete for jobs by 2025.

Panelists asked specific questions about whether someone could live off the state’s minimum wage.  Burke quickly said no.

“I want people who work full time to be able to have that pride of a job and being able to support themselves,” said Burke.  “At $7.25 an hour that’s just ridiculous.  You can’t do that.  It ensures that people are dependent on government assistance.”

Walker didn’t answer the question, but said he wanted to focus on creating jobs that paid more than minimum wage.

“Our plan for the future is based on the concept that we call learn more to earn more,” said Walker.  “We want to raise wages, but you do that by giving people the skills and expertise and talents to be more valuable to their employer.”

On a recent hot-button issue in the campaign, the candidates shared their positions on abortion rights for women, with Walker reaffirming his pro-life stance, but not answering a question about whether he continued to believe that all abortions should be illegal.  Burke told the audience in Eau Claire that the decision on abortion should be up to a woman, her family and doctor, and accused the governor of “trying to have it both ways” with his answer.

The candidates also sparred over a projected $1.8 billion deficit for the state in 2015, and whether tax cuts were the right thing to do in the last legislative session.

“He based it back in January when he made these spending decisions on rosy projections,” said Burke.  “What we’re hearing tonight is rosy projections and not being honest with the people of Wisconsin.”

“The spending decisions my opponent just talked about are giving you your money back,” Walker told the crowd.  “Giving money back to the hardworking taxpayers of this state.”

In a more candid moment of the debate, Walker and Burke were asked to say something nice about each other.

“I gotta tell ya, she’s done some remarkable work,” Walker said of Burke’s time at the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.  “She’s donated some great money, provided great leadership.  I give her hats off for that.”

“I think that Gov. Walker has certainly done some very good things in the community,” Burke said after a brief pause.  “Certainly his work around domestic abuse is important.”

Burke and Walker will meet again for a second WBA debate on Oct. 17.