Saturday, October 11, 2014

Burke/Walker debate recap: thoughts on voter ID, the minimum wage and abortion

A commentary on three items from Friday night’s gubernatorial debate

The first gubernatorial debate is past us now, and while many have offered their opinions already on the several topics discussed between Mary Burke and Scott Walker, I figured I should throw my two cents in as well.

I’m not going to go line-by-line about the debate, though I certainly could. Burke gave some great answers to questions and held her own against the incumbent Walker. That in itself is a victory, but she did more than just debate well: she offered a concrete vision of what kind of governor she would be should she win election on November 4.

Those who had been skeptical of Burke in the past ought to re-examine their concerns with her as a candidate following her performance on Friday night. Despite no huge news-making statements from herself or blows to Walker, Burke was stellar on the debate stage, touting progressive ideals and appealing to voters across the state.

While I won’t talk about every issue that was brought up I do want to give my opinion on three topics that caught my attention during the debate: voter ID, the minimum wage, and abortion.

Voter ID

Burke stood against implementing voter ID in spite of polling that shows strong support for the issue (PDF). That shows some serious guts -- she could very easily have taken the “moderate” view on this topic, saying that she supports voter ID but not when it’s being implemented so late in the electoral season.

Rather, she stated quite unequivocally -- and accurately -- the pitfalls of requiring picture ID when it comes to securing our vote:
[Scott Walker] put these roadblocks in front of 300,000 people who would find it difficult to get that ID and to vote, even though there’s no identified cases of fraud, and that it could cost millions and millions of dollars to implement. That’s just not common sense, and it’s certainly not what I would do as governor.
Gov. Walker, for his part, had a strong rebuttal. But a strong response doesn’t necessarily mean it was an ACCURATE one:
In 2008 the Milwaukee Police Department actually issued a full scale report on the fraud they saw in Milwaukee alone in 2004 in the presidential election. So there’s more than just one documented case, there’s many cases out there.
Such a report does exist, and it allegedly discovered many problems with voting in Milwaukee. But none of those problems cited in the report could have been definitively resolved with an ID requirement for voting, and the report itself had its own problems after being reviewed.

Speaking on the Milwaukee Police investigation that Walker spoke of during the debate, Justin Levitt, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law in 2008, said:
The department's careful factual investigation primarily revealed administrative mistakes and, occasionally, negligence. It showed that much of what had originally been identified as potential fraud was in fact due to clerical error. It also uncovered several votes by potentially ineligible individuals, including some who were allegedly nonresidents, and some who had allegedly been rendered ineligible due to convictions. The report revealed only one potential vote that might have involved in-person impersonation fraud, with no documentation verifying that the vote in question was actually cast.
Emphases in bold/underline added.

In short, in-person voter fraud is so rare that you’re more likely to get struck by lightning or win the lottery than to ever witness any fraud during the next election cycle. But getting an ID law on the books is apparently more important to Walker than ensuring that voters, who can provide proof of residency without an ID just fine, can indeed cast their ballots this coming November.

(One more short item worth pointing out on this topic: ID proponents often point out that you need photo verification to board a plane in the U.S., a “fact” that was cited by judges ruling in favor of Wisconsin’s ID law. That’s not actually the case, however, as you are certainly allowed to board a plane without similar ID requirements as some of these laws have.)

The minimum wage

The moderators during the debate asked the candidates whether the state’s current minimum wage of $7.25 was livable, and what the wage should be in the state if it wasn’t.

Gov. Walker totally avoided answering the question directly. While he did say that he wanted Wisconsinites to have higher wages, he said that the minimum wage was not the way to go about it. “I believe the state should be focused on creating jobs that are much greater than the minimum wage,” he said. But as to whether the minimum wage should be changed, his answer was severely lacking, and in the end left the viewer knowing what Walker was afraid to say aloud: that he wouldn’t raise the wage.

Walker in the past has been more aggressive on the issue: he called it a gimmick and a “political stunt”. Perhaps because he knew he was speaking before a larger audience, Walker tempered his statement on the minimum wage a bit. But no one watching the governor on Friday night left with the feeling that he’d act on raising the wage limit. Polling, by the way, shows a majority of Wisconsinites support raising the wage (PDF), perhaps a major reason why he wouldn’t simply say “no” when asked about it.

Burke responded well to the question of minimum wage, sending a direct answer that no one could misinterpret:
I don’t think that our minimum wage is enough for folks to live on, and that’s why I strongly support an increase in the minimum wage to the suggested $10.10 an hour over three steps.
She explained quite thoroughly how she came to her conclusion:
It reduces reliance on government assistance. I want people who work full time to be able to have that pride of a job, of being able to support themselves. At $7.25 per hour, that’s just ridiculous, you can’t do that. ... This is additional money that gets spent right back into our economy, which helps local small businesses and our communities grow.
In her last comment on the subject, Burke reiterated her previous point, stating, “It’s money that will be spent back in our local economies, and it’s what’s going to create more jobs.”

That’s a point I frequently point out on this very blog: a higher wage increases spending, which increases demand, in turn requiring more production, and thus more need for workers.


The topic of abortion has been one that Walker has stumbled on in the past week or so. In a recent ad on the issue, Walker mischaracterized (perhaps purposely) his own position, making it seem as though he had a reasonable, “pro-life but let’s take care of people” attitude on the subject.

In reality, Walker is 100 percent pro-life -- even in cases of rape and incest or if the mother’s health were at risk. In the ad and in the debate on Friday, Walker avoided saying directly that there was no scenario acceptable that he would allow women to get an abortion, if it were up to him.

But that last point -- “if it were up to him” -- is how Walker thinks he’s able to slide past this issue. In the debate, he was asked his opinion on abortion, and whether he still held those old views or not.

“That’s something that doesn’t have bearing directly on this debate,” he said, stating that the Supreme Court decided more than 40 years ago to legalize abortion across the country.

But in 2010 Walker didn’t say that -- he flatly said he was against abortion in all cases. And 2014 Walker’s campaign site claims that he has the endorsement of Pro-Life Wisconsin, a group that only gives out endorsements if candidates hold the extremist views of no abortions in all cases, even rape or incest.

Oddly enough, Walker put that endorsement on his campaign site erroneously -- Pro-Life Wisconsin never said it backed the governor this year. But that didn’t stop Walker from publishing on his site that an anti-abortion group that backs “no exceptions” to the procedure was supporting his re-election.

So while Walker was “wishy-washy” on the subject, how did Burke do? Once again, she was direct and honest with her answer:
I believe it should be up to a woman according to her religious beliefs, and in consultation with her family and her doctors, to make that decision on her own.
She also held back no punches when it came to legislation signed by Walker requiring women to obtain an ultrasound before receiving abortion services, in some cases mandating invasive transvaginal procedures to do so:
[W]hen Gov. Walker talks about making these decisions and passing this legislation that stands in the way of women being able to make their own health care choices, making politicians in Madison the deciders on this, it’s ridiculous.
Very well put, Ms. Burke.

Final thoughts

Again, this debate wasn’t a huge win for either candidate. Burke supporters will be happy with her responses, and the same can be said of Walker’s supporters with his. 
Still, a tie in the debate is a good position for Burke to be in right now. Her stock is rising, and her ability to appear as Walker’s equal is a huge blow to his campaign at this moment. What should have been a relatively easy run for Walker (he was predicted to cruise on to re-election earlier this year) is now the political campaign of his life.

A win for Burke would be great for Wisconsin because it would take a governor who has done a lot of damage out of office. But I was also convinced early on that it would also be a positive outcome because Burke herself would be a great leader for this state. After Friday’s debate, I’m willing to bet other Wisconsinites feel the same way as well.

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