The issue of outsourcing has been a sensitive spot for supporters of Mary Burke since before the former Trek Bicycle executive declared her candidacy for governor in September.
The general public didn’t find out she was interested in the job until it was revealed that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin had conducted a poll to test her potential vulnerabilities, including the fact that her family company had, like many manufacturers, moved many of its operations overseas.
The issue of international trade has been a source of tension in the Democratic Party since President Bill Clinton, much to the chagrin of the party’s traditional union allies, signed a number of trade agreements that many on the left blame for allowing corporations to easily transfer jobs to countries with lower wages.
But to see Gov. Scott Walker, whose political brand is reliant on his pro-business policies, go after Burke for outsourcing is counter intuitive and is earning the governor some push-back from the business community.
Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, penned a column in the Wisconsin State Journal calling the barbs over outsourcing in the campaign “curious,” describing the debate as divorced from economic reality.
“Globalization has become a two-way street,” he wrote. “The economies of the United States and Wisconsin are increasingly intertwined with those beyond our borders.”
Still, who has made several contributions to Republican candidates for state office in the past decade, also said Burke’s criticism of the Walker administration for awarding grants via the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to companies that offshore jobs is misguided.
John Torinus, the former CEO of Serigraph, a graphics parts manufacturer with operations in ten different countries, also said on his blog that the debate was misleading.
“Isn’t it strange when a pro-business Republican governor finds it advantageous to bash an entrepreneurial company with 1,000 jobs in Wisconsin to put the hurt on his opponent?” he wrote. “It is equally strange to hear his Democratic opponent, a former international business executive, push back by saying he gave subsidies to Wisconsin companies that also out-sourced jobs to other countries.”
After listing the many reasons that U.S. companies offshore operations, Torinus added a personal touch in his defense of Trek specifically.
“Dick Burke, Mary’s father, should go down as one of Wisconsin’s heroes,” he wrote. “He was a great entrepreneur, and entrepreneurs like him create most of the jobs in America. Virtually all our great employers started here. His company and his family don’t deserve cheap political shots. They deserve some latitude on how they run their companies, especially if most of their action is here.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial page, typically reliable cheerleaders for Walker, also dispatched one of its scribes to knock the governor for allegedly acting like “Team Obama” in its attacks against common business practices.
What we have not yet seen is a comment from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the powerful business group that has spent millions over the past four years promoting Walker and his economic agenda. The corporate leaders who make up WMC, including Torinus, who sits on the board, are certainly not unfamiliar with seeking greener (or cheaper) pastures to do business, so it will be interesting to see if WMC joins in Walker’s attacks on Burke’s business record.
WMC president Kurt Bauer did not respond immediately to a request for comment.