The announcement that Mary Burke is running for governor had barely been posted on the Web last week when the Republican Party of Wisconsin pounced.

"Mary Burke is a millionaire liberal activist that is prepared to spend millions of her own personal fortune in an attempt to distort Governor Walker's reforms," a press release roared.

And, as reporter Jack Craver pointed out in a story last week, the same party that has often accused the left of engaging in "class warfare" against the rich is now attacking the potential Democratic nominee against Scott Walker for being among the "1 percent."

All of which overlooks, of course, the super rich who have funneled and will be funneling more to Scott Walker's re-election campaign against Burke, should she actually be the Democrats' nominee. Mary Burke looks like a poor peasant compared to the Koch brothers, gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson and the Walmart heirs who have been bankrolling Walker and his tea party counterparts for at least three years now.

This past week of over-the-top attacks on a possible political opponent has been a textbook example of just how dirty politics has become in this country. And it's painfully apparent just how dirty the Wisconsin GOP hierarchy is planning to play these next several months.

A case in point: The first attack on Burke included a quote attributed to her from an in-depth story that the weekly paper Isthmus published back in 2011.

"For many years, I spent money on things because I could, not because it brought me more happiness," the Republican press release gleefully quoted, trying to paint Burke as a millionaire playgirl lavishing her riches on fine clothes and extravagant vacations.

It was nothing more than an example of yet another dirty trick, completely taking a comment out of context for political gain.

Burke had made that statement in explaining how she had come to spend so much of her fortune on things like the Boys & Girls Club, the Madison School District's AVID/TOPS program aimed at narrowing the stubborn student achievement gap, and a $300,000 grant to the south side's Madison Promise Zone. 

Mary Burke's generosity, especially to causes aimed at giving kids from poor homes a chance to better themselves both at school and in the community, has been second to none. To see that honest attempt to better things in our society turned into some sort of political liability by conniving campaign hacks is nothing short of sickening, regardless of which party is involved.

For anyone who knows Burke, to see her described as a liberal Madison activist is ludicrous on its face. Her only public activisim, except for running for and winning a seat on the Madison School Board, has been helping kids who need a boost in life.

But this is the state of our politics today. We can't discuss real issues without name calling. We can't address society's problems without vilifying someone who has a different view. And we wonder why we have trouble getting quality people to run for office.

I have no idea if Mary Burke will be the Democratic nominee in 2014. She may face a spirited primary challenge that, frankly, I think would be good for the party.

Whether we will hear an open and honest discussion contrasting her and Scott Walker, though, is problematical. The dirt is already getting in the way.


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Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com