Matt Pommer: GOP giving Burke the ‘Hoover’ treatment

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Matt Pommer
Sunday, February 23, 2014

Republicans are busy trying to “Hoover-ize” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, denouncing her ties to a previous Democratic administration.

To many people, Hoover is the name of a line of vacuum cleaners. But to Democrats through the middle of the 20th century, it was the name of Republican Herbert Hoover, who was president of the United States when the Great Depression hit America. Democrats would try to link conservative candidates and the GOP to the Hoover name, trying to drive up negative opinion about anything Republican.

Now Republicans are employing the tactic against Burke, who served as commerce secretary during part of Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s eight years in office.

The Republican Governors Association is running a radio and television ad campaign on that theme. A spokeswoman for the RGA put it this way:

“Burke’s campaign for governor has been based on her experience as a senior member of a job-killing, budget-busting, big-government administration.”

Earlier, Republicans denounced candidate Burke for not having a program to add jobs in Wisconsin. Burke says that will come later. But the early criticism didn’t have much impact on public opinion about her. Shifting gears, Republicans are trying to run against Doyle just like earlier-era Democrats liked to run against Hoover.

Driving up your opponents’ negatives has long been part of the American political scene. Burke’s other background aspects are difficult for Republican strategists. Burke, a former Trek Bicycle Co. executive, is wealthy, as are many who fund GOP politics.

She has served on the Madison Board of Education, and a lot of board members in Wisconsin’s 400-plus school districts are Republican voters. Conservatives like to run “against Madison,” hinting liberal ideas abound there.

Walker and the current GOP-controlled Legislature have expanded vouchers for private schools and have enacted a special income-tax credit advantage for parents who send their children to private elementary and high schools. That will be effective in the 2014 tax year. Those actions will be issues in the gubernatorial campaign.

Even talking about the Commerce Department and creating jobs is not without peril for Republicans. Republican Gov. Scott Walker reorganized Commerce Department activities in part by creating a new quasi-public corporation to promote job growth. The new organization was embarrassed when it failed to keep a close tab on loans made to private companies.

In the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs. The latest data show that promise won’t be met by Election Day. Wisconsin ranks 37th in job creation among the 50 states.

Walker continues to test the long-held Republican theory that cutting taxes, especially income taxes, will spur economic activity and job growth. His latest tax plans stress that policy, including expanding tax credits that can be used against the alternative minimum tax. It will reduce tax revenues by $123.6 million over four years.

The alternative minimum tax, used in both state and federal income tax systems, is a means to ensure at least a minimum amount of income tax is paid by individuals who have large tax savings from deductions and credits.

Doyle and a Democratic-controlled Legislature had increased the tax bite on the wealthy to meet state spending during the 2008 economic plunge.

The very wealthy also are feeling the higher taxes involved in funding Obamacare. Couples with adjusted federal income in excess of $400,000 and singles with adjusted income in excess of $250,000 annually pay additional tax on the amount over those levels to help fund health-insurance subsidies.

Perhaps their anger over taxes is part of why Walker, perhaps a presidential candidate, turned down hundreds of millions of dollars to expand Wisconsin’s Medicaid program. He said he doubted the federal government could afford to keep providing such help over the long run.

Matt Pommer writes this Wisconsin Newspaper Association weekly state government newsletter. He is dean of the state Capitol correspondents, having covered government action in Madison for 36 years. Readers can contact Pommer at mpommer@sbcglobal.net.

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