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Madland: Mary Burke masters triangulation with Madison schools budget vote

Burke's vote was destined to fail but meant to send a message.
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I can understand that Democratic activists are rankled by Mary Burke's anointment by the state party, and I can understand concerns about her not being liberal enough to rally the base, but I just don't get those who say she isn't ready to run a statewide campaign. Burke and her staff are clearly professionals at messaging.

The Burke campaign has been tightly controlled, taking a pragmatic approach on issues to win over moderates while placating the far-left folks. Her political triangulation was on display with her vote Monday against the Madison school board's amended 2013-14 budget.

Burke cast the sole vote against the budget, explaining her position in this statement released to the Wisconsin State Journal:

I am fully committed to excellence in public education in Madison and supporting our teachers while ensuring that government lives within the means of its citizens at a time when so many Madison families are struggling.

That gives her a solid campaign message to use against those who want to frame her as a Madison tax-and-spend liberal: "Mary Burke voted against raising taxes on middle-class families."

But voting down a bill with a relatively minor tax increase, one that was less than the maximum allowed by the district, makes it look like she might offer an austerity budget if she sat in the governor's chair. That's why Burke made sure to toss a little red meat to the deep blue crowd.

"My concern is that very little of it (the property tax increase) went into increasing pay for teachers," she said.

Ta-da! She voted against the budget because it wasn't paying teachers enough! There's another campaign slogan: "Mary Burke: She fights to pay teachers more!"

Burke proposed taking the money out of continuing expenditures towards maintenance and IT. This is questionable from a governance perspective, but makes total sense from a political one. Who cares that Madison schools are in aging buildings containing aging tech? Tax cuts and teacher salaries are what make the news. Investing in the district's infrastructure doesn't help the Burke campaign at all.

Besides, everyone else on the board voted in favor of the budget. Burke's vote was destined to fail but meant to send a message, kind of like voting for Nader... or Vinehout. Burke didn't need to come up with an actual budget that would actually balance limited property tax usage with increased teacher wages, she just needs to say that she would have.

It's the sort of empty promise we have come to expect from candidates: closing Gitmo, creating 250,000 jobs, building the best high school homecoming parade float ever. Burke's own promise not to promise anything on the campaign trial is itself an empty promise!

Many Madisonians are concerned that Burke hasn't had enough political experience to run a campaign, but she certainly sounds like a politician to me.

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