David Michael Miller
Things have been getting worse and worse for Gov. Scott Walker.
The last two Marquette polls have showed him neck-and-neck with Democratic challenger Mary Burke, whose campaign strategy -- essentially getting out of the way as her opponent is buried in bad news -- looks more like it's working every day.
The latest from WKOW: Four more companies that actually laid off Wisconsinites and sent their jobs overseas got millions in taxpayer dollars from Walker's flagship "job creation" agency.
No wonder the Walker campaign wants to change the subject to outsourcing by the Burke family's Trek Bicycle and alleged misuse of taxpayer funds by the state Commerce Department under Mary Burke.
That creepily passive-aggressive TV commercial attacking Burke last week, in which a grandmother reads a "fairy tale" to a little girl about how Burke sent jobs to China, was the campaign's desperate attempt to muddy the waters on a subject where Walker himself is politically weakest.
Trek Bicycle did send 15 to 20 jobs making lugs and mountain bike frames from Waterloo to China. And it's true that kind of outsourcing is a blow to our state economy.
But it's also a drop in the bucket compared with the taxpayer-financed outsourcing and free-for-all of giveaways of Wisconsinites' money to Walker's political contributors.
Trek still employs more U.S. citizens than any of its competitors -- about 900 of them here in our home state.
It's a good idea to put pressure on manufacturers to bring jobs home. But, apart from those Burke-specific negative ads, that's precisely the opposite of what Walker has been doing.
After he abolished the Commerce Department and set up the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Walker's administration set about using the agency as a conduit (PDF) to funnel millions of dollars in taxpayers' money to companies -- 60% of whom gave money to help Walker get elected -- on the pretext that it would help them create jobs. The agency failed to adequately track the results of that taxpayer giveaway.
But one thing is certain: Wisconsin lags the nation and the region for job creation. And now it turns out that many of the companies that got money from WEDC laid off their employees here and moved jobs overseas.
When WEDC head Reed Hall was asked to answer for that, he actually defended outsourcing and said his agency would continue to work with the companies in question.
My colleague at The Progressive Mary Bottari broke the news that WEDC could only claim to have overseen the creation of about 5,840 jobs -- a far cry from the 250,000 Walker promised to create. Worse, the state lost about 13,000 jobs during that same period -- a net loss, after all those tax dollars spent.
State audits uncovered all kinds of spectacular waste by WEDC. Remember those Badger tickets and iTunes gift cards? Millions in loans went to businesses that could not demonstrate they had created any jobs at all.
Instead of demanding the taxpayers' money back, WEDC allowed those businesses to keep the free gifts.
Maybe none of this would stick to Walker if Wisconsin were doing better economically. After all, pictures of his closest aides and associates being hauled away in orange jumpsuits didn't do too much harm to the governor's political career.
But all that news about waste and cronyism, combined with the bad economic picture for most Wisconsinites, is wearing down Walker's approval ratings.
Hence Burke's rise to dead-heat status with the vastly better-known and better-funded candidate.
Walker's attack on Burke, and on Trek, may well backfire. In fact, it might be the biggest blow yet in a contest that is most memorable for the punches Walker has landed on himself.
People like Trek Bicycle. They like the idea of living in a more peaceful and prosperous state.
Walker's attacks on Burke remind us that the three and a half years since Walker took office have been characterized by historic divisiveness, cuts to schools and basic services, taxpayer giveaways to the governor's donors and economic decline. His image isn't helped by attacks on a popular family business.
Remember all those years when Gov. Tommy and Sue Ann Thompson smiled out at us from their bicycles on the Wisconsin state map? I think most Wisconsinites would be glad to fold up the Walker era and put Mary Burke and her Trek bike on the map.
Ruth Conniff is the editor of The Progressive.