The first debate in the race for governor highlighted some strong differences between Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke, with the two candidates going back and forth on issues that included job creation, voter ID, and state finances. Meeting Friday night in Eau Claire for the first of two debates this campaign season, Walker and Burke both opened with statements that focused on the growth of jobs and the economy in Wisconsin over past four years.
Burke criticized Walker on his pledge to create 250,000 jobs during his first term in office, which she called “a broken promise” highlighted by Wisconsin being “dead last in the Midwest in terms of job creation.” Walker fired back, accusing Burke of using outdated figures for her claim and pointing to new numbers that show Wisconsin is in the top five for the region in adding jobs. He also criticized Wisconsin’s job growth when Burke served as state Commerce Secretary, under then-Governor Jim Doyle. Walker said his pledge “aimed high,” and that the state has still come a long way since he took office.
On the minimum wage, Burke argued that the state’s rate of $7.25 an hour is not enough to live on and that Wisconsin should increase it. Walker side-stepped a direct question on whether he believes it’s a family supporting wage, saying he wants to focus on getting people into jobs that pay much more than the minimum wage through expanding worker training and other programs.
AUDIO: Gov. Walker offers his view on the minimum wage (:17)
When the debate shifted to abortion, Walker stood by his pro-life stance, but deflected questions over his previous statements in support of banning abortion in cases of rape and incest. Walker said “that issue’s been resolved. That was decided by the United State Supreme Court more than 40 years ago.” Burke accused Walker of “trying to have it both ways” with a position that’s “anything but reasonable.”
AUDIO: Mary Burke criticizes the Governor’s record on abortion (:23)
Both candidates said they intended to serve a full four-year term in office if elected. Burke, a former executive at Trek Bicycles, said she “would love to be the longest serving governor in the state of Wisconsin.” Walker, who is widely seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, said “my plan is, if the people of the state of Wisconsin elect me on November 4th, is to be here for four years.”
The one largely unscripted moment came near the end of the debate, when the candidates were asked to describe a quality of their opponent that is a positive to leading the state. Walker was quick to respond, remarking on Burke’s philanthropic work with the Boys and Girls Club. Burke briefly stumbled, eventually complementing Walker on his “work around domestic abuse.”
AUDIO: The candidates compliment each other (:36)
In terms of why voters should elect them, Governor Walker made the case that the state has improved dramatically since he took office, pointing to the lower unemployment rate, business growth, tax cuts, and a budget surplus. Burke argued though that the state’s recovery has not worked under Walker’s “top down approach,” and that families have not been better of under his policies.
Walker and Burke will meet in one more debate, Friday October 17 in Milwaukee.