Walker, Burke campaigning around Wisconsin

Mary Burke (D), left, and Scott Walker (R)
Mary Burke (D), left, and Scott Walker (R)

MAZOMANIE, Wis. (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker accused Democratic challenger Mary Burke of wasting $12.5 million in taxpayer money in his latest television ad released Tuesday, while Burke put out her own spot touting her credentials without mentioning her nearly three years as state Commerce secretary.

The dueling ads come four months before the election in which Walker is seeking a second term and Burke is trying to get elected statewide for the first time. Burke, who previously worked as an executive at Trek Bicycle Corp. in addition to nearly three years as head of Commerce, currently is a member of the Madison school board.

The most recent poll done in May by the Marquette University Law School showed the race to be tied among registered voters. Walker campaigned in Oregon on Tuesday, touring a powder coating plant, while Burke visited a hops farm in Mazomanie before headed west to La Crosse.

The Walker spot, which began running statewide Tuesday, focused on a $12.5 million grant given by the Department of Commerce under Burke’s leadership in 2006. The grant was part of a deal designed to lure global drugmaker Abbott Laboratories to Kenosha County from just across the border in northern Illinois, and was the biggest ever awarded by the Commerce Department up to that point.

The grant was given to the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, an economic development corporation in Kenosha County, to buy and develop 40 acres of land in the area. The deal came at the same time that Abbott bought about 500 acres in Kenosha County for possible development.

But more than eight years later, nothing has been built. An Abbott company spokesman did not immediately return phone and email messages Tuesday.

Burke defended the Abbott deal during a campaign stop at a hops farm in Mazomanie.

“It’s a great opportunity for the state,” she said. “You don’t often get a chance for a Fortune 500 company to locate a corporate headquarters in Wisconsin.”

But Walker, in his ad, slammed the deal as a waste of money given that Abbott hasn’t moved forward with the project or created any jobs.

“Mary Burke says she’ll work to create jobs and spend our tax money wisely, but her record as Jim Doyle’s commerce secretary tells a different story,” the ad said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development told Walker’s administration in August that the state must repay the federal government the $12.5 million used for the grant because the award did not meet HUD’s national objectives or provide a public benefit, noting that there had been no development on the site. The letter from HUD to the state was provided by Wisconsin Department of Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis.

The state plans to include the payment to HUD in the next state budget, Marquis said.

The deal did have a provision requiring the Kenosha Area Business Alliance to sell the land and pay back the state if Abbott failed to create 2,400 new jobs by 2016. Alliance president Todd Battle did not return telephone and email messages Tuesday.

Burke said Walker was using the ad to distract from his own job-creation record. Under Walker, the state has added about 102,000 private sector jobs to date, which comes after the state lost 133,000 jobs the previous four years during the Great Recession when Doyle was governor. However, Wisconsin ranked 37th in job creation last year and Walker isn’t expected to fulfill his campaign promise to create 250,000 private sector jobs by the end of the year.

Burke’s ad doesn’t mention her time as Commerce secretary under Doyle, or the fact that she’s currently a Madison school board member. Instead, Burke touts her experience as a former executive at Trek, a company started in the 1970s by her father Richard Burke.

Burke’s 1-minute ad was slated to run in Milwaukee, Green Bay/Appleton, Wausau, and Eau Claire/La Crosse starting Wednesday, her campaign said.

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