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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

Is It Time for Sensenbrenner to Retire?

Burkee says the district needs new leadership

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Sept. 9 is the general election,” said Jim Burkee, who is taking on longtime Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner in the Republican primary on that date. “It is probably the best opportunity we’ve had in this district in 30 years to retire Jim Sensenbrenner.”

Burkee, a Concordia University history professor who lives in Cedarburg, is making the case that Sensenbrenner has failed to provide responsible leadership and tangible benefits to the Fifth Congressional District, which encompasses Washington and Ozaukee counties, and portions of Waukesha, Jefferson and Milwaukee counties.

Burkee called Sensenbrenner “one of the most partisan and polarizing members of Congress” who doesn’t match the increasingly diverse district that includes suburbanites, high-tech and blue collar workers and rural residents.

“I want people on a broader, emotional level to feel good about their leader ship,” Burkee said. “We shouldn’t have to be embarrassed by the people who represent us. We can do better than that.” Burkee argued that Sensenbrenner’s 30 years in office haven’t led to a practical solution to the country’s energy crisis, a long standing problem that was apparent when Sensenbrenner was first elected to C o n g r e s s . S ensenb renner ’s opposition to immigration—not just illegal immigration, but his call to slash legal immigration by 70%—has hurt the district, especially the high-tech businesses that rely on skilled workers from abroad.

Burkee also hopes to change the tone of political debate. While most elected officials try to promote their home state, Sensenbrenner has managed to offend Wisconsin residents. In 2006, he called Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett a “crybaby” and said Milwaukee is “rapidly becoming the murder capital of the U.S.”

Burkee said he would serve the district better by being less partisan than Sensenbrenner and would work to bring more federal money to Wisconsin.While Wisconsin is the 20th most populous state, Burkee said, the state receives less than its fair share of federal funds for Medicare reimbursements; trans portation infrastructure; research grant money that could fuel a high-tech economy; and education. The result, he said, is a higher property tax burden on res idents and a strained state budget.

The solution, Burkee said, is to work with Democrats instead of offending them. Indeed, Burkee is hoping that Democrats and independ ents—as well as Republicans who are turned off by Sensenbrenner—will turn out and vote in the Sept. 9 Republican primary. Burkee said that although the district is gerrymandered to favor Republicans, those who are not party members should have a say in who represents them.

“Our challenge is to get people to the polls, to capitalize on getting Republicans to the polls who are fed up with a party that has completely betrayed the very principles it says it stands for, to turn out Republicans who are also fed up with representation from people like Jim Sensenbrenner who are just not capable of working across the aisle, plus independents and Democrats,” Burkee said. “We are counting on Democrats to turn out who are also interested in seeing some new leadership.”

But the Sept. 9 primary will likely have a small turnout. Milwaukee County has only one county wide race, for county clerk. The hot race on the North Shore is in the Democratic primary, for the Assembly seat being vacated by Rep. Sheldon Wasserman as he runs for state Senate, and those vot ers can’t cross party lines to vote for Burkee. But Republican state Rep. Sue Jeskewitz is leaving an open seat, so Germantown and Menomonee Falls voters will be active.

Burkee sees a small advantage in a primary that he predicts will have “record low turnout.” “A primary vote is equal to about 10 votes in the general election,” he said. “People can accomplish great things. All it takes is a willingness to get out there and be active.”

While Burkee has harsh words for Republicans who “circle their wagons around party leadership, instead of circling their wagons around a new generation of leadership,” he does have a traditionally Republican platform. Burkee says he would only pay for programs that have a funding source, he’s pro-life and pro-business, and wants to shrink government.But he is running against irresponsible tax cuts and states on his Web site that “the war in Iraq must be brought to a responsible but rapid conclusion.”

“I’m going to win this race in many ways by doing just what I’d do in Washington,” Burkee said. “That means working with and appealing to Republicans and Democrats alike.”

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.