State Senate candidate Van Wanggaard, left, and State Rep. candidate Chris Wright
Picture this: You get to Lambeau this Sunday and there's just the Packers on the field. Vikings? Nowhere to be found... Kind of a letdown, right?
Well, it was sorta like that Wednesday night at the pre-election "Town Hall" presented by Republican candidates Van Wanggaard and Chris Wright in Sturtevant. Rather than participate in the both-sides-on-the-field-at-the-same-time contest proposed by the AAUW, Sierra Club and Community for Change, Wanggaard and Wright avoided a face-to-face meeting with their opponents in the Nov. 2 election -- Democratic incumbents State Sen. John Lehman and State Rep. Cory Mason -- and held their own forum instead. Scheduling difficulties, donchaknow. (Wright and Mason did appear together before about 20 members of Rotary West on Monday.)
As it began, even Wanggaard could feel the letdown. Looking out at the nine people in the audience (five of them his wife and daughter and three campaign aides) he could only lament the apparent ineffectiveness of the 1,000 postcards he'd mailed to prospective voters. By the end of the evening there were 23 in attendance (although that number included some of his colleagues on the County Board, including County Executive Bill McReynolds, and some of Wright's fellow Sturtevant supervisors).
Nonetheless, the two candidates took questions from me and the audience, and gave clear answers. All that was lacking, of course, was the response and presumably opposing viewpoints their opponents in the upcoming contest could have provided -- and now will have to offer at the forum Wanggaard and Wright are going to skip on Oct. 28, 7 p.m., at Gateway Technical College.
Some of the issues discussed in the two-hour session included:
KRM: Wanggaard said he does not support it because of the expense. "There are people who can't put food on their table (a line he would repeat throughout the night). It would need a tax to support it, and I don't agree with any new taxes." He said there are too many unanswered questions, "moving target numbers." And once you get people here, he said, "how will they get anywhere with just nine BUS routes (and usually only two people on two of them)."
COMMUTER RAIL BETWEEN MILWAUKEE AND MADISON: "This is absolutely worse than KRM," Wanggaard said. The $810 million in federal funding is "free money" he said -- "I don't believe in free money; it's coming from my back pocket."
Wright agreed with Wanggaard on both projects, saying he knocked on hundreds of doors "and only three people told me we need KRM and high-speed rail." Residents told him "time and again" they don't want the added expense and tax burden.
"We are a republic, and I'll represent the people and their wishes," he said.
When asked how the county can bring in business when there's no effective transportation infrastructure, Wanggaard agreed "we have to improve our local transportation first." He suggested "thinking outside the box, maybe an on-call shuttle system." He wondered why Racine can't seem to keep a viable taxi in business, when other communities have more than one, and decried "these huge buses with nobody on them." He even suggested "an upscale bus that does pick-ups throughout the county" because "you're not going to see some executive making $500,000 getting on a city bus to get to SC Johnson."
Wanggaard brushed off a followup question about KRM's support from both unions and major businesses by invoking the Petak Rule: "People in Racine will not accept a sales tax." (State Sen. George Petak, as everyone no doubt remembers, was ousted after providing the Legislature's crucial 4 a.m. vote imposing a one-tenth of a percent sales tax for Miller Stadium; the sales tax proposed for KRM and regional transit was a much bigger half-percent. Had Wanggaard's opponent, John Lehman, been present, they would have been in full agreement on the sales tax issue.)
HOW DO YOU SET PRIORITIES? A questioner asked, "Given the damage that's been done by past legislatures -- fees and taxes -- how do you begin to prioritize?" Wanggaard said, "You stop the bleeding, you stop the spending." He cited the "arrogance of government" and insisted "there hasn't been accountability." He would come back to accountability a number of times. Asked if he'd support zero-based budgeting, proposed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker, Wanggaard said "I think so."
Wright added that lawmakers must "clearly define what specific dollars can be spent for," a reference to the "raiding" of the transportation fund by the present administration. "We have to cap our spending," Wright said, adding: "If it doesn't get someone back to work, that's got to be the top priority."
HOW WOULD YOU PROTECT SENIOR CITIZENS SO THEY DON'T LEAVE WISCONSIN? Wanggaard said, "I'd look at phasing in elimination of taxes on seniors -- sales tax and income tax. That's one of the first things I'd look at to help our seniors." Reminded by an audience member that the state already faces a $4 billion budget shortfall and asked how he would raise revenue, Wright said, "The best way to raise revenue is to get people back to work. That has to be the focus: good-paying jobs." He noted that Wisconsin's corporate income tax rate of 7.9 percent is slightly higher than that of Illinois, and far higher than Ohio's .24 percent rate. Wanggaard agreed, saying "we haven't created an environment that people want to stay here," noting that Texas has no corporate tax and no personal income tax.
When his questioner rejoined that Texas has no health care or educational system worth discussing, Wanggaard returned to his accountability argument -- "the Big A" -- insisting that Wisconsin's "state level" approach is to "throw dollars at things." He said the Dept. of Corrections has forced its workers to take furloughs -- and filled their spots with other workers earning time and one-half. "State workers are told to spend money by this week, or lose it." And he criticized such spending as $5 million on a new scoreboard "while we have people who can't put food on their table."
Reminded that fixing fraud and waste are unlikely to make up the $4 billion shortfall, Wanggaard suggested that the state will have to "push a lot of services down to the local level. Get people invested, get churches to help. Government does not do it better. Are there going to be cuts to programs? I sure there are. I don't know what they will be," he said.
Wright proposed "working to get state employees and teachers to contribute to their own pensions." The move would save the state $250 million a year, he said.
EARLY RELEASE OF INMATES FROM STATE PRISON: "I'm against it," Wanggaard said. "Just because you want to save $2." It's a tax-shift issue, he said: saving money on the state level and shifting it to the local level where the offenders will commit new crimes: "Ten to twelve burglaries before he's re-arrested" and then more costs for local jails, public defenders and prosecutors. "And all these new victims." He also criticized the "80 pardons granted by Gov. Doyle in the last year -- more than the last two governors. I just don't understand it."
Other points: Wanggaard said the Department of Natural Resources is an "out-of-control" department. Asked whether there is "any chance of getting abortion on demand repealed," Wanggard did not appear optimistic, saying the state has had "a governor who appoints liberal judges," something that will change "when we get Scott Walker in." He added: "For me, abortion is not acceptable." Wright is also "100 percent pro-life."
Wright said that if elected he would establish regular office hours in local communities.
Van Wanggaard's website is here.
Chris Wright's website is here.
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