With just six weeks until Election Day, the candidates for the wide open 12th District State Senate seat-state Assemblyman Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), Susan Sommer (D-Phelps) and Paul Ehlers (L-Rhinelander) exchanged jabs at a radio forum held at the WXPR Public Radio studios on Stevens Street in Rhinelander Wednesday night.
“I want to build on the foundation started with this past legislative session, which focused on creating jobs and balancing the budget,” said Tiffany. “That is exactly what we’ve done, and what I want to continue.”
But Sommer said that foundation, one built by Republican leadership in Madison, concerned her, saying “Frankly, the foundation Mr. Tiffany speaks of is frightening to me. If that foundation continues to be built, it will only further divide this state.”
Ehlers, staying true to his Libertarian philosophies, said he believes the foundations for both the Democratic and Republican parties are crumbling. “Sure, it’s possible that the two parties could work together, but they haven’t,” he said. “I see myself as a swing vote, and I’m fed up with both of them.”
The mining bill
At one point the question of the state’s controversial mining bill came up, which was the failed bill pertaining to a mine proposal in Iron County, and its connection to possible sulfide mining in other areas of the state, such as the Town of Lynne in western Oneida County.
Sommer said, “The State of Wisconsin should not be dictated by an outside company.” Of the potential job creation mining would bring, she said, “These are highly skilled jobs that will go to trained workers from outside Wisconsin. I believe we have a perfectly good mining law in place.”
Tiffany, on the other hand, said he worked closely on the mining bill (AB426) and supported the thousands of jobs it was projected to have created. Tiffany also said, like others, he wants safe groundwater and that environmental issues were addressed. “It’s hard to justify turning away a $1.5 billion boost to this state’s economy,” he said.
Ehlers, a geology professor at Nicolet College, said that while he’s pro-mining, he didn’t feel that the laws should be broken down into conflicting regulations for the different types of mining. “I don’t think the law should carve out a nichè for one company,” said Ehlers. “This issue has been a great example of party politics not working for Wisconsin.”
Jobs was a repeated issue that came up in the debate, with all three candidates criticizing each other.
Ehlers said, “Obviously jobs are the biggest issue in this election. Our government spends a lot of time chasing jobs from overseas. It’s time for a new way of thinking of job creation.”
Sommer said she supported small business incubator programs, such as the successful Eagle River program that has brought and expanded businesses in Vilas County.
However, during Tiffany’s response, he said that some of the tax credits put in place under Gov. Scott Walker have been highly effective in helping Wisconsin industries expand, specifically citing Printpack’s plans for a new $70 million facility. “We need to find ways to leave more money in people’s pockets,” he said.
Ehler’s fired back during the rebuttal portion, saying, “I believe that Governor Walker’s tax credits are corporate welfare.”
The heated back-and-forth continued throughout the hour-long forum, but in the end, all three candidates cordially shook hands and thanked moderator Ken Krall and the media panel asking the questions.
The Candidates On Key Issues:
Act 10 (Removal of collective bargaining rights)
Ehlers: “The activities of the state legislature must justify the means, and I believe this was a heavy-handed political move without much benefit.”
Tiffany: “I voted for Act 10 in the Assembly, as I felt it was needed to balance the state’s budget. Many school districts across the state, include Tomahawk, have seen substantial budget savings due to the flexibility provided by Act 10.”
Sommer: “It was absolutely destructive to this state. I believe it should be everyone’s right to collectively bargain.”
Tiffany: “It should be upheld. I believe people should prove who they are, and everyone should cast a vote legitimately. Voter fraud only serves to disenfranchise those who do vote legitimately.”
Sommer: “It is a Republican ploy to make sure fewer people have the right to vote.”
Ehlers: “I’m against it, as I feel our current law is more than sufficient. It’s yet another example of government going after a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Gay marriage and abortion rights
Sommer: “I believe anyone has the right to make the decision concerning their own body. Government should not have the right to step in and dictate someone’s commitment to another person.”
Ehlers: “I believe that life begins at conception, but a parent’s decision to end that life is none of my business. It’s the same with gay marriage…none of my business.”
Tiffany: “I agree that life begins at conception, and that life cannot and should not be taken, which makes me pro-life. I also believe it is important to protect our traditional family structure, which dictates a mother and a father raising children.”
Affordable Care Act
Tiffany: “We preserved Senior Care and added $1.2 billion to MedicAid in our last legislative session. Obamacare will put severe limits on what states can control in their government-subsidized health care plans.”
Ehlers: “This is a tough issue, but I believe everyone on Medicaid does want a job. We need to provide more individual incentive to take care of yourself.”
Sommer: “Soon more than 65 percent of the population in the 12th district will be over 65. We need a public option for health insurance. And I’m sick and tired of ideological Republicans divisively calling it ‘Obamacare’. It is the ‘Affordable Care Act’.”
Editor’s note: The forum can be heard in its entirety on Sunday, Sept. 23, at 11 a.m., on WXPR Public Radio 91.7 FM. A forum for the 34th Assembly District candidates was also held Wednesday evening. Look for a story on that in next week’s Hodag Buyers’ Guide.