The DeForest Area Public Library hosted a candidate forum on Tuesday, Oct. 13 via Zoom in preparation for the Nov. 3 general election.
Candidates from three Assembly Districts were invited. District 37 candidates included Abigail Lowery (D-DeForest) and Stephen Ratzlaff Jr. (I-DeForest). Incumbent John Jagler (R-Watertown) was not in attendance. The lone District 42 candidate at the forum was Melissa Arndt (D-Rio). Incumbent Jon Plumer (R-Lodi) was also not in attendance. In District 79, both candidates were present — incumbent Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) and Victoria Fueger (R-Waunakee).
District 42 covers the Lodi and Poynette areas, including the Village of Dane and some of DeForest. District 79 covers the Waunakee, Vienna and Windsor areas, while District 37 covers the DeForest area.
The forum began with each candidate getting two minutes for an opening statement, followed by three prepared questions for all.
Hosts Jan Berg, Library Director and Jane Henze, Adult Services Librarian, then took some questions from the Zoom audience before each candidate was given two minutes for a closing statement.
Question 1 — What are your priorities for Wisconsin’s budget?
Lowery: She had three main points, with the first being to make sure as many people were kept healthy as possible if the COVID-19 crisis continues, as well as helping small businesses and providing PPE for all those at risk, especially in the healthcare field. She also said that public education needs to be prioritized, so everyone can have a level playing field and the youth can choose whatever career they want.
“Wisconsin has the worst racial disparity in the country,” she said. Lowery also noted the conditions of roads, lack of regional transportation options and lack of broadband access are also some of her priorities.
Ratzlaff: He agreed with Lowery, noting that there was $753 million of “rainy day” money, so he would make the public schools as well as the roads, bridges and other such infrastructure a priority. He is also supportive the two-thirds funding of state aid to public schools.
Arndt: She said that her priorities have changed over time, but the constant has been about healthcare. She was in favor of medicaid expansion, noting that it is cost-saving for many as it would save more than $300 million. She also said that the gerrymandering in the state is “ridiculous,” adding that her district covers portions of six counties.
Hesselbein: She agreed that the medicaid expansion is “so important.” She said she fought for it before and will again. The money saved could go to other priorities like roads and bridges. She said that if the state doesn’t take the money, then it goes to other states. She also supports K-12 and college education, calling it the state’s “economic engine.” She would also beef up the healthcare system.
Fueger: Her priorities would be to not to tax people more, especially with the ongoing pandemic, noting that $2 billion in revenue has been lost due to COVID-19.
Question 2 — How should legislative maps be drawn in Wisconsin?
Arndt: Brought up the People’s Map Commission started by Gov. Evers. She says the current maps are diluting votes and that “representatives are choosing (voters) rather than (voters) choosing representatives.” She added that the maps have gone to court the last four cycles and that $4 million has been wasted on court fees.
Hesselbein: Said she was in favor of the model used in Iowa and having them drawn by nonpartisans. She said Iowa has had long success in their model, and it would save Wisconsin millions of dollars, not fighting in court.
Fueger: She doesn’t want the lawyers and justice system making the decisions on the maps, and said they need to be drawn in a way that’s best for Wisconsin.
Lowery: She said the current process is not working, and that whatever party is in office draws the maps in order to get re-elected. She feels the maps need to be redrawn by nonpartisans and that voter information should not be used in the process.
Ratzlaff: He is also a fan of the Iowa model, and if elected, would push the bill that deals with redistricting to the Assembly floor. He added that he wasn’t sure if the people on Gov. Evers’ Commission were truly nonpartisans either.
Question 3 — If you could pass any legislation in Wisconsin, what would it be?
Hesselbein: She said she would pass the bill on redistricting, adding it’s “the poison” of the state. She added that it’s “the one thing that would eliminate all the bickering,” because there is so much else to be doing.
Fueger: She said she would like an open market for healthcare. She said that when putting healthcare in the hands of a few people, “it’s dangerous.”
Lowery: Besides redistricting, she would accept the medicaid expansion, where more people would have access and it would save the state money in the process. As a student at UW, she lived paycheck to paycheck without insurance and was afraid to go to the doctor. She said many are in those situations now, but have families, too.
“In Wisconsin, we should look out for each other, especially the most vulnerable,” Lowery said.
Ratzlaff: He would re-index the gasoline tax, noting that everybody uses the same roads, but no one is addressing them or fixing them. He would tie it back to the consumer price index (CPI).
Arndt: In the midst of the pandemic, she simply stated that she would reinstate the Safer At Home order.
Audience question — How should the Governor have better handled the unemployment issue?
Arndt: She was unsure how he could have handled it better, noting that “there were lots of roadblocks.” She said she knows that people are still waiting for checks, which she calls a “travesty.”
Hesselbein: She said that the governor has done “everything in his power,” but the legislature has not been in session to do anything. She questioned the “ancient” software being used for the process, too.
Fueger: She brought up the fact that no one was even answering the phones in the department anymore and wondered why? If something could have been done better, it was to get people answering phones, she said. She also agreed that the computer systems should have been updated a long time ago.
Lowery: She questioned, “Which Governor?” She said the computer system has been out of date for awhile and said it was something Gov. Walker could have taken care of.
Ratzlaff: He said he didn’t know if Gov. Evers could have done anything different, and added that the computer system was even out of date while Gov. Thompson was still around. Resolving the issue is going to take money and time, but something that he feels is necessary.
Audience question— How will you overcome the inertia of the present legislature?
All were in some agreement that they weren’t sure of the exact way to interpret of the question.
Hesselbein: She said the the one thing that she has been able do well while in office is “work with the other side of aisle,” something she will continue to do.
Fueger: She said the problem is that when the opposition has a “staunch” opinion, it’s hard to move them. She would listen to what the other side is saying and try to figure out how to get to the middle and “find the common ground.”
Lowery: She said that not getting along (with the other side) prevents things from getting done. She said she will be driven by what the people of the 37th District want, rather than what her party wants. She describes herself as being “gently persistent,” one who will never give up, but be respective to colleagues.”
Ratzlaff: He said that the far left and far right need to tone down the rhetoric at the state and national level. He remembered when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neal would argue over issues, but also be able to have a peaceful dinner together the same night.
“That’s not done anymore, and I’m not sure when that broke down,” he said, adding he would try to get back to those relationships.
Arndt: She sees the need for advocacy and action, adding that she won’t “bash” anybody in politics. She said that she will vote for the people over party, adding that it’s “a lost art.”
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 3, with absentee ballots being accepted prior to that date.