The candidates for the 67th and 68th state Assembly races agreed civility needs to come back to politics, and the tone was reflected at a forum Wednesday night.
The candidates for both races appeared at the Heyde Center in Chippewa Falls, and while the candidates didn’t agree on most points, the criticism stayed on the issues.
In the 67th race, Rep. Tom Larson (R-Colfax) and Chippewa Falls Democrat Deb Bieging disagreed most over the issue of health care.
Larson, the incumbent, said Wisconsin’s existing health programs, including BadgerCare, SeniorCare and Medicare, work well for those who need the coverage, but some citizens are defrauding them.
“We don’t need more programs,” he said.
Bieging, a former pediatrician who works at a free clinic, maintained that the programs do need to be adjusted, as many of the people she sees at the clinic are left without options. She also highlighted the need for making health care more affordable, a point shared by Larson.
The two also debated jobs. Larson touted the job creation measures taken during the last legislative session, many passed with bipartisan support, though noting the lagging national economy is affecting the state’s growth. Bieging criticized Republican cuts to public education, which she said helps create a good work force.
“We need to invest in education,” she said. “It comes down to choices.”
Education was a key topic in the debate between 67th district Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie) and Democrat Judy Smriga of Thorp.
In regards to school choice and vouchers, Bernier said they can be a valuable option for students who struggle with learning at a traditional public school.
“I think there are outstanding public schools ... but some kids need to be educated a different way,” she said.
Smriga, a former science teacher at Thorp, balked at taxpayer support for private voucher schools that do not have the oversight of a school board or state standards. Bernier agreed that the voucher schools need accountability, but added that many private schools, such as McDonell Area Catholic Schools, have a good reputation.
When asked by moderator Ross Evavold of the Herald about their priorities, Bernier said she would like to continue her work on aging and long-term care in the Assembly, and she would also like public schools to emphasize technical careers as an option for students.
Along with education, Smriga said she will be focused on health care, job creation and especially environmental protection. She also emphasized transparency and being an accessible representative.
“I will represent you, not a group,” she told the audience.
Among those at the Heyde Center was Ronald Liljedahl, a Chippewa Falls resident who was previously in Bernier’s district but was redrawn into Larson’s district.
“I supported Kathy, and I’ll support Tom now,” he said, noting that both Republican candidates expressed common sense ideas while the Democrats were focused on throwing money at problems.
“The purse was empty,” he added. “(Republicans) did what they had to do.”
Pam Campbell, who will vote in the 67th district, liked Bieging’s focus on health care and the need for change.
“In her position at the free clinic, she sees the neediest people,” Campbell said. “There isn’t an excess of options.”
The debate Wednesday was sponsored by the Chippewa Herald, the Chippewa Falls branch of the American Association of University Women and the Heyde Center.