Wisconsin’s economic decisions place a wedge between democratic and republican legislative candidates.
Thursday night at the Chippewa Valley Technical College a public Legislative Candidate Forum was held to give the 100-plus members of the Chippewa Valley in attendance the opportunity to hear candidates for the Wisconsin State Assembly and State Senate state their opinions on hotly debated topics.
The 13 candidates in attendance included: 23rd State Senate: Kathy Bernier (R) and Chris Kapsner (D); 31st State Senate: Aaron Elaine Camacho (Green), Mel Pittman (R) and Jeff Smith (D); 67th State Assembly: Wren Keturi (D) and Rob Summerfield (Incumbent) (R); 68th State Assembly: Jesse James (R) and Wendy Sue Johnson (D); 91st State Assembly: Jodi Emerson (D) and Echo Reardon (R); and 93rd State Assembly: Warren Petryk (Incumbent) (R) and Charlene Warner (D).
Following the two-and-a-half hour forum, attendees approached each of the 13 candidates in an informal manner and talked to them about their platform and ideas.
Topics that popped up included education, a proposed new science building for the UW-Eau Claire campus and infrastructure. During discussion, statements made by each candidate indicated bipartisan agreement in these areas.
Investing in education is important because it helps Wisconsin’s citizens remain innovated and thoroughly trained to join the workforce, investing in science is important in regards to being on the cutting edge of technological advancements and upkeeping infrastructure is basic common sense, the candidates agreed.
But two main areas shone a light on how deeply divided the two main political parties in Wisconsin truly are: the economy and a new monumental business deal with a foreign company.
How to healthily develop Wisconsin’s workforce was the topic that opened the forum, and Bernier said Republicans have made strides in developing a young workforce in Wisconsin.
“It starts at the education level,” Bernier said. “Since 2013 I authored Wisconsin Fast Forward, which is a worker training program in which we partner with the technical colleges, the high schools and the employers to provide worker training. I would like to say that was very foresighted.”
Bernier’s opponent in the 23rd State Senate race, Kapsner, said the economy is not as healthy in Wisconsin as many Republicans would have the public believe.
“Despite the fact that unemployment is at an all-time low and the stock market is doing relatively well, that however does not reflect the ongoing struggles of workers in our communities,” Kapsner said. “Wages have remained flat. Since 2010 there has been no increase in wages and now people have to have two jobs to keep their head above water.”
State Assembly candidate Keturi, who is challenging incumbent Summerfield of Bloomer, said candidates should focus on assisting communities in Wisconsin who have had difficulties staying consistently employed due to addiction and other issues.
“I think at a state level we need to address some of those basic needs that we’re failing to provide, like affordable healthcare and housing,” Keturi said. “We need to be reinvesting in our technical colleges, career training but also many people in my district struggle with addiction. In order to get folks back on their feet, we need to make sure they’re on a path to sobriety and back to full employment.”
The last of the four to speak, Summerfield, said the state government needs to continue to improve on developing the workforce via addressing the workers being educated right now on an individual basis.
“We have to do a better job in trying to identify what the student will excel at,” Summerfield said. “We know one size doesn’t fit all, so I think in the coming budgets we need to make more of an issue of addressing these issues to make sure we have a good pipeline for all the available jobs in this area and continue to grow our trained workforce.”
A large business deal had the two parties at extreme odds.
Taiwanese electronic manufacturer Foxconn and Wisconsin have agreed upon a $4.5 billion dollar deal in which Foxconn agreed to build a $10 billion factory in Racine with the promise of bringing a wealth of jobs to the area.
While many Republican candidates proclaimed this as one of the greatest financial deals in the state’s history, Kapsner said the Foxconn deal represents everything wrong with Wisconsin and its financial decisions.
“This is exactly what government shouldn’t be doing,” Kapsner said. “We shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. This is anti-capitalistic, it’s anti-free market and it’s a boondoggle of spectacular proportions. Our money is going to a foreign corporation. I don’t care what number you choose, it’s roughly 40 to 70 million dollars per county that we could’ve invested in our communities, we could’ve invested in education and healthcare, roads, broadband and every area we should’ve been the last eight years.”
Keturi said investing so much capital in a current technological product may not be as beneficial as some may think down the road when the project nears completion, comparing it to an earlier, and now outdated, technological innovation.
“Does anyone remember VCRs?” Keturi said. “ ... I’m going to be 30 about 10 days before Election Day and I can tell you that, 30 years ago if somebody had invested $4.5 billion in a VCR manufacturing plant, do you ever think we’d see that money back? I’m going to really question this because our technological advancements change every minute. And we are investing $4.5 billion in a flat-screen manufacturing plant in a tiny corner of our state. I would like to see a more holistic approach that studies our industries.”
The Democratic candidates in attendance expressed their distaste for Foxconn, including they didn’t trust the company, the policy wasn’t clear as far as safeguards to secure Wisconsin’s financial wellbeing and the large sum dedicated to it which they felt could be used to reinvest in Wisconsin.
Summerfield said the deal is safe, and the deal has plenty of legislation to ensure Wisconsin’s wellbeing.
“Michigan offered a better incentive package, but yet they still chose the state of Wisconsin,” Summerfield said. “So, as the bill came out the process came out. The administration put tons of safeguards in this to make sure it is pay as they grow. They don’t get any money until they actually make the jobs. We can have committees look at it to make sure they’re spending the money correctly with the Foxconn investment.”
Bernier said the money Wisconsin has pledged will not be deposited until progress is made and jobs are offered.
“We’re not going to just give them money, they have to create the money,” Bernier said. “We don’t have the money in the bank now, so we can’t give it to someone else because it is not there.”
When the dust settled after a fierce discussion of the Foxconn deal, all 13 candidates provided the three main areas they believe are most important to address in Wisconsin. The four candidates mentioned above indicated the following issues to be address first: Keturi: Education, healthcare and strong rural economies. Summerfield: Workforce development/training, education and the meth and heroine epidemic. Bernier: Workforce development/training, rural education/broadband and the tax code re-write. Kapsner: Workforce development, education and healthcare.
Midterm elections are Nov. 6.