MADISON, Wis. — Democratic candidates for governor remained mostly unified in targeting Republican Gov. Scott Walker and not one another in a debate Wednesday six days before the primary. Seven of the eight candidates made their closing arguments in the forum that comes as polls show a third of Democratic voters were undecided as the primary nears. State firefighter union leader Mahlon Mitchell did not take part.
The participating candidates were state Superintendent Tony Evers, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, former state Rep. Kelda Roys of Madison, political activist Mike McCabe, former state party chairman Matt Flynn, and corporate attorney Josh Pade.
Here are topics of discussion from the debate held at the downtown Madison library.
The candidates agreed on most issues, including legalizing marijuana for recreational use, requiring background checks for all handgun purchases and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
They also agreed on spending more money on public schools, but only Soglin said taxes would have to be increased to pay for it.
“Let’s cut the crap,” he said. “If you’re going to spend more money on schools, you’ve got to spend more tax money.”
FLYNN VERSUS EVERS
In a rare break from targeting Walker, Flynn in his closing statement criticized Evers for praising Walker’s most recent budget as “kid friendly” and referred to Evers as “Republican light.” Evers pushed back, calling it a “cheap shot.” He said he praised Walker’s budget because he adopted 90 percent of what Evers proposed, and “I’ll never back off from that.”
“Republican light? That is an outrageous comment from somebody I respect,” Evers said.
All of the candidates oppose the Foxconn Technology Group project in southeastern Wisconsin, which could lead to the creation of 13,000 jobs but cost taxpayers $4.5 billion in incentives. Flynn, the only candidate to pledge to stop the project with a federal lawsuit, has tried to make that the centerpiece of his candidacy.
“I’m a man of action, I’m going to stop Foxconn,” Flynn said.
But Soglin said the project could be stopped without going to court.
“You simply cut off the spigot,” Soglin said. “You stop the money. That’s what I will do.”
Evers hit Walker on his comment Tuesday that he has no plans to visit a Wisconsin prison while governor.
“We have a governor of the state of Wisconsin saying he’s never going to go to a prison. This is the leader of the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “Thousands and thousands of people are working in the system. ... The governor has to be there, he has to talk to these people.”
Flynn said Wisconsin needs a “hands-on governor that goes to prisons a lot to make sure our guards are protected and make sure our inmates are protected.”
The first question for Flynn was about the issue that’s dogged him throughout the campaign — his work as attorney defending the Milwaukee Archdiocese against priest abuse lawsuits. Walker, the state Republican Party, Pade, two other Democratic state lawmakers and more have called for Flynn to drop out of the race because of that work.
Flynn again defended himself, saying he never did anything inappropriate and accusations that he did “are lies.”
EVERYONE VERSUS WALKER
When asked to name Walker’s worst decision, in one sentence, the candidates threw some sharp jabs.
Evers: “When he said, ‘I’m the education governor.’”
Flynn: “His decision to go into politics in the first place.”
McCabe: “His desire to divide and conquer people.”
Roys: “His best and worst decision was to run for president because it showed” he never really cared about being governor of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman said after the forum that it showed the “candidates are still locked in a dangerous race to the left that would only hurt Wisconsin families.”
IF NOT YOU, THEN WHO?
The candidates were asked who they would vote for if they weren’t on the ballot.
No one said Mitchell, Pade, McCabe or Flynn.
Evers and McCabe said Vinehout.
Flynn and Roys said Soglin.
Pade said Roys.
Vinehout said Evers.
And Soglin said if he weren’t on the ballot he would write in his own name.